Urban Moyo: a slice of African cuisine in Sandton’s concrete jungle

Influenced by natural elements, the décor at Urban Moyo is a mix of modern and earthy touches.
Influenced by natural elements, the décor at Urban Moyo is a mix of modern and earthy touches.
Image: Supplied

There’s an art to blending old with new, to combining tradition with modernity and pulling this off with flair. At Urban Moyo, a new addition to Sandton’s dining scene, this has been done with seemingly effortless skill. Located at 24 Central, Urban Moyo is conveniently situated for a quick lunch or a relaxed dinner in the heart of Sandton.

Part of the Moyo restaurant franchise, Urban Moyo was conceptualised slightly differently to complement the architecture of a sprawling city. Owner Gugu Zuma Ncube says the urbanisation of the Moyo brand came about because they felt it was time to refresh the traditional Moyo look and make it more current and appealing to locals looking to experience continental flavours in a trendy environment.

While Zuma Ncube says they have maintained the ethos of Moyo – which is to celebrate what is beautiful and sophisticated about Africa – it is an up-to-date and modern expression of the continent which looks ahead. “My expectations are that anyone who identifies with the modern, dynamic and beautiful Africa we live in will love the restaurant,” she says.

This is reflected in the décor which is influenced by natural elements and a mix of modern and earthy touches. Wooden canes along the ceiling run adjacent to vast glass panels that let in ample light. The grey pebbled walls dotted around the space pick up on the imposing marble slab behind the cosy, but elegant, bar. Warm brown leather seats are set off against the oblong shapes of wooden chairs and a selection of beautiful glassware and crockery. The result is a balance of elements that melt into the glow of the heaters which warm the space on cold winter nights.

The Northern Cape cocktail blends Inverroche gin, chai tea, lemon juice, berry juice and tonic water.
The Northern Cape cocktail blends Inverroche gin, chai tea, lemon juice, berry juice and tonic water.
Image: Supplied

The South-African-inspired cocktail list is as worth the visit as the food. Reflecting elements from the country’s tapestry of diverse provinces, they are served with flair, the pinnacle of an elaborate presentation which, again, draws on natural elements. A personal favourite is the Northern Cape – Inverroche gin, chai tea, lemon juice, berry juice and tonic water – served in a gin glass perched in a miniature bonsai garden.

Describing the fare as “contemporary African cuisine”, the menu borrows from palates across the continent, incorporating a variety of flavours – particularly Moroccan. South African flavours, such as rooibos-infused seed bread, are featured alongside cumin chapatti with a chilli chickpea dip. To nibble on, options such as paptert, samoosas or braaibroodjies are on offer and slow-roasted dishes are served with sides of putu pap, couscous or creamy maize.

Dark-green retro lampshades hang over the open kitchen counter, where delicacies are prepared to be served to guests. They come straight from the open flames fired by mopane-wood coals – a traditional African element that plays a central role in the conceptualisation of the restaurant.

Urban Moyo is a meat lover’s paradise. Apart from four salads, the menu only offers two vegetarian options, although there is a slim possibility that the roasted, smoked bone marrow might convert the strictest of vegetarians. It is pure melt-in-the-mouth food pleasure, which makes up for the accompanying biltong potbrood’s slight lack of flavour.

Despite the enticing red meat options, including lamb tagine and venison, I opted for the flamed dukkah yellowtail with turmeric cauli-mash, radish, grilled mango, herb salad and harissa lemon butter – a recommendation from every staff member I spoke to, including the head chef. Light yet hearty, the dish is layered with flavours and depth. The plating, to my delight, evokes images of the ocean.

The servings are generous and rich and left me in the unfortunate position of having to relinquish dessert for a glass of wine – a decision I regretted the following day. However, I plan to make up for it with another visit on a Saturday when live jazz is on offer, which Zuma Ncube says they are excited about. I look forward to my next visit. At the very least, I have to try their gin and tonic cheesecake.

The writer was a guest of Urban Moyo

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