Melville’s Lucky Bean restaurant avoids culinary trends to create signature dishes that are uniquely their own.
I never thought I’d say this, but I liked this. I never thought I’d say that either! Introducing the Wasabi Wazou. A quirky cocktail that sounds like a frat boy shooter but makes for a sophisticated thirst quencher by blending Wasabi, cucumber, ginger ale, and gin. It is decidedly understated and refined without being pretentious. I may even have another …
One can expect a menu that is contemporary and eclectic, without being pretentious, while proudly showcasing uniquely South African ingredients that will appeal to a broad range of local and international visitors, without resorting to culinary cliches. The ambiance lends itself to to brunches, quick lunches, and entertaining evenings with friends. Service is attentive yet relaxed as staff ensure that your dining experience is a memorable one.
The first dish that I’ve ever had at Lucky Bean was their Orzo & Yellow Beetroot Pesto – a delightfully delicious vegan dish that I disputed was 100% vegan because it’s umaminess hints at a meat-based stock, or possibly a mushroom one, but owner Conway Falconer wasn’t giving away any secrets. Even the parmesan used in the pesto and to garnish the dish is 100% vegan. It’s a generous portion that works both as a substantial starter or as a main meal served with a side-salad. As a former vegan, I know how difficult it is for vegans to find swoonworthy dishes in restaurants besides the ubiquitious spinach mushroom side-dishes, but Lucky Bean certainly pays as much attention to their vegan dishes as they do their meat dishes. If you weren’t vegan you wouldn’t know that you were missing your meat.
Another favourite dish of mine is their Grilled Hake & Miso that has been marinated in ginger and maple syrup, served with a summer salad, and an avo and a lime salsa. This is my favourite way of eating – anything with a salad, and I often use soy, garlic, honey, and ginger when I grill salmon or prawns, but had never thought of transforming the humble hake into a showstopper with Asian inspired ingredients. Lucky Bean’s hake is pocket-friendly taste sensation. In fact, hake’s milder flavour profile allows the miso, ginger, and maple syrup to come to the fore.
Eager to explore Lucky Bean’s menu further, I invited some foodies, friends, and media, to join me for #DineJoziStyleLuckyBean so that we could indulge in an extended feast of flavours and share our collective experiences online. Fortunately, everyone agreed that sharing was the best way to enjoy as much as possible.
Cocktails were the order of the day as guests dived into mojitos, mai tais, or martinis.
The Strawberry, Basil & Black Pepper Mule was a popular choice, thanks to its generous use of fresh strawberries and a wicked shot of strawberry liqueur and vodka. I opted for the Wasabi Wazoo which combined wasabi paste with lime, cucumber, lemon, and gin, which offered refreshment with a mild bite.
For starters we shared the Orzo & Yellow Beetroot Pesto because I was curious to see if a vegan dish appealled to other palates as much as it does my own. the verdict was one of disbelief as everyone agreed that they’d enjoy the dish on its own or with a side salad. The dish was declared light enough for a hot summer, yet rich enough to satisfying any appetite.
As a second starter we opted for the South African Snoek which appealled to everyone who enjoyed the familiar flavours of cumin, coriander, and garlic lemon butter – not to mention the whole-baked apricots. It was a taste of South Africa re-imagined with elements of savoury, sweet, and spice.
For mains we shared a combination of four dishes that included the Grilled Hake & Miso, Vegan ‘Spaghetti’ and ‘Meatballs’, Beef Fillet & Cumin Butter, and the Ostrich Fillet with Maroela Jelly.
The grilled Hake & Miso evoked similiar reactions to my own. The Asian flavours inspired us to try being more experimental with hake at home rather than just serving it battered and fried with chips.
The Vegan ‘Spaghetti’ and ‘Meatballs’ was served with aplomb. It’s not a dish to shy away from because it is bold in both flavour and presentation. The dish comprised redbeans, almond and sweetcorn balls nested in spiralized courgette spaghetti and a rich tomato sauce infused with thyme. This is another dish that caters to vegan diets without compromising on flavour. If you’re looking to increase your veggie intake, or prefer a banting friendly alternative to pasta, this is a dish to consider. I never heard or saw the word vegan, so when I speculated that it might be a vegetarian dish that the others at our table confirmed that it was. Interestingly, it was the avowed carnivores who were most surprised that a vegan dish could easily replace a meat-based dish.
I’m betwixt and between choosing a favourite between the beef or ostrich fillet. I’ve had both before and find whichever I have is my favourite. Faced with both options at #DineJoziStyleLuckyBean I concluded that choosing a favourite is akin to splitting hairs. The beef is perfection on its own as it is served with a minimum of fuss (no basting sauces or rubs), accompanied with cumin butter and hand cut chips. Lucky Bean elevates it with roasted chakalaka – a uniquely South African relish, that adds a textural contrast with a mildly spicy bite. I would ordinarily never have ordered it, but Conway once served me a taste that left me addicted. It’s a very clever dish as a wet chakalaka would have overpowered the steak, whereas the roasted chakalaka reduces and intensifies in flavour as spicy nuggets. You still get to appreciate the flavour of the beef bouyed by the spices. I’m equally sold on the hand cut chips – and wish more restaurants would offer freshly cut potatoes in favour of frozen chips.
Comparing the Ostrich Fillet with Maroela Jelly to the beef is like comparing apples to oranges as both dishes are favourites in their own right. I love the ostrich because it is served slightly charred on the outside but pink and moist on the inside. Ostrich is notiously difficult to cook because it is a lean meat but Lucky Bean cooks it to perfection. Again, no commercial rubs or basting sauces, just beautifully grilled meat served with a horizontally cut spear of broccoli and accompanied by South African Maroela Jelly and Amasi.
Maroela (also spelt Marula) is similiar to guavas; in that it is tropical, sweet, and tangy in flavour, and uplifts the ostrich. Amasi is a cultured milk similiar to yoghurt or creme fraische. The amasi contributes a creamy richness to the dish and a wonderful foil against the natural bitterness of the brocolli. The brocolli doesn’t play second fiddle either – it’s a revelation in presentation and flavour. I especially love the way it is sliced horizontally to resemble a Lucky Bean and garnished with pink peppercorns.
Desserts were a hotly contested course with everyone digging their heels firmly into the ground as they declared their favourite favourite. The Maroela Malva & Amarula Cream was an instant hit as an childhood favourite with an alcoholic twist, while the Blueberry Sorbet, Basil Ice Cream & Lime Meringue offered lighter refreshment. The Spicy Pumpkin Ice Cream is an equally popular choice – especially given that it is also vegan, combined with the freshness of a granita with the decadence of caramelized pecan nuts and a tang of naartjie.
The Lucky Bean’s name is derived from their beautiful tree mural in the restaurant. This tree, the Erythrina Lysistemon is also known as the Coral Tree and “die Kanniedood nie (cannot die)”. It is called the Mophete in Tswana and the Umsinsi in Zulu. The Lucky Bean tree is also used for traditional medicines (muti) and the seeds are used as lucky charms and as beads and necklaces. The trees were planted on the graves of Chiefs. The owners say that their restaurant is where you come to enjoy really good, unpretentious food and the laid back, cosmopolitan style of the restaurant
Lucky Bean’s relaxed, bohemian ambiance is perfect for brunch or sundowners, and their considered combination of ingredients will appeal to international and South African palates.
It’s impressive without trying to impress.
Lucky Bean's relaxed, bohemian ambiance perfect for brunch or sundowners.
The star: the food! A well considered combination of ingredients that will appeal to international and South African palates. Impressive without trying to impress.#DineJoziStyleLuckyBean pic.twitter.com/FIVGRml0Cr
— JoziStyle (@JoziStyle) November 17, 2017
— JoziStyle (@JoziStyle) November 29, 2017