Andrew Human
Andrew Human

Lunch in a car park

Recently I was having lunch at one of Jo’burg’s favourite restaurants, with a friend from Cape Town. Her phone rang and she chatted about the usual stuff, “I’ll be back on Tuesday. Really? What did she say?” And so on. Then she commented, “Oh, not much, what you usually do in Jo’burg — sitting in a car park.” I looked up from our table and noticed that we were, in fact, sitting in a car park.

Since then it has dawned on me that many of the best restaurants in Jo’burg are in car parks. Or even right on the road. Think Assaggi and Bellinis in Illovo. The Attic (which isn’t even an attic) in Parkhurst. The Corner Café and Pronto in Craighall Park. To name only a handful. We shun anything with a view. Why have a restaurant overlooking a green park when you can overlook a park filled with cars?

Nobody seems to have noticed that Jo’burg has rolling hills and green parks. Did you know Parktown Ridge is over 1 700m high and you can see all the way to the Magaliesberg? Did you know that the Witwatersrand ridge is a watershed from which water running north flows all the way to the Indian Ocean and water running south doesn’t stop until it reaches the Atlantic? Following the Spruit, Jo’burg has a green belt running north all the way from Melville, through Fourways, to the Hartebeespoort Dam. Unless you cycle or walk dogs you’ve probably never seen this. You’ve definitely never eaten at a restaurant overlooking this green belt. Correct me if I’m wrong, but I’m only aware of Moyo restaurant at the Zoo Lake and the Westcliff Hotel that have a view.

Rather than take advantage of Jo’burg’s views and green parks, our architects have gone out of their way to hide them. The Rosebank Mall has a host of restaurants either facing the car park or buried inside the windowless mall, but try this: Drive right up to the top floor of the roof parking (where nobody ever goes) and looking west from the edge of the barren car park you’ll see one of the best views of the city. Why isn’t there a restaurant right here? Similarly, Epsom Downs centre has a host of cafés and restaurants facing the car park as you enter from William Nicol. But if you drive through to the back parking lot you’ll see a fantastic view looking out to the Magaliesberg. Why isn’t there a café here?

Am I missing something? Do smart developers know some dark secret that I’m missing? Does Property Developer School 101 teach that “restaurants must face a car park, or be in a windowless mall”? Or is this a Cape Town conspiracy? I’ve never eaten looking at a car park in Cape Town. They’re kind of weird in that way. They build restaurants overlooking the ocean (Camps Bay), or take advantage of a memorial situated in a beautiful park (Rhodes Memorial Restaurant in Table Mountain National Park).

I suspect that Jo’burg developers are lazy. They’ve copied American-style malls that are dropped on main arteries, with all the shops facing the car park and assuming a flat and barren, Mid-Western landscape. They probably have research showing how drive-by customers are attracted by the view of the café or restaurant.

But I’d like to order my main course with a side of beautiful view, please. Like they serve it in Cape Town.