Inside Marble, Johannesburg's Hottest Restaurant

Most restaurants make feverish attempts (in vain) to keep the "buzz fires" burning after opening for more than a year; others are so hot that its international reputation has spread and sustained like wildfire. The latter surely defines Marble, Johannesburg's upscale live-fire food and lounge concept that is as esteemed by the "it" crowd as it's been since its late 2016 debut. With no signs of cooling down—the 300 dining and bar seats remain at/near capacity for even weeknight dinners—we sat down with chef David Higgs and business partner Gary Kyriacou at their space to hear how the grill-driven Marble has shaken up both Johannesburg and South Africa's dining scene.

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Entrepreneur Gary Kyriacou and his wife Irene — who devised the stunning, artist-driven interiors — were by inspired by their world travels, realizing that Johannesburg lacked places that provided a buzzy, social atmosphere and superb dining in equal measure. "There was never that middle where you could go out, and have a good time with more sophisticated people and enjoy good food [in the city]," Gary explains.  

After conducting extensive research and planning, he tapped luminary local chef David Higgs to transform the vision of Gary's first restaurant venture into a reality.

"Marble is a place that's sophisticated and beautiful — thanks to Gary's wife [Irene] — it's a place where you can really come and relax, but you can still eat good food, and you can still get great service," David says.  

Now, Marble has single-handedly put Johannesburg on the map for world-class dining and drinking, and its presence has only upped the game of the city's restaurant profile even further. Should its rival city Cape Town be worried?

Marble's contemporary menu is all about food and fire as its main ingredients "go up in flames" in wood-fire grills, a nod to South Africa's beloved custom of barbecued meats, or the braai. "Cross-culturally, we all love cooking on fire. Cross-culturally, we all love meat," David says. The grilled meat selections include quail with charred sweet potato chutney and coriander yogurt; baby chicken with feta dumpling and peri peri; and the mouthwatering coal-grilled ribeye with tomato tartare and grilled and confit peppers.  Vegetables and seafood get the same treatment as well, from dishes like fire-roasted cauliflower with walnut dressing to a vine leaf-wrapped grilled tuna with ginger mayonnaise and paella.

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Johannesburg locals and visitors love congregating to bars with views to witness glowing sunsets, and Marble's bar and patio space is one of the city's finest. "For entertainment value, service value, food value, we're one of the best places [in the country] to come for a night out," Higgs says. The bar/lounge (which also serves food from a shorter menu) is separated from the restaurant by a glass tower-cellar stocked with fine wines from South Africa and beyond, French Champagne, and other premium drinks. While you won't find a panoramic view of the city skyline from their bar terrace, you will find an glorious expanse of hills and suburban land stretching to the horizon. Add this scene with a swank-yet-friendly vibe and an excellent cocktail or wine glass in hand and you have a winning evening formula..

The Marble team is at it again for 2018 when they unveil their second restaurant concept, Saint 'Pazzo Italiano', in Johannesburg's major business and shopping district of Sandton. Chef David Higgs assures: "It's going to be very different – in terms of the food, offering and décor...however, it will still have our same high standards for quality and consistency, and we hope it will have a similar energy and vibe." Saint will spin a contemporary twist on Italian, with staples of pizza (from Italy-imported ovens) and pasta as well as more non-traditional fare for 250+ diners.  Will Saint also be as influential and popular for Johannesburg as Marble when its opens in August? Hard to say before opening, but based on Higgs and the Kyriacou's massively successful first joint project, I'd bet it's a contender.