WORDS Sarah Buitendach PHOTOS Supplied
And Then There Was Fire is the cool new countryside restaurant that’s got stylish Gauteng dwellers flocking.
You’re going to find this difficult to believe, but Joburgers finally have a spot to head to in the country that is beautiful, and that serves exceptional food too: And Then There Was Fire, sensationally situated at Nirox Sculpture Park. While our Cape compatriots have had their pick of vineyard and orchard-ensconced restaurants since the beginning of time, things on the Highveld have been dire by comparison. Our base scenario? Bad boma setups serving limp toasted sarmies, improved marginally by a hotchpotch of views.
So to find yourself, suddenly, in a low-slung, contemporary wooden pavilion hemmed in by trees, emerald grass, walls of rosemary and some of the finest art around, can be a bit discombobulating. Is this a parallel universe? No – it’s just a 40-minute drive from the centre of town, where Nirox owner Benji Liebmann and the restaurant’s creators Bernardo Corti and Manuela Gutierrez are making magic happen.
The pavilion has been part of the vast Nirox property for eight years. “We’d used it for pop-up restaurants, and it sort of changed organically over time,” says Benji. He’d had the idea for a permanent restaurant for ages; then the collaboration with Bernardo and Manuela came up. “They’re like family now,” he says of the relationship.
Bernardo is well-known as a partner in Che Argentine Grill – originally in Maboneng, now in Parkwood. (The outdoor deck at Che is another great spot, by the way.) But And Then There Was Fire is a departure from the country-specific fare, although meat and South American flair are features here too. For this offering, Bernardo roped in friends from the likes of Mexico, Sicily and Spain to help make authentic bits and pieces – tacos, tapenade, croquettes – like they should be done. In fact, there are technically two menus: one offers tapas, the other options from the wood- fired grill.
So, for example, there are plates of prawns with creamy chilli sauce, ceviche and potato focaccia to be shared, and meat – beautifully aged sirloins and the like – sourced locally and weekly. The menu changes according to what’s best.
This is relaxed, minimal and easygoing style at its finest. “I like that the building sits lightly on the land,” says Benji. “It’s less structural, more discreet, more weathered and open to the surrounds. So what if a bit of rain comes in! I take off my shoes, and encourage everyone else to do so too.” Putty-coloured curtains have replaced walls, chairs are covered in easy linen slips, and monochromatic works by Clifford Charles occupy the walls. Kids run in the garden while their grown-ups get stuck into a bottle of wine.
It’s easy to see why the place is packed (in a socially distanced fashion) on weekends – there is nothing else
like it in the area. So, go during the week. Sneak out there, sit in the garden, have a lazy lunch, take a gander at the art space adjacent to the restaurant – basically, escape in style. Booking is essential – and don’t miss Chris Soal’s show, currently on in the gallery space adjacent to the restaurant.
For more visit andthentherewasfire.com
Looking for more local restaurants? Check out Beyond at Buitenverwachting.