In Johannesburg’s leafy suburbs of Parktown North is one of the city’s hidden gems, acid wine bar. On any given evening, you will find a mix of Johannesburg’s cool kids, epicureans, and wine enthusiasts dining on chef Jes Devoten’s Thai-inspired creations, while sipping on some of sommelier Jemma Steyer’s latest wine picks.
“Wine connects people, yes you connect over a glass of wine, but we are also connecting with other people in the wine community,” says Jemma Steyer.
The focus of acid wine bar is on bridging the gap between smaller wineries and consumers who want to enjoy life with wine made with passion and heart. At the end of the day, it is clear that acid has created a cool experience for cool people. The moment you walk into acid it feels light-hearted and fun, where one can be themselves while enjoying food and wine they have never ordered before. Vintage couches and walls are brightly coloured, plates and cutlery from charity shops are mismatched, while the bar is architectural and inviting.
“It’s a cool, calm, and inclusive safe space. Especially, for black and brown women, wine can feel intimidating,” says Steyer. “Therefore they go to the same safe places and order the same drinks. We are eliminating that snobbery.”
“We don’t talk about tannins or textures, but we talk about feelings. If you don’t know anything about wine, we ask ‘what’s the vibe?’ and we go from there,” says Steyer.
As a champion for showcasing smaller and unique wine producers, Steyer has a few local wines on her radar. While both the food and wine offerings at acid change regularly, Processus Wine from Constantia is one of fan favourite wines to order by the glass. Mcfarlane wines from the Western Cape’s Hemel-en-Arde Valley are French quality wines at R60 a glass.
acid wine bar’s sophisticated fusion of flavour
While sipping on a glass of locally-sourced wine can be meditative, tasting the French and Thai-infused dishes made by chef Jes Devoten and her team takes dinner at acid to the next level. With the kitchen in full view to dining guests, openness and transparency is also at the heart of acid’s menu.
On any given day, you’ll find a plate with a medley of cuisines and flavours that work in perfect harmony. A plate with chashu, — a kind of Japanese braised pork belly — kimchi, and doenjang butter gives that elusive ‘umami’ flavour. Paired with a glass of wine from a small producer is a truly unique experience that is hard to find at a winery with some Asian-inspired dishes, or Asian restaurants with more commercial wine menus.
But, acid wine bar’s ascent to becoming an essential stop for wine-lovers in Johannesburg has not happened without its fair share of challenges. For Steyer and Devoton, it is that common adage of if they had known how hard it is to run a business, they might not have done it in the first place.
“There are definitely financial challenges because restaurants are a fickle market. For us, the winter months have been especially brutal,” says Steyer.
When it comes to designing the idea behind acid, there is a lot of managing people’s expectations, explains Steyer. Whether to cut through the ubiquitous hospitality trends, or doing exactly what the customers want, and being like every other restaurant.
The team at acid has had to consider not only the idea of “how do we convince people to come to you?”, but “how can it be a beautiful space?”. But once you walk into the space, you can clearly see the details a lot of women put into things naturally, explains Steyer.