David Higgs and Gary Kyriacou are the co-owners of two of Johannesburg’s hottest restaurants, Marble in Rosebank and Saint in Sandton

Meeting the two restaurateurs is an experience in contrasts. In his skin-hugging jeans and grey chef’s jacket, Higgs looks like the quintessential free spirit, while Kyriacou appears to be the big brother with a “serious” corporate job. Their business relationship shouldn’t work, but – like their restaurants – it does.

Three years ago, Kyriacou’s idea of opening a restaurant in Johannesburg that embodied what South African food is about came to fruition in the form of Marble. As a deeply divided nation, one thing most South Africans agree on is our love of a good braai. The pair elevated the idea of meat cooked over the coals to something more exciting and experiential. The meat, fresh vegetables, fish and poultry are cooked in a Josper – a wood-fired oven.

The restaurant industry is notoriously difficult to navigate. Crippling occupational costs, skyrocketing initial investments and social media exposure mean that any eatery is a single mistake away from being wiped out.

Nevertheless, the pair then opened a second restaurant, Saint: a fresh and playful pizza and Champagne establishment located in the rapidly developing Sandton CBD.

“People are looking for more than just food. They work hard for their money, so they want something different,” says Higgs.

Marble is more than a fancy restaurant, explains Kyriacou. Furnished with exquisite creations from some of SA’s best designers, the restaurant boasts stunning views and a jaw-dropping bar measuring 8,8m in length. The restaurant’s wine cellar can hold 2 000 bottles, giving patrons a wide selection of some of the best vintages in the country.

Saint is a fantastic visual experience, featuring a striking vaulted dome at the centre of the dining area onto which 3D images are projected. These are an amalgamation of Renaissance artworks and contemporary offerings, making one feel as if one’s in both a 15th-century Italian cathedral and an ultra-modern gallery.

The food, like the décor, at Saint is best described as “Italian, but twisted”. The menu features pasta, pizza, risotto and a variety of antipasti dishes. The stars of the menu are undoubtedly the handmade pizzas, perfected inside wood-fire ovens imported from Naples. Unusually, the pizzas can be paired with the various Champagnes on offer.

“Through seasoning, we achieve simplicity. Through sweetening, we spice. We’ve made Italian our way. Crazy, beautiful and true to us,” says Higgs.

Marble’s sophisticated menu, which changes seasonally, features a wide variety of seafood, fish, poultry and fresh, hearty vegetable dishes.

Take time out after work to enjoy the stunning Johannesburg views while sipping a chilled Negroni, followed by a starter such as succulent oysters with Thai water dressing, citrus granita and mint.

For mains, dry and wet aged signature beef cuts from as far afield as the USA are highly recommended. The 60-day dry aged rib-eye on the bone from RR Ranch Northwest Meat, Washington or succulent Migo’s Jersey beef Tsitsikamma 750g 42-day dry aged T-bone are surely among the best char-grilled offerings in SA. The T-bone steak is best complemented by the Ernie Els 2016 Cabernet Sauvignon.

The country’s rising unemployment and falling salaries mean South Africans are tightening their belts and eating out less often. In order to stay relevant and accessible, Higgs and Kyriacou have ensured that their restaurants are inclusive and diverse.

“You can come to Marble or Saint and have a blow-out evening. You can easily spend R1 000 a head for a group of diners, or come alone or as a couple and spend only R350 a head. Have an incredible meal, a great glass of wine and leave feeling very satisfied,” smiles Higgs.

“We cater for different events, from weddings to birthdays and business functions. A lot of tourists who come to Jo’burg pass through here as well, so our client base is quite diverse,” adds Kyriacou.

He and Kyriacou recognise the importance of being able to adapt and change, and have staff who are as dedicated, hard-working and knowledgeable as they are. The restaurants serve 100-200 people a night. Ensuring a consistently great experience for each one of them requires meticulous attention to detail.

When the two restaurateurs first met, it took just 45 minutes for them to agree on the vision of their first restaurant. Kyriakou says they leverage each other’s strengths, based on trust.

They also have a number of other secret projects in the pipeline. While those marinate, they’re committed to giving South Africans an out-of-this-world dining experience.