For 16 years, The Service Station restaurant in Melville has been a place where locals can meet for a quick, healthy and delicious lunch. It has become an institution — the kind of place where the waiters know your name. So when it closed down for refurbishments for a few weeks recently, regulars stared longingly through the windows, feeling a little displaced. Quick-witted owner Carmen van der Merwe stationed a mobile coffee truck outside to placate her patrons until her new, improved restaurant was ready. 

Carmen van der Merwe of The Service Station
Carmen van der Merwe of The Service Station
Image: Aubrey Jonsson

Now there’s more space for seating round the back, the kitchen has been extended and there’s a section that sells cool gadgets and kitchenware and a long table that encourages communal eating and conversations between patrons. ‘‘The next-door shop became available and I’ve always thought that my kitchen was too small — so we decided to extend the shop and make the kitchen double the size,” she says. 

An interior design graduate, Van der Merwe started the Service Station because she loved making food and realised that Johannesburg lacked something that had already taken off in Cape Town: a place where patrons could get buffet lunches – a selection of healthy, tasty salads like beetroot and Gorgonzola, asparagus and bean, Asian noodle and pineapple, and lentil and couscous, comple-mented with homemade quiches and hot dishes – like  potato bake and lasagne – that change daily according to what’s available seasonally. 

Our manager,
Louw Kotze, is a
trained Institute
of Culinary Arts

In the new part of the restaurant there are lots more plug points for ‘‘coffice” regulars and the long table can be booked for private lunches or dinners. ‘‘From the deli section we’re doing a lot of ready-made meals to take home, soups and home-made beef and lamb stocks, Greek yoghurt and pastas. They’ve been selling really well,” says Van der Merwe. Patrons can also order fresh chicken pies, quiches and salads online (orders must be placed a day in advance). 

‘‘Our manager, Louw Kotze, is a trained Institute of Culinary Arts chef – he’s been creating the menu for our private dinner parties (for 18 people) serving dishes like smoked salmon salad with citrus, slow-roasted shoulder of pork and almond tart with strawberry and chilli ice cream. We tailor the dinner menu to what our guests would like.” In addition to the food, there’s also gorgeous imported kitchenware to buy: beautiful hand-painted linen kitchen towels, British baking goods, French glassware and locally made aprons, tea-towels and crockery. 

They also sell amazing chocolate croissants, unbeatable cheesecake and great polenta cake. ‘‘We’re also now stocking wonderful jams, cheeses, savory biscuits, salted caramel in boxes, pickled pumpkin, dried oranges and biscuits made in the Cape,” she says. And since they now have the space, they stock freerange eggs and chickens to buy too. And don’t miss out on the breakfasts. Brioche French toast with berries and mascarpone, or banana and bacon is my personal favourite. 

Image: Aubrey Jonsson

Bamboo Centre, Cnr Rustenburg and 9th streets, Melville, Joburg
011 726 1701

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