Nguni Restaurant is one of my favourites in Plettenberg Bay, located in one of the oldest buildings in Plett, having been built as a fisherman’s cottage 160 years or so ago. It has been offering good value cuisine, with friendly service, for the past four years, and is withstanding the recession that has hit Plettenberg Bay badly.
Nguni is the name of the language group comprising Xhosa and Zulu, but is also the name of a cattle breed, and it is the latter that the restaurant is named after. Nguni cattle offer the benefit of optimal production, are the mainstay of the Zulu culture, have multicoloured hides, and are hardy, much like the restaurant. A painting of a Nguni bull is on one of the walls, and a Nguni skin is under the largest table. Black and white photographs of Plettenberg Bay adorn the walls.
The restaurant forms part of The White House complex belonging to the Ovenstone family, its hall being used for functions, shows and exhibitions. Nguni joint-owners Jacqui Carter-Johnson and Natalie Eray use their restaurant kitchen not only to cook for the restaurant, but also do catering for weddings and other events from it. The restaurant can seat 40 guests inside, and another 30 outside. An ornamental vine outside provides shade for the lunches. Inside the original wood-burning stove adds cosiness on cold winter evenings.
Table overlays have stripes on them, and are made from linen, as are the serviettes. The metal top tables remind me of those at Grande Provence in Franschhoek, as do the overlays. Nice black water glasses match the black and white flowered upholstery on some of the chairs, whilst other chairs have light striped upholstery. Candles are used extensively to create a romantic atmosphere at night. Good quality leather menu and winelist holders are presented to the table by the friendly waiter Robert, whom we first met when he was working at the Grand Café and Rooms in Plettenberg Bay more than four years ago. It is lovely to see his beautiful smile whenever we go to Nguni and he knows my love for water with lemon, the jug being ready at our table when we arrive. Clint is the manager, and keeps an eye on things at night.
Plettenberg Bay is suffering the effects of the recession worse than the Cape Town could dream of, and it was shocking to hear how many Plett landmarks have closed in the past few months. Therefore all the greater the relief that Nguni has survived, the catering side of the business helping to keep it alive. It was noticeable that the menu prices were very reasonable, and it felt as if prices have dropped since we were last there eight months ago. Yet the reality of the economic situation was that only four tables were booked in total for the dinner, and I was the only guest for lunch the day before. In winter Nguni impressed with its weekly Wednesday special, down to about R50 a dish.
One of the most interesting breads served in a restaurant is that of Nguni, a wholewheat mini-loaf baked in a terracotta flower pot, and is meant to be shared. It is served with a generous slice of butter. I ordered grilled chicken breast for my main course, and asked Robert to ask the kitchen to leave out the quinoa in the salad with avocado and tomato it was meant to be served with. I felt that the chicken portion (one breast) was too small to justify the R82 price tag. My partner ordered the lamb chops roasted in rosemary and garlic, prepared medium, juicy and tender, served with roast potato slices, for R85. We felt that the plate needed some colour. It is clear that Nguni is focusing on affordability, and while this is commendable, it may come at the expense of cuisine expectations. When I muttered about the small chicken portion, manager Clint comped the meal, agreeing that it was not good value. Other main courses are a 350 g Nguni rib-eye steak, at R98, an ostrich “hot dog” (R65), seared tuna (R98), grilled linefish (SQ) and a Cape prawn platter is the most expensive at R160. Starter options are a chilled soup (R38), trademark Bobotie springrolls which have been on the menu since the restaurant opened (R38), smoked springbok carpaccio (R52), game salami and cheese board (R58), and a tomato and a goat’s cheese onion tart (R48). Four salad options, ranging from R48 – R58, are also available.
The cappuccino was a good foamy one, made with Illy coffee. We didn’t have any wine, as a long night of work still lay ahead. The winelist is dominated by Sauvignon Blancs. Brampton is the entry level, at R30/R88, and includes Thelema, Southern Right, and Ataraxia, at R147; and Chardonnays ( R452 for Hamilton Russell and R195 for Jordan) on the white side. No vintages are specified, but each wine is described and the region specified. Saxenburg Grand vin Rouge is the only red wine offered by the glass, at an affordable R25/R63. The varieties of the other red wines offer a good spectrum, Hamilton Russell Pinot Noir being the most expensive at R472. The wine list states that Champagnes and Cap Classiques are available to order, but the brands are not specified.
We will always go back to Nguni first when we visit Plettenberg Bay, ahead of any other restaurant, feeling so at home there. I also like that little changes there, other than the odd menu item, making it feel familiar, even after a longer absence. Most of all, it is special because the staff are so friendly.
Nguni Restaurant, 6 Crescent Street, Plettenberg Bay. Tel (044) 533-6710. www.nguni-restaurant.co.za (not much detail on the website and few photographs). Mondays – Fridays 10h00 – dinner, Saturdays 18h00 – dinner. Open Mondays – Sundays 10h00 – dinner in peak season.
Chris von Ulmenstein, Whale Cottage Portfolio: www.whalecottage.com Twitter: @WhaleCottage