James Diack first debuted his farm-to-fork approach as Chef Patron of Coobs in 2012. Three years later, he boldly opened up a gem in Parktown North called The National Eatery, where he has continued in the same breath - but with a somewhat audacious, smokier menu.
The food and drinks menus are an expedition into all things revivifying and gratifying. The flavour profile ranges from smoky Texan to South American, Asian to bistro. It sounds rather eclectic and it honestly is.
This affable speakeasy with a devoted following serves as a cosy neighbourhood local where you can drop by to enjoy unfussy, comforting and filling food made with the finest farm-fresh ingredients sourced from owner James Diack's family farm, Brightside, in Magaliesberg.
“All our vegetables are organic and the free-range chickens, ducks, eggs, acorn-fed pigs and wild boar, as well as the grass-fed Suffolk lamb and Dexter beef, are reared there”, says Diack proudly.
The National is headed by chef Wayne Dietrich, who has conceptualized a seasonally changing menu that draws from a variety of influences and cooking styles. It’s trendy and sophisticated. A beautiful copper bar divides the restaurant from the bar seating area, the décor is cool but doesn’t try too hard and the outside deck is perfect for summer nights.
The wine list at The National is simply outstanding. “It has none of the usual suspects, but the list still remains very well priced”, proclaims Dietrich. “From Rieslings to Cinsault, Pinot Noirs to Grenache Blancs, there is something for every wine fundi, and, with over 60 choices, it’s wine-heaven.”
Diack and his team have plans to host regular meet-the-maker wine events. Wine lovers should go to The National purely to experience the joys of a wine list curated with impeccable knowledge, consideration and a great deal of joie de vivre. T
“For me, the house wine is far more than a listing. It’s an opportunity to sit, taste and catch up with our winemaker friends, and bottle something delicious, uncomplicated and quaffable”, says Diack. The service at The National is casual and warm. The waiters are informed, helpful and efficient, but could be more attentive when it comes to topping up wine glasses.
I asked Dietrich what the must-try items from the starters section are, and he replied with the utmost conviction, “Definitely, the sriracha chicken steamed buns”. I’ve never been one for cults, but when it comes to sriracha sauce, I’m in for life. This was beautiful, light, fluffy and flavoursome.
For mains, the signature dishes are the sticky confit pork belly with tossed new potatoes and crackling, and the slow-braised acorn-fed wild boar ragu served with hand-cut pappardelle. I opted for the pulled duck with mixed veggies in a Thai red curry sauce served with rice cakes.
For his Specials Menu, Dietrich took inspiration from winter vegetables and warm smokey spices such as cumin, coriander and paprika, to bring new dishes to the table that are the comforting winter warmers that chilly Joburg evenings call for. Standouts include the slow braised lamb rigatoni which is a slow-cooked masterpiece that any meat-lover will be salivating over.
Blowing everything out of the water, however, has to be the Asian noodle salad with chopped cabbage, kale, carrots and radish tossed through glass noodles, sesame seeds and miso dressing served with tofu - an ode to veganism. Simply put, it is scrumptious and moreover, fresh.
The mainstay burger on the menu is the pulled pork bun with slaw, skinny fries and beer battered onion rings.
If you’re in the mood for something decadent to round off your meal, you’ll find traditional malva pudding, which is a marvel.
The National Eatery has truly cemented itself as a local hangout. Pay them a visit at 19 Fourth Avenue, Parktown North, Johannesburg.