When I first started my quest to experience the Jozi food scene in earnest, I found it difficult to break away from my favourite places and the certainty of that killer (delicious) meal I knew I would find there. One of these places close to my heart has always been Plaka. The Cresta location, their flagship, was a short drive from the West Rand, where I lived for more than 10 years. Even when I ventured further and tried different things, I have found my way back there, and happily so.
I recently received the news of their décor facelift and menu update, along with an invitation to come and see, and oddly, I was apprehensive! Would all my favourites still be there? Would it still be the heaven of Greek food, seafood delights and cheese indulgence that I knew and loved? I grabbed Tall Dark & Handsome and insisted we absolutely had to go make sure!
So last weekend, we headed through for lunch. Cresta is a massive shopping complex so if you’ve never been before, the easiest way to locate Plaka is to go to the easternmost end of the mall. In other words, heading east on Beyers Naude Drive, drive past Cresta on your left hand side and turn left at the traffic lights at what appears to be the end of the mall. After turning left, head right at the first set of lights very soon after, and enter the parking lot either through the first or second circle. Once inside the parking area, head right toward the actual end of the mall, and Plaka will become fairly conspicuous.
Upon arrival, we were warmly greeted by one of the two Cresta franchise owners, Nishall Iswarlall. Nishall, and partner, Adel Nofal, have made a great success of the restaurant business, and it’s easy to understand why. Plaka has been around for decades, a testimony to the hard work behind the brand, and the staying power of good food done well, delivered with great attention and service.
The new look of the restaurant is light, bright, and blue, and brings to mind beach holidays and coastal destinations. I was immediately in love with the refreshed décor, with gorgeous splashes of blue mosaic creating that Greek island vibe, and beautiful bougainvillea adding bright bursts of colour here and there. Seal the deal with soft wood finishing, and the result is attractive and inviting. It’s easy to forget you’re in a massive shopping complex and not about to dig your toes into some beach sand after an epic lunch.
If, like me, you were anxious that your favourite classic Greek dishes are missing from the updated menu, I’m here to tell you to rest assured. Almost all that has always made Plaka great is still there to enjoy, with some terrific new additions to appeal to a broader base.
Of course, for us it was hard to resist enjoying some of the old classic dishes, despite being there to check out what was new. We left it in Nishall’s hands and soon we were surrounded by small plates of glorious Greek cuisine, bursting with flavour and colour! Most of our dishes came from the Meze Starters selection. Some of the deliciousness we enjoyed included feta-stuffed calamari tubes (exquisite!), my all time favourite Dolmades, the new (and definitely worth trying) Mama’s Meatballs, flavourful prawns in a spicy tomato & feta sauce, an amazing plate of grilled zucchini topped with grated Grana Padano cheese, plus a basket of pitas with two dips – the spicy feta as well as the roasted pepper & chargrilled brinjal dips.
While we were enjoying our feast, I asked Nishall how one makes it in the restaurant business, and then maintains success in such a fickle industry for such a good innings. His response: “Without my staff, I would not be here. The backbone of my business is my staff.”
After a selection like the above-mentioned, it’s hard to imagine eating anything more but we absolutely had to try at least one of the new mains, so Nishall brought us a dish from the Signature Menu: a plate of open-flame-grilled chicken wings basted in their secret sauce. Add a spritz of lemon, and this dish of perfectly succulent chicken comes alive with beautiful flavour.
After the gorgeous meal, we could not possibly fit in any room for dessert, and had to say our farewells. For now! We will definitely be back to enjoy more amazing food in this stunning updated and refreshing setting.