After living in Johannesburg for 26 years, I assumed I knew the city and its history fairly well. But the truth is – I don’t. I came across the Joburg Places tours while searching for things to do in Johannesburg. It took me more than a year to eventually book even though I’ve always been interested in doing a tour. And I’m kicking myself for taking that long. I went on the tour and now I’ve created a Secret Underground Storytelling Dinner review so that you can decide whether you should book a tour and not waste another moment.
The Secret Underground Storytelling Dinner Review
So how do I review this tour without giving it’s ‘secretiveness’ away? Part of the excitement is not knowing what will happen on the tour. It’s a bit of a wildcard. By looking it up online, you’ll learn that you’ll visit the Thunder Walker project on Ghandi Square, you’ll eat at the underground Zwipi restaurant and you’ll view a bank vault.
But it is so much more than that. From the get-go – it’s incredibly special. We arrived via Uber at Ghandi Square and we must have looked like lost sheep because the team at Joburg Places called us over. Princess (who also happens to be the amazing chef behind the dinner) greeted us with warmth and smiles. She also gave us a quick tour while taking us to our table. The entrance to the Somerset House is so inconspicuous. I would never have thought that the door that leads us into the building would hold such remarkable treasures inside.
Let’s talk about Somerset House
The Joburg Places team renamed Somerset House to the ‘Thunder Walker’. Upon entering the Thunder Walker, you’ll be greeted by fairy lights draped from the high ceiling and old-school green and white tiled flooring. You have arrived at the Scatterlings restaurant. The Scatterlings Restaurant serves lunch only. Since we were there for dinner, we proceeded down the stairs to the Zwipi restaurant which is situated right next to the bank vault.
Yes, a real bank vault. No longer in use but filled with history. More fairy lights and artwork decorated the vaults giving it a whimsical atmosphere. Most of the safety deposit boxes are still locked but who knows what trinkets could still be locked in there?
Since we arrived early for the tour, we had time to explore the mazes of rooms and wander in and out of the bank vaults. The bar is right next to the bank vaults so we ordered our drinks and explored as much as possible. You’ll notice that one of the bank vaults had been tampered with. Did someone try to break in? You’ll have to go on the tour to find out if and how it happened…
The storytelling was incredible. We learnt about the history of South Africa and Johannesburg in a way I’ve never heard before. It felt like we were travelling through time, seeing the historic events unfold in front of us. Charlie, our Joburg Places city guide, really captured us with his vast knowledge and positive energy.
Let’s talk about food
Now let’s talk about dinner. All the vegetables were sourced from the inner city rooftop farmers so you know it’s fresh. Also, buying fresh produce supports the locals.
(Pssst, they also have an Urban Farming tour which visits these rooftop farmers.)
The dinner was nothing short of phenomenal. Princess did a great job with the menu choices and delivered on what promised to be an interesting dinner. We left feeling full and happy from the great wine and food that was served to us.
To sum the evening up: It’s worth every penny. We were captivated by the gorgeous building from the start. Our food and wine pairings were perfectly curated for the winter. The tour caters to small groups only which makes it a lot more intimate and special too.
Is this tour a Jozi Gem?
As a self-proclaimed hidden gems hunter, I’m always on the lookout for cool spots to visit in Johannesburg. Jozi has a reputation for being underwhelming in terms of activities and I’m making it my mission to dispute that claim. #challengeaccepted
What is a Jozi Gem?
So to answer the question as to whether this tour is a Jozi Gem, we need to talk about the tour itself and what constitutes an activity to be given the honour of ‘Jozi Gem’. To me, a Jozi Gem is an activity/place that is not well-known and somewhat of a secret amongst foreigners but all the locals love. A Jozi Gem promotes ethical and sustainable practices by either:
- Supporting the local people by either hiring locals or directly giving back to the community
- Helping to preserve the local culture
- ‘Green’ practices is at the heart of their business
- Provides a unique experience/event for both locals and tourists
So is the Secret Underground Storytelling Dinner a Jozi Gem?
It 100% is. Joburg Places has made sure that the tour preserves the Thunder Walker building by enhancing the historic site and making sure to not take away its old school / vintage charm. Stories and history fill the Thunder Walker walls. The Joburg Places team has made sure that Somerset House won’t be another forgotten/neglected building in the inner city.
The tours will increase the number of visitors that visit the inner city which creates jobs and will slowly revive the CBD to the powerhouse it once was.
The Joburg Places team blew me away with the amazing service and experience. I’m now going to be booking many more tours with them. I cannot wait to see more of Johannesburg with a new fresh mindset.
View the Joburg Places website to view more of their tours.