Effusive reviews for this place all generally remark on the atmosphere or (that South Africanism) “vibe” of The Marabi Club, a combination of superb food, slick service from jauntily dressed wait staff, interiors that conjure Joburg in an earlier age and a moodily-lit stage on which a jazz band plays. We can affirm it’s all true.
To find The Marabi Club, look first for the four enormous barrel-chested men in black standing outside a metal door on a city backstreet. Above them you’ll see a small canopy, with the word Marabi emblazoned upon it, over a single metal door. The location is the basement of Maboneng’s Hallmark House boutique hotel.
At the helm is dynamic young head chef Katlego Mlambo. Formerly group sous chef for Luke Dale-Roberts’ award-winning Cape Town restaurants, Mlambo also had the unique honour of being the head chef for the Mandela 100 Years USA event in Washington DC hosted by Barack Obama.
Mlambo's menu at the Marabi Club is styled as a variety of small sharing plates (ranging from around R80-R120 each) that marry the buttery, creamy hues of Mlambo's French training with the fresh and aggressive flavours of Asian cuisine and the best South African produce. We worked our way through plate after plate of his menu (easy if you are with a large group settling in for a night of jazz) and were continually impressed with the seemingly effortless balance that the young chef brings to a mix of sweet, salty, bitter and spicy flavours and soft, creamy and crunchy textures.
Humble ingredients such as beets and carrots are given a new lease on life with some love, attention and clever seasoning (try the hay baked sweet potato with pecan, cinammon and ginger dressing) while we were also delighted to see the entrance of more offal onto Joburg's fine dining scene in the form of a perfectly executed 12-hour braised beef tongue dish served with pickled mustard seeds and parsnip puree. Other highlights included the creamiest fresh burrata served with salsa macha (this one you definitely won't want to share!) and for dessert the Marabi Kit Kat - a combination of chocolate mousse, almond sponge and a highly addictive homemade orange ice-cream.
The Marabi Club's interiors conjure the 1920s and 1930s in Johannesburg (Marabi is the name for the urban culture that emerged from the slum yards of Joburg at that time that influenced everything from music to fashion and dance), a rough luxury evoked by a combination of facebrick walls, art-deco furniture, reclaimed wooden window frames behind which historical images tell the story of the urban metropolis. A low stage means the music is very much a part of your meal with tables placed right up to its edge. Warm lighting suffuses the bar and stage giving the space an intimate glow.
There is a long bar – a standard feature of early Johannesburg – at which cocktails are served, a cigar lounge that looks onto the main dining area and a private dining area for up to 20 people that operates as a VIP-style space with minimum spend and an opportunity to draw the doors across the space or to peer out at the restaurant and performance. The restaurant seats up to 100. Influenced by similar joints visited in New York the owners are determined to create a late night space in a city that is notorious for shutting down well before midnight.
Through its management The Marabi Club is linked to the luxury five-star Saxon Hotel, located in the plush suburb of Sandhurst (so polished service comes standard, valet parking included), and the live music festival Rocking The Daisies. Music is integral to the place’s DNA.
You won’t find much information online and there’s no hint of the lineup but expect some surprises in terms of who takes to the stage, as local and visiting international acts are promised. Dinner reservations are essential. Bookings via The Marabi Club website.