Some restaurants exude magic, an enigmatic mixture of excitement, hospitality, and very good things on the plate and in the glass. That’s the feeling at Le Wine Chambre in Johannesburg. Jazz wafts from the speakers, the crowd murmurs and exclaims over cocktails and wine glasses, and the gregarious host drifts from table to table chatting and recommending things to taste and sip. There are many places where you can explore the exciting world of South African wines, but I’m not sure there is any that deliver as much magic as this place.
Opened in 2017 by engineer and oenophile Walter Melato, a black wine professional in an industry long dominated by white South Africans, Le Wine Chambre is a joyous celebration of the vinous bounty of this country. The space is a temple to wine: There’s a glassed-in room with bottles stretching to the ceiling, and around 25 wines are available by the glass on any given day.
Zimbabwean chef Harold Saidi cooks a tapas menu that is international in its scope, and one of the most exciting things about Le Wine Chambre is seeing South African wines paired with African dishes. Chicken livers sautéed in piri piri sauce are bright and spicy and fantastic with the recommended Riesling, and a Chardonnay from Stellenbosch was thrilling with a grilled kingklip with lemon butter.
For all the wealth of restaurants and wineries in South Africa, there actually aren’t that many places that find a way to match the food of the region with the wines now being produced there. Le Wine Chambre does that and so much more—it provides a place where wine, food, and culture bloom into a specifically South African experience.
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By Besha Rodell. Currently the dining critic for the New York Time’s Australia bureau.
Photo by Adriaan Louw