This boutique haven in the leafy centre of Johannesburg belies the city’s bad-boy reputation and is the perfect base to explore Jo’burg’s history.
For us, Johannesburg historically, has meant little more than a cosy airport lounge as we transit between more attractive destinations. Its bad-boy image for crime and unrest has held little appeal.
More recently great things are happening In Johannesburg in terms of cleaning up the crime rate, the druggy corners of downtown and the no-go areas of Highbrow. It’s still not a place that you go swanning around in the evenings without a care in the world but if you’ve got your wits about you and use recognised guides then you’re unlikely to fall foul of the ne’er-do-wells.
We were determined to give it a go and were well rewarded in terms of the riches it offers from an historic, culinary and cultural perspective.
Our start point was booking into The Peech boutique hotel. It is, contrary to our first impressions, to be full of pleasant surprises, a real dichotomy and to be recommended to anyone who wants to escape city life to a green haven, yet be on the doorstep of all the action.
We book in late in the evening and first impressions are of entering a military establishment with its imposing dark green walls bedecked by razor wire punctuated only by a heavy barred gate. Once through security we’re welcomed into a bright clean reception and quickly ushered to our room in a barrack block that is minimalist, almost to the point of austerity.
Sometimes design just clicks and at others it takes some getting used to. Our bathroom, including the sink pedestal and bath seem to have been constructed from cast concrete slabs with tiles fitted as an afterthought but the sizeable walk in shower at least looks efficient. Our room is basically furnished in a similar style and it’s here that I think I must be missing the design ethos; as Cherrie finds the room attractive and doesn’t share my reservations at all.
For me the disconnect continues as we make our way back to the restaurant for dinner. It appears to be modeled on a 1990’s ‘Wimpy bar’ with bare synthetic-wood topped single chrome pedestal tables and pin leg chairs arranged in grid style, with a wall length padded bench on one side – to say it lacks atmosphere would be charitable.
Normally at this stage a hotel has got beyond the point of no return in my ability to see the good it offers but here The Peech recovers in style and turns all perceptions on their head.
The first step towards recovery is the excellent meal, which although simple (Calamari with chilli followed by blue filet steak) is unexpectedly (given my perception of the environment) beautifully prepared and cooked to perfection with service that is offered with humour and efficiency.
Slightly wrong-footed on return to our room we discover that although there is a sensible selection of coffees and teas available, there is only one example of each, but we’re too tired to ask for more and then sink into a large and extremely comfortable bed for a sound and most welcome sleep.
What a difference a day makes. We awake to birdsong and barely a sound from the city outside as we open our ground floor patio doors onto a secluded and shaded area that is discrete from other guests. The Peech garden is flooded in sunlight that adds a softness to the angular accommodation buildings within the grounds.
The main hotel is a substantial and attractive private house whilst the garden accommodates a small swimming pool, vegetable garden and tree swing set amidst colourful shrubs and trees, which ‘Pepper’ the hotel cat and an Ibis stroll through at leisure – a real delight.
Breakfast is back in the ‘Wimpy Bar’ but as it’s sunny we elect to sit outside in more comfortable seating. It’s here that we’re greeted by James Peech, the owner (so, no, we hadn’t spelt the fruit incorrectly) who is the perfect host with his warm and welcoming manner, together with helpful advice and guidance on where to eat and what to see. It’s easy to see how his easy friendly manner has suffused his staff who all adopt the same approachable charm.
James explains how the leafy neighbourhoods around the district of Melrose have rejuvenated the notion that it’s OK to stay in central Johannesburg – and to do so in some style rather than choose formulaic city centre establishments.
We now spend the whole of the day touring Johannesburg – from the highbrow area of Upper Houghton to the previously down and out area of Highbrow – a whistle stop view of Mandela’s houses and an all too short but fascinating couple of hours in the Apartheid Museum. On past the goldfields and into the Townships of Soweto. We defy anyone not to be moved by the hardship and inhumanity that has occurred in the past and lingers today but cannot recommend highly enough the time spent in learning about South Africa’s evolution.
In reflective mood, we now return to the all-embracing and welcoming Peech for a quick shower and change before heading out to James Peech’s recommendation of La Cucina di Ciro. The Mediterranean Italian restaurant is a short taxi ride away from The Peech in Parktown North, also in a leafy neighbourhood and appears to be housed in another converted private dwelling. It’s bright and airy with stripped wooden flooring, period tables and fireplace surrounds to dress the décor of basic colonial.
The waiter is cheery and attentive and the owner/chef, Ciro Molinaro, schmoozes each and every diner to discuss his menu and offer recommendations. He’s got this act off to a fine art with regular diners getting the full treatment – but no one goes unattended and it definitely adds to the feeling of well being and attention that differentiates one eatery from another. The food is exquisite and reinforces the notion that Italian doesn’t automatically mean cream and oil laden pasta but can be light and delicately flavoured variations of seafood and meats.
Cherrie chooses an antipasti of salami with mango and avocado followed by lamb in apricot sauce, whilst I select deep fried sardines with onion and beetroot salad followed by oven roasted duck with orange and green peppercorn sauce, all accompanied by sauteed spinach and roasted root vegetables. The meal is a pleasure and our shared dessert of orange crepe topped with warm caramelised pears, light orange vanilla mascarpone & lavendar cream disappears in record time!
Our last night at The Peech is a delight and breakfast the following morning another sun-bathed experience of how simple fayre can be made enticing with a little thought.
We leave The Peech with a feeling of bonhomie, having easily dispelled first reservations and replaced them with feelings of warmth and homeliness that we’d little expected.
Time in Johannesburg is well spent. We leave the city with a far deeper understanding of South Africa’s social history, a feeling of disquiet at the events that surrounded it but an overall gratitude for the opportunity to immerse ourselves in this tapestry of turmoil that puts ‘luxury’ into context and hopefully is now finding a clearer path ahead.
Johannesburg should no longer be a transit point but very much a destination on your itinerary – and The Peech should definitely be on your agenda for a tranquil oasis in which to retreat from the bustle of your city visit.
Why not download our guide brochure or give us a call today on 01202 030443, or simply click ‘enquire’ to let us know what you’d love to do?
There’s a whole lot more to Johannesburg but you need little more than these two places will set you up for a wonderful time.