Waterfront restaurants win big at Luxe Awards

Emazulwini owner, Mmabatho Molefe, at her restaurant at Makers Landing.

After opening 18 months ago, modern Zulu-inspired restaurant Emazulwini Restaurant at Makers’ Landing at the Cruise Terminal bagged an award for African Restaurant of the Year at the fourth annual Luxe Restaurant Awards last week.

The award ceremony, which took place in Johannesburg last Tuesday, March 29, honours the finest contributions to the South African restaurant industry. The event was created by the Hospitality Counsel (Hosco) in partnership with food critics.

Emazulwini was one of three fine dining restaurants at the V&A Waterfront to scoop awards at the Luxe Restaurant Awards – Pier won New Restaurant of the Year, while chef Siba Mtongana of The Table Bay’s Siba won the Culinary Icon Award.

Emazulwini owner, Mmabatho Molefe, said she was “very honoured” to have been nominated alongside restaurants of that calibre.

“We travelled to the awards ceremony in Johannesburg mostly to meet industry players that I have engaged with online, and we just happened to win an award. However, I am now a little anxious because people might come to dine with higher expectations.”

At the Luxe Awards, dishes inspired by traditional childhood favourites created by the humble Ms Molefe impressed a team of anonymous food critics, with the panel of judges convened by Chad Fourie, chief judge of the Luxe Restaurant Awards and managing director of the Hospitality Counsel.

Ms Molefe, who lives in the Cape Town CBD, grew up in Pinetown in KwaZulu-Natal.

Growing up, food was always part of her happy place, she said. “My best memories when it came to food and cooking was watching and recreating episodes of Ready, Steady, Cook. Of course my parents wouldn’t let me cook with real ingredients so the recreating part was usually filled with mud cakes and leaves.”

After school, she attended culinary school in Salt River, and worked under two chefs in the industry to upskill herself.

Then, like most people in the hospitality industry, she lost her job due to the Covid-19 pandemic. “I decided on the concept of Emazulwini during lockdown while I was sort of resetting and drafting a five-year plan.

“After multiple applications and no replies, I got a message from my sister telling me about Makers Landing. I was fortunate enough to get a funder that believed in the idea and the plan to open a restaurant in August 2020.”

Emazulwini is Zulu-inspired restaurant which seeks to celebrate Nguni cuisine and South African ingredients. “We are just a small 10-seater space, and are still testing whether the idea works.”

Just four people work at Emazulwini – one person handles front of house with three in the kitchen.

Ms Molefe said the restaurant recently launched a new menu, dedicated to her parents. “It is a seven-course set menu, starting with mielie bread sticks with sweetcorn dip and parsley mayo, and includes dishes such as vetkoek with home-made chicken polony, white cheddar catalan, and corned beef tongue with tomato puree.

“The chicken neck mousse tartlet looks so cute, and is my personal favourite.”

Dessert is fermented maize porridge.

Ms Molefe’s aim is to continue spreading the word about rethinking traditional food and reusing ingredients that people deem less worthy.

“We use a lot of offal on the menu at the moment, which is usually seen as food that privileged people don’t want to eat, but it has a lot of flavour and can be used with many different techniques.

“Awareness of Emazulwini has been constantly growing since we opened, so I am sure this award will continue that and help us to expand further.”

Celebrity chef Siba Mtongana

Meanwhile, celebrity chef Siba Mtongana, who opened Siba at the Table Bay in 2021, took the Culinary Icon Award.

Siba, who is from the Eastern Cape, has described her food as a fusion of her African roots and her world travels which she combines to create an authentic and unique fine-dining experience.

“I wanted to elevate African cuisine to a world-class standard, and classics such as our dombolo steamed buns have become firm favourites with our patrons from all around the world.”

Speaking about the award and the success of Siba’s fine dining restaurant, The Table Bay hotel general manager, Joanne Selby, said: “Siba is extraordinarily talented and we are extremely proud that she has chosen to partner with us for her first restaurant venture”.

To date, Siba has won five US Film and Television Awards and her televised food programmes reach a global audience across 135 different countries. Her first cookbook, Welcome to my Table, has won two awards at the prestigious Gourmand World Cookbook Awards in China.

Construction is now under way for her restaurant to be built permanently after she secured a contract with Sun International for a permanent presence at the hotel.

Pier did not respond to the CapeTowner by the time this article went live.

Alex Kabalin, executive for retail at the Waterfront, said after a difficult time under Covid-19 for the restaurant industry, it is good to see renewed interest and focus in this category. “We are welcoming visitors back to their favourite destination with a fresh line up of food offerings, and are extremely privileged to be home to a range and degree of diversity in quality chefs and restaurants acknowledged to be the best in their categories.”