The Verdict: Walnut Grove, Sandton

IMG_5438How do I even begin to describe Walnut Grove?

“I heard that they were around before Sandton City was a thing”

“I heard that they have the biggest chandelier in South Africa”

“Walnut Grove started making rainbow velvet cake so I started eating rainbow velvet cake”

“I hear the owners are from Greece”

“One time I went to Walnut Grove and ate there, it was awesome”

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Well yeah, there’s all of that and yet none of it captures the rustic elegance and refinement that is the very essence of WG. WG is in the middle of one of the busiest malls in Joburg and yet, ensconced in its mezzanine floor, you’d never tell. The décor is astounding in a way I can’t fully articulate. The furniture echoes this amalgamation of modern starkness with rustic comfort in a way that just shouldn’t make sense. But make sense it does.

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The normal “eating” tables are wood topped with acrylic legs that match the acrylic chairs surrounding them. A few, choice tables are contained in wooden “cocoons” while others are subtly privatised by bookshelves and polished dividers. This is a place to take time and absorb each nuanced detail. The chandelier, sprouting forth from a tree like sculpture actually formed from walnut is the definite focal point. It’s gorgeous, being ostentatious and simple at the same time. It truly befuddles the mind.

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On one side, you can occasionally glimpse the bustling kitchen behind the cake and bread front. If you’re lucky, you can witness chefs dirty icing or evening finishing cakes. The cakes are made on premises and it shows in little ways. In fact, the true refinement of WG reveals itself in the little things.

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My compatriot (an accomplice from the Petit Fours visit) and I had our priorities straight from the moment we entered and saw the incredible cake display. Muffins in what appeared to be actual flower pots, macaroons in pretty pastels, decadent cakes and the most ornate rainbow cake I ever did see complete with seven individual layers. We had heard tell that each of the seven layers was a different flavor and we were obliged to confirm this.

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Because of this end game, we decided to start light, agreeing to share a La Med Panini (a throwback to the owner’s Greek origins perhaps) and the Casablanca Salad. Though the restaurant is not halaal, there are plenty of veg options and the chicken is also halaal, we checked.

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The panini was perfect, again in little ways. It was clear that the bread was fresh and wonderfully chewy with a crispy crust. The pesto was great when paired with the mozzarella but what blew me away were the peppers which were flavourful in a way that only careful cooking can create. The panini was served with a side of chips presented in a deep fryer basket which you know I am a sucker for.  The service was amazing, the waiter was attentive as was the maitre’d and in a moment that blew me away, we were offered fresh chilli without asking.

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The salad was equally fantastic. The base to all the salads includes red onions which made me wary but they had clearly been soaked in water beforehand to ward off the overpowering sting. The rest of the salad comprised of halloumi, avocado, roasted butternut and couscous in and amongst the usual salad staples. It was presented in an edible basket (I’m venturing that it was a pita basket) tipped to display every element of the salad. While all was good, what really blew me away was the butternut which was cooked masterfully.

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The other notable part of our meal was my accomplice’s decision to order the fresh mint tea. Unfortunately the tea is bagged and had a few mint leaves in the pot for good measure which was disappointing but, it is accompanied by a truly miniature red velvet cupcake which holds the promise of things to come. When biting into that decadent morsel, you see the quality of WG revealing itself. A cake that small dries out easily, in fact it comes out the oven relatively dry and this bite was freshly moist.

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After what we considered a “light” meal, it was time for the true indulgence. We had decided that we would have a sliced of the rainbow cake but, after being confronted with all the other options, we decided to try a second slice of something. When we went there was hearty looking carrot cake, a baked cheesecake, a Ferrero cake, oreo and red velvet cakes and a coconut cake. We asked our waiter for a recommendation and he suggested the rainbow cake (their best seller) and a slice of the Ferrero. Having had Ferrero cake from Belles way too many times for someone who has somewhat tepid feelings towards the chocolate, I was more inclined to Oreo and so that’s what we ended up with.

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Personally, I think we should have ignored my feelings and had the Ferrero one. That said, the cake was nice. The rainbow cake was one flavour across all layers but had an impressive cheesecake icing. The Oreo cake was impressive to behold but I landed on lukewarm after trying it, mostly because it lacked flavour.

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We also tried the coffee and juice over cake. The coffee seemed reasonable but if you’re not afraid of sugar overload try the indulgent “sinful cappachino” topped with condensed milk or the Turkish delight hot chocolate with rose syrup and praline topping. I tried the “Refresher” juice which consisted of apple, orange, lime and mint. It was served my favourite way, in a mason jar embossed with the word harvest. The juice was undoubtedly freshly made and refreshing (*pun*).

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I left with half a slice of oreo cake and some salad in a brown paper bag. It felt fulfilling and appropriate.

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Verdict: It’s the place to impress and be impressed. Take an hour or three to give it a visit for rustic and sophisticated food.

 

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