Secret, underground dining at The Marabi Club Pop-Up Restaurant

Beneath the super-cool Hallmark House Hotel is a basement jazz club. The spot on Siemert Road in New Doornfontein may look seemingly abandoned, but when diners shuffle down a dark alley and enter a nondescript door, they’ll find an intriguing, unexpectedly charming ‘secret’ Prohibition-style cocktail den. Complete with drinks exuding smoke and small, flavoursome dishes, there’s something about slipping into this underground paradise that feels deliciously in the know. Enough hiding – get ready to seek out The Marabi Club Pop-Up Restaurant. 

The words ‘speakeasy-inspired bar’ might make you roll your eyes. But Joburg’s culture of hidden bars is thriving, and producing some of the City of Gold’s best cocktails. Being shown to The Marabi Club feels like being let in on a secret – in large part because to enter the jazz club, you’ll have to get an employee to open a secret door. Whether you’re a longtime jazz lover or you’re looking for someone to bend your senses sideways, The Marabi Club is the place for tuning into the Joburg jazz club scene. But this is a place for anyone who knows how to have a good time, regardless of their musical leanings. Its love language is bilingual – laughter and quality time. 

This discreet spot prides itself on a decidedly sophisticated atmosphere and interiors that conjure the 1920s and 1930s in Joburg, when the memorable Marabi music style was evolving. In the slum yards of Joburg in the wake of the Witwatersrand Gold Rush, shebeens where music played throughout the night became nurturing homes for marabi – and you’ll find plenty of historical nods in The Marabi Club’s décor. Low lighting, face brick walls, pressed ceiling panels, art-deco furniture and vintage bookstands seal the speakeasy deal. In fact, The Marabi Club ticks all the trademark boxes, with staff wearing braces and bow ties as well as joyfully electric local and visiting international acts on a loop. There’s no hint at the lineup, but expect bona fide musical titans to rub against young hot talents. The sound system is truly worthy of celebration.  

Until the end of June 2022, celebrated South African chef Katlego Mlambo – who was once the group sous chef for Luke Dale-Roberts’ award-winning Cape Town restaurants – is hosting The Marabi Club Pop-Up Restaurant for the city’s well-heeled, which promises unexpected treats by this dynamic young chef. His mysterious sharing plates menu is diverse, but not tiringly or confusingly so (a problem we feel is not unusual at tapas restaurants), covering rich, sumptuous fare crafted using local and seasonal ingredients and – of course – plenty of raw fish. While The Marabi Club’s cocktails are expertly crafted, and many fresh takes on classics abound, the food here is truly standout – it’s daring, inspirational and deliciously hypnotic. The Marabi Club Pop-Up Restaurant is ideal for special occasions or a destination meal in its own right. 

Starting with a few appetisers, you’d be remiss to overlook chef Katlego’s rightly famous Thai oysters with nam jim dressing – they’re a great way to get a dinner started! Follow with the mildly spiced fish tacos – their featherlight, crisp shell loaded with pickled ginger, jalapeños, avocado, passion fruit and perfectly seasoned plump fish – and the deep-fried chicken thigh sliders; steamed idombolo buns topped with Asian slaw and pickled red onion, which have a comfort-food feel. The accompanying sweet and slightly crunchy ‘African Carrot 3.0’ – ras el hanout and duck fat-roasted carrot, carrot purée, fermented apple and pickled pineapple – is a perfectly contrasting pairing. Thin-sliced sashimi with tamarind, coconut and pickled jalapeños as well as melt-in-your-mouth wagyu steak with truffle potato ‘noodles’, sous vide egg yolk and D’USSÉ VSOP Cognac bone marrow jus are just as easily a highlight for the evening. A sweet-but-pleasantly-light take on a peaches and cream dessert rounds out the meal nicely. 

While your visit to The Marabi Club Pop-Up Restaurant should, first and foremost, be about the dining experience, make sure you bring your Instagram A-game to the creative bar tucked into a corner of the jazz club. The killer cocktails are Prohibition-strong, combining nostalgia with flamboyant fun. To imbibe, we recommend the smoked old fashioned and the espresso martini – made with freshly brewed espresso and a dash of coffee liqueur for one smooth sip. For another appropriate photo op, don’t forget to tell secrets in the phone booth and snap away. Chef Katlego has earned his legendary status, and his pop-up restaurant lives up to the hype … and then some. The Marabi Club is truly transporting and highlights the best of a bygone era. 

Please note that you’ll need to book in advance to enjoy this rarefied intimacy. 

54 Siemert Road, New Doornfontein, Johannesburg 

010 591 2879 

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