The Leopard in Melville
Some time ago I was lucky enough to have a meal at The Leopard in Melville. Many years back Andrea Burgener was a Fine Arts student at Wits when I taught History of Art there, so I know her creative leanings and talents well. On leaving Wits she wanted a break from living in her head to doing something just as creative but that brought more instant gratification (I can so relate to that.) As she said: ‘make a dish, serve it, it gets eaten and move onto the next creation’. So all her inspiration, innovation, energy and individuality was channeled into becoming one of Joburg’s best chefs and restaurateurs – all the while being a mother of 3 after marrying Nick Gordon (a fellow Fine Arts student).
Andrea started cooking occasionally at Bob’s Bar in Troyeville in the mid 1990s while still a student. Close by was the well-known Kitchenboy restaurant run by the larger-than- life Braam Kruger (who when spit-roasting a lamb decided to replace the traditional embedded garlic cloves with liquorice allsorts!) You can see why Braam and Andrea got on – and so she started cooking with him.
Andrea opened Superbonbon in Richmond (near Auckland Park) in 1999 and has criss-crossed Joburg with various memorable restaurants from Richmond to Deluxe in Parktown North to a re-envisioned Deluxe at 44 Stanley, to Parkhurst (The Leopard) and back to Melville.
When asked by Layla Leiman in 2013 (10and5.com) what she wanted to do when she was growing up Andrea answered: ‘First a chef, then changed to a painter, then a brain surgeon, then back to painter, and then, here we are. All three require a steady hand, and two require good knife skills, so I guess there are some links.’ Andrea is funny, clever, quirky and quick! All attributes reflected in her cooking style.
Zoo biscuits for dessert?
Superbonbon was great fun with its off-the-wall trashy-style where the food was served in one of those compartmentalized airline food trays. ‘Chicken or beef?’ took on a whole new meaning. And on order were items such as coco pops and liquorice all-sorts. The madness was memorable. While there are still quirky elements at the Leopard, with Zoo biscuits and tea as a dessert offering, and the bill delivered in a fabulous old-fashioned tin decorated with a leopard image and presented with jelly tots, in the main the zaniness has been toned down without compromising the quality, individuality and integrity of Andrea’s cooking style.
We both had items on the specials list so of course I cannot remember the full list of ingredients. Our starters were delicious fish cakes in a subtle sauce and fresh artichokes with a basil and breadcrumb topping. For mains I had the stuffed quail (with the most scrummy nut, lemon and garlic rice stuffing) and the surprising but oh-so-successful pairing of a subtly spiced chili Mozambiquan sauce, while my partner had a dish of Hoisin duck strips with raw veg and chili ginger syrup. Delicious all round. Andrea’s menu is unusual and different with fabulous subtle flavours and unexpected taste combinations. Her food is satisfying, generous, easy on the palate, not precious and delightfully individual.
Andrea’s recipe book
Andrea and Nick took the name the Leopard for their restaurant from Giuseppe Lampedusa’s novel Il Gattopardo, (The Leopard). So of course when Andrea wrote her first cookbook in 2013 she included the recipe for the chicken and macaroni pie or timbale, which Lampedusa describes in his book.
And Andrea is generous – a wonderful quality. She is no egotistical prima-donna. Another of my favourite eateries is The Patisserie de Paris in Mackay Ave Blairgowrie – they produce the most sublimely sinful brownies. Proudly displayed behind the till at the Patisserie is a newspaper article by Andrea in which she says how she always thought her brownies were the best until she tasted those from The Patisserie De Paris. It is this kind of generosity which is reflected in the Leopard – in its menu, its ambience and the whole dining experience.
I recommended the Leopard to guests staying at Liz at Lancaster and they raved about it. You can find the Leopard is at 63A, 4th Avenue (corner 5th Avenue), Melville 011 482 9356