Almost three years later (we visited in October 2023), the risk has paid off in more ways than O’Donovan ever could have imagined. Embarc has won a host of culinary awards and stamped its name firmly on the Joburg haute cuisine scene, but without the 'haute' prices.
Other than affordability, what sets Embarc apart is the decision to offer almost every dish as either a starter or a main portion, allowing diners who opt for a selection of starters to taste more and even create DIY tasting menus. To enjoy a series of courses, even if it’s just two starters instead of a single main course, ups the experience factor and somehow makes dining out that much more special.
The menu here focuses on ‘modern elegant’ cuisine, think fine dining meets your neighbourhood bistro. It’s refined and sophisticated, but the atmosphere is relaxed, and the attitude is one of not taking things too seriously. A few items remain from the original menu like their signature kataifi prawns with tom yum and coconut, a textural, umami delight that’s had Joburg coming back for more time and again. Their slow-cooked, sweet and buttery-soft pork belly and dukkah-spiced ostrich are always on the menu, but they are tweaked and reconsidered as the seasons change.
New and exciting additions to the menu include the playful Sandton ‘braai broodjie’ starter of crisp wontons oozing with melted cheese, served with dehydrated tomatoes and Mrs Ball’s chutney, and a rich savoury beef fillet dish with a potato gratin, mushrooms, black garlic and a seductive jus. They’re sauce sorcerers at Embarc, elevating and bringing together each dish with exquisite reductions and glossy jus that taste of love and hours on the stove. But, having said this, the plates are less fussy than they were when they first opened, the ingredients have been given more room to stand out on their own, and we're pleased to report that it really works.
For dessert, we enjoyed their 'Not Your Tannie’s Malva’, a luscious plateful of chocolate and caramel sponge with vanilla ice-cream and hints of orange. We just had one criticism here: lose the pansy flower, no good dessert deserves a pansy flower garnish.
The simple, clean design of the interior with glass doors that open onto Parkhurst's bustling 4th Avenue makes the space work through the day into the night; it’s bright and welcoming at lunch with the ability to be a little more intimate at dinner. You won't find tablecloths or linen napkins, just sleek furnishings, elegant glassware and chic crockery. The bar seating at the entrance also makes it the perfect place to stop in for a glass of wine or catch a solo dinner while watching Parkhurst pass you by.
The service is fantastic. The Embarc team works together as a well-oiled machine, every waiter has a thorough knowledge of the menu and the wines, ensuring that every visit is a smooth and celebratory occasion.
The wine list is superb, with an interesting and diverse range that starts from as little as R210 a bottle and peaks at R3,000. The mark-ups are extremely refreshing, predominantly in the region of 100% unlike a great many out there who are pushing 300% on cheaper bottles. There's also fantastic options by the glass of almost every varietal, so there’s something for every taste.
It should be noted that they've added a seasonal tasting menu option, offering six courses for R695 p.p. which allows diners to explore as much of the menu as possible. They also pride themselves on offering a good selection of vegan and vegetarian dishes. We'll be back!