The Royale is a new Cuban inspired eatery in Joburg blowing up your Instagram feed as the cool kids new hangout for cocktails and ‘street style’ photoshoots. The tropical haven in the middle of Craighall has a relaxed friendly atmosphere with sultry Latin music playing to set the mood. The chances that you’ll bump into someone you know between the now iconic neon palm trees and pink bar are about 10 to 1. Between my first visit and sitting down to write this post, I’ve gone back again and again. It’s basically everyone’s new local, but so much better looking than the pub down the road!
The decor at The Royale was inspired by the plush art deco hotels of Havana. The pastel palette and abundance of plants with smaller details, like vintage crockery and smoked glass light fittings, lends old world charm. The place gives me nostalgia for somewhere I’ve never been. I also love that the bar is so chic. I find that I hardly see people in South Africa sitting at bar counters… but I adore sitting on a high chair at bar for lingering chats over a drink. Actually sitting at, and not just ordering, from a bar is the best!
Speaking of drinks, the barmen are absolute gentlemen. Each time I’ve gone back, they’ve remembered my order and that I like a particular drink a little more sour than normal. They’ve asked if they’ll order the same snacks as last time or try something different. Quick, attentive service makes the world of difference- although I haven’t been at The Royale when it’s packed to capacity. I tried the classic Mojito which lives up to any you could find in Cuba, I imagine. My personal favourite from the cocktail menu is The Dramble. The Dramble is a short cocktail made up of whiskey, grapefruit juice, some sugar syrup and little liqueur. It makes me feel really fancy, in a Mad Men kinda way. Thank goodness I don’t have to deal with the ad-men of the 1950’s though.
The partners at The Royale took a little work-inspiration trip to Cuba and decided to bring to Latin America and Cuban cuisine to SA. They see it as the next big thing. As they pointed out, all we really have available locally in terms of South American food, is Mexican. Now, I love a quesadilla (and a taco, a plate of nachos, a chilli popper or two and a Corona) as much as the next girl, but there’s truth in that. The menu has some unusual flavour combinations for South Africa, like the Squid which comes in a sticky sweet and sour sauce with pineapple. And some familiar gems like burgers and rump steak.
I don’t eat meat very much these days, but my mom has sampled the Oxtail Pie and will not stop telling people to go eat it. I heard that I friend of mine who ate the Oxtail Pie finished it, then ordered a second plate- and it’s not a small portion. Another friend described the Mojo-Rubbed Pork Belly as being reminiscent of his Ouma’s Sunday roast but better. You’ll understand why I can’t share his name for fear of retribution.
If you’re vegan, you can order the Seasonal Veg, roasted in a spicy herbed oil, and the Cuban-Style Coleslaw with no mayo. Both were delicious, with super fresh vibrant veggies. I did chat with the guys about adding a plant based protein but I don’t know if it’ll happen. Vegetarians without an aversion to cheese should definitely try the Cheesy Jalapeno Fries and Cheesy Bean Rice. Both will leave your belly very happy. You will need to order a side with your mains unless you just want a plate of ceviche.
Dessert wise, I’m addicted to their waffles. These waffles are thin and crispy, as opposed to fluffy Belgium style waffles. There are nuts cooked into the batter and a light drizzle of a rum and caramel over vanilla cream. Now I can’t wait to go back to fulfil this waffle craving.