IN THE tradition of tiny, slightly rough-edged and bustling restaurants, Eatery Jhb crams a number of tables into a rather unfinished space overlooked by the open kitchen; and while the hard surfaces ratchet up the noise, so do the happy customers, who don't mind sitting cheek-by-jowl.
There are a few tables on the pavement outside, but this night the rain forced us to be seated up a flight of circular iron steps in the functions and bar area, where the decibel level was better suited to conversation.
A small and personally selected wine list with good prices, together with very fair menu pricing, makes for a night that is easy on the pocket. This is part of their obvious success, aided by a concise menu that changes monthly. Service, led by the owners, is very personable. Notably (and out of step with the norm), they add 12,5% to all bills here, not only large tables.
Our table tried all of the (three) starters. Well-cooked chicken livers were served with asparagus, cherries and a rocket salad with yoghurt dressing (R45): this was an innovative and successful pairing. A yellowtail laksa was served in a bowl with red peppers, bean sprouts and rice vermicelli (R45); it was fine but not outstanding or very memorable. Fresh artichokes sautéed in olive oil, with butter, lemon and parsley (R40) were just so and perfectly essential in their flavour. It was also refreshing to find such a "plain" menu item.
A roast quail main was served with Parmentier potato and mange tout with a grape and olive sauce (R95); the flavours were good but the quail was just too underdone, missing the fine balance between tenderness and flavour.
A side of buttered green beans (R15) was just right while a pea, tarragon and cream cheese pithivier (a French closed pie) with dressed watercress (R75) had good flavours but there was rather too much pastry on balance. And since a pithivier is a pie by any other name and considering the menu's use of the term Parmentier potatoes (cubed and sautéed potato named after the Frenchman who convinced the French the potato was not only pig food), Eatery Jhb clearly aims to present slightly more intellectual food than most common "eateries".
We skipped dessert options such as a chai chocolate brownie with rosewater cream (R45) for a cheese board, which, at R75, was good, with a decent selection.
This eatery is a welcome addition with a menu that carries far more interest than others in the grill-pasta-sushi mould.
FOR: Interesting dishes in a vibrant space.
AGAINST: High noise levels and a terse menu that may or may not hit the spot.
RATING: Three and a half stars out of five
Victoria Avenue, cnr 11th Street, Parkmore, open Monday to Friday for lunch and dinner and Saturday for dinner, (011) 783-1570, www.eateryjhb.co.za
. JP Rossouw is editor of Rossouw's Restaurants, the independent guide to dining in South Africa. All visits are made unannounced and are paid for. www.rossouwsrestaurants.com