Madame Zingara’s: The best night out in Johannesburg
They came from Russia, the Ukraine and Khayelitsha. Acrobats, drag queens and skipping skeletons. Whether you’re looking for some risqué humour or jaw-dropping acrobatics, Madame Zingara’s has it all.
Started in Cape Town in 2001, Madame Zingara’s was a whimsical restaurant that firmly established itself as a local favourite. Tragically, the restaurant burnt down 5 years later and, in 2007, re-launched as a Madame Zingara’s Theatre of Dreams. Hosted in the very first Spiegel tent to hit African shores, and propped up by 1000 bevelled mirrors, Madame Zingara’s is pulling in hundreds of people each night – 420 to be exact – to eat, drink and be merry.
We joined the excited guests on Friday night, after having had to book two months in advance. My partner Davina had no idea what she was in for and my impression of what the evening would hold swung somewhere between Cirque du Soleil and a dinner cabaret show. We’d heard that dressing up for Madame Zingara’s was de rigeur, so I’d dutifully visited China Mall and topped up on beads, boas and basher hats (sparkly, of course).
Our visual senses were overwhelmed at every turn – flashing hearts, swinging tea-cups, giant lollypops and gilded carriages greeted us as we entered the lobby. Inside the tent, we were shown to our table and offered complimentary vodka, mint and lime cocktails. With a full house booked, thankfully the service worked like clockwork and in a flash our Mediterranean-inspired mezze platter and espresso-cup starter of butternut soup was served to warm us up.
The El Milagro show opened with a compere who welcomed “old faces, new faces and old faces with new faces”, setting the tone for an evening of humour. A pair of acrobats set the tone, swinging from the tent’s centerpiece chandelier with nary a safety harness in sight. In between the Russian gymnasts, the Ukrainian chair balancer and South Africa’s biggest Dream Girls trio, we feasted on butternut ravioli (heart-shaped, natch), a lamb shank that literally melted in my mouth and a trio of granadilla (passion-fruit) pannacotta, chocolate mousse and raspberry sponge.
The glittering MC of the evening came close to stealing the show. Cathy Specific is South Africa’s “First Lady of Flight” and, with her two Trolley Dollies (Molly and Holly) kept the audience in stiches for most of the night. Sadly, there was a table behind us who couldn’t appreciate a “cock in a frock” and Cathy’s tale of reporting a “bumper lashing” at the local police station flew over many people’s heads (“Only the gay audience members got that”, observed Cathy).
The evening ended with a wonderful display by talented local artists. There was the gymnast who had us gasping as she rolled down from the roof of the tent, stopped from falling by only two broad ribbons and the skipping skeletons, three local lads from a Cape Town township who knew their way around skipping ropes like no-one we’d ever seen before. The stage was then cleared for the audience to take to the floor and dance the night away, which we did with much enthusiasm.
If you’re still debating whether or not to treat yourself to a night with the Madame (with ticket prices from R410 – R495 you may be thinking twice about booking) let me give you three words of advice – just do it. But you’d better be quick. At the end of August the Madame packs up her mirror tent and heads back to Cape Town, so phone them now and you might just get to party with the cast in August.