Tuesday, 13 November 2012

Restaurant review: Lekgotla, Nelson Mandela Square

Every fortnight, the volunteers are taken out for a meal to a traditional African restaurant, Lekgotla (translating as "meeting place"). By "traditional African", I don't mean the sort of place that Africans go on a regular night out. Rather, it's the sort of place that tourists deem to be traditionally African, offering foods which are unique to Africa, and it therefore plays up to this stereotype, offering traditional entertainment and beautiful decor.

Lekgotla is situated in Sandton, a 30-minute drive from the Lion Park. Although the buildings of Sandton -skyscrapers by African standards - are visible from the Lion Park, their true beauty cannot be appreciated until you are right below them. The main building, Sandton City, stands guard over the famous Nelson Mandela square, its roof glittering in the darkness, its' silhouette like a miniature Canary Wharf.
Nelson Mandela Square itself is very chic, full of classy restaurants and, when we visited, already lit up for Christmas. On leaving the restaurant, we had the opportunity to take photos of the larger-than-life Mandela statue, the focal point of the square.

I'm getting ahead of myself.  Walking into the restaurant, the African ambience hits immediately. Dimly light, the woven wooden ceiling gave a homely feel, combining with the delicious aromas of various meats cooking to ensure customers felt right at home.

We were given the choice of the buffet or choices from the menu. Being walked though the buffet and having everything explained to us, I was beginning to panic a little. Not being the most open-minded of diners at the best of times, and already aware that South African food tends to be a little spicier that that which I am accustomed to, I found little at the buffet to tempt me. Returning to the table and reading through the menu - seafood, spicy meats, curries- nothing was really appealing to me, and I thought I was going to disappoint my inner wild-child (she's in there somewhere, buried really deep) by having something boring like pasta. Then, something caught my eye.

Nile crocodile curry.

Crocodile is something I know I haven't tried before. It's very African. The curry was described as creamy, and I have been known to partake in a korma at home. What could possibly go wrong? Given a choice of sides, I went for rice- boring, perhaps, but crocodile was enough excitement for one night.

After ordering, a bowl of water was brought to each of us at the table, allowing us to wash our hands, and we were each given a towel to dry them. Further entertainment was given in the form of traditional African face painting. For a small tip,we each got our faces painted with trailing patterns and flowers.

Face painting

Liza and Daneka with their faces painted.
 When the food arrived, I was excited just by looking at mine. It was beautifully presented, the curry being served in a traditional African pot called a potjie, resembling a cauldron to my untrained English eye. The rice was served in a perfect ball on a separate plate.

The curry was delicious. Very creamy, with barely an afterkick, it was perfect for fussy eater numero uno (although I kept expecting a yellow pair of eyes and a sharp set of teeth to surface from the sizzling mix. Normally I have no problem separating my animals from my meats, but as I was eating, I remember feeling relieved that the crocodile farm trip is taking place after I leave Africa - I just wouldn't have been able to look the little guys in the eye).

Completely full from my curry, I was tempted by the dessert menu, but couldn't have done it justice. Whilst waiting for other people's desserts to arrive, the entertainment cranked up a notch, with a spontaneous African dancing and drumming performance, just metres from the end of our table. Various male diners were called up to join in the dancing, including Igor, one of our volunteers! Everyone involved in the performance looked like they were having such a good time, it became infectious, until everyone in the restaurant was joining in, even those still halfway through their meals.

Once the dancing was complete, I took the opportunity to explore the restaurant further, and realised that what we had seen barely scratched the surface. Other dining rooms went off at various tangents, each sticking with the African theme, yet also individually styled. In short, the place blew me away.

 Leaving the restaurant, I still could not believe how delicious the meal had been. A quick mental calculation led me to realise that it came to roughly £10  for the main. An absolute bargain when you consider how few restaurants in England serve mains for £10, let alone good quality meals consisting of something as rare as crocodile meat.

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