According to global restaurant consultants, Aaron Allen & Associates, the South African restaurant industry stood strong at 85 000+ eateries. Only 9 000 of these were stand alone restaurants and the rest were kiosks and street vendors. It is evident that eating out, whether it be sit-down or takeaway, is interwoven into our culture. Above and beyond sustenance, this industry alone creates millions of jobs and serves as an entertainment option for thousands of diners.
But, as South Africa steers further into economic downturn, the pressure that consumers feel, means that entertainment budgets are often cut. The ripple effect of this means that restaurants close, jobs are lost and more pressure is placed on the fiscal system. There has to be a way to save these jobs – and James Diack believes that sustainable practices are the key.
James studied at the Institute of Culinary Arts (ICA) in Stellenbosch. Prior to opening Coobs in 2012, he worked for some of South Africa’s most respected chefs, including Bruce Robertson at The Showroom and celebrated pastry chef, Nicolas van der Walt. He was also Richard Carstens’ pastry chef at Manolo before becoming his sous chef.
In 2012, James contributed his first restaurant to South Africa’s reported 85 000. Fast-track seven years and James has expanded to four eateries in Johannesburg. They've grown from 13 staff, to over 130. It is the true essence of sustainability that sits as the cornerstone of his business – a sustainable model that can hopefully outlast the recession, and at the same time, provide 95% of their own ingredients through James' family farm, Brightside in Magaliesburg.
What James and his team has seen over the last 12-18 months, is not only a decline in customer spend, but also a change in how customers are eating. Smaller plates, single courses and a glass of wine instead of a bottle are all ways that consumers are justifying the spend on non-essential items to themselves. As such, the Brightside Group had to adapt – not only have they changed their menus to suit the changing consumer eating habits; but behind the scenes they're working even harder to streamline their already-low cost base even further.
We picked James' brain on how restaurants can put sustainability front of house to alleviate pressure during hard times.
Choose your supplier wisely
"In comparison to many other restaurants, we’re in a privileged position – we are our own supplier. We’re not beholden to supplier costs and price increases. One of the ways we’ve been able to keep delivering value to our customers through the economic downturn, has been by making sure our supply and costs are kept as low as possible. Some costs are out of our control – diesel fuel, Eskom tariff hikes, maize prices, water and rates have all gone up. We source 95% of our ingredients from the farm, and what we can’t farm ourselves, we source from suppliers who share our passion for provenance. Sometimes, we even barter with produce and save on Rands spent."
Reducing production costs
"On the farm, we plan our usage of tractors to minimize diesel use, and strategise our deliveries from farm to restaurants to be streamlined and efficient. We’re also fortunate to be able to use our own farm-made compost and manure, rather than using much frowned-upon inorganic fertilizer which has soared in cost. We’ve also made sure that all our staff on the farm completely understand what we are trying to achieve, and they conduct their daily jobs as least wastefully as possible. This goes for everyone from the tractor driver, the vegetable garden labourer and the ladies making cheese and preserves to the staff looking after the animals."
Recycling of waste
"Another aspect of our production, which has always been part of our daily lives, is recycling our waste. The fact that we have livestock on the farm means nothing from the gardens goes to waste."
Harvesting of ingredients
"We’ve always worked with the philosophy that we cook what we have and not what we want. Now more than ever – summer season tomatoes were turned into sauce and frozen to avoid us buying in, the last of the basil was transformed into basil butter and pesto to ensure the herb gets through winter. Beautiful stone fruit which normally form the centerpiece of our desserts during the warmer months now find themselves as jams, pickles and preserves – all in jars and ready to go."
"Not only have we (for the first time) introduced a pasta and wine special across all four of our restaurants, but Coobs also has a provenance menu. Although the prices might be reduced, the food is as generous and tasty. And, because we’ve managed to keep costs down behind the scenes, we can keep delivering this value to customers. We’ve also introduced a selection of small plates which means our customers can now share more than one dish – they still get to taste more than one dish, without ordering a three-course meal."
Coravin wine by the glass
"Consumers want to drink great wine by the glass, but these days a bottle is too expensive. Enter the Coravin wine preservation system. We use this for some of our more expensive wines – it pours wine without removing the cork from the bottle, thus preserving it. It enables people, who can’t necessarily buy a bottle, to enjoy a glass. We can now open a bottle of expensive wine and keep it for up to three months – reducing our wastage costs significantly."
The bottom line is, we’re all under pressure. However, this too shall pass. The key, for most South African restaurants right now, will be to make it to the other side. From cutting costs in the supply chain, to changing how how dishes are served, this has become a survival strategy. We ALL want to make it to the end of the downturn, with as many jobs intact as we can. And I believe this is how we can all do it.
Under the masterful eye of Michel Roux, a young Daniel Galmiche honed his culinary skills. That was during the 70s when Michelin stars were first awarded to restaurants in the UK. Roux's London based eatery was one of the first to receive this accolade - two stars to be exact. Indirectly that was a premonition to Daniel Galmiche's career. Fast forward to 2018 and Chef Galmiche has been holding his own Michelin stars for nearly three decades - four to be exact. Why is this important? Daniel Galmiche is opening a restaurant in Johannesburg - The Gold Room.
The Gold Room is set to be a fusion restaurant located in the QSL private member’s club in Milpark. The QSL members club is described as a tailored home, an exquisitely intimate and textured space for those who are moving the world forward. While the club itself is for members only (with membership fees starting at R10 000 and spiking up to R500 000 per person), the new fine-dining restaurant will be open to the public... thankfully.
Though the menu is still being built, we can expect food fares professionally plated and made with fresh, local ingredients. Our prediction would be that fish will play a poignant role in both entrés and mains as Daniel Galmiche is the ambassador for the Norwegian Sea Food Council (and Galmiche enjoys playing around with line fish fillets, as seen in his London based restaurant, 190 Queen's Gate). Daniel Galmiche will also have to take into consideration that South Africans are big on red meat. According to our friends over at Eat Out, they recon the decorated French chef will put oxtail on the menu - a guess we are wholeheartedly amplifying (seeing as Marble has made red meat and open flame cooking popular in fine dining).
While Chef Daniel Galmiche was in Johannesburg to promote the Gold Room, he spent some time with our favourite restaurateur, James Diack (of Coobs, The National, El Contadino, and la Stalla fame). Chef Galmiche visited Diack's family farm, Brightside in Magaliesberg where Daniel overloaded his Instagram account with interesting images of local produce.
The Gold Room is set to open up shop in September 2018. Until then, we can only sit back, pop a bottle of Chablis and play the guessing game until Daniel Galmiche's manager gets back to us with more details. Take your time, Lime Light - we've got enough white wine to last us a while.
By Shawn Greyling
Last year, Chef James Diack took members of the media on a tour around his family farm, Brightside and gave them some insight into his plans for 2018: “Since we opened in Melville in September 2016, we’ve noticed a change in what people are eating and what they’re spending. And, in today’s fast-moving restaurant industry, we have to adapt,” explains James. “We’ve also seen how successful the food and environment at Il Contadino in Parktown North has been, and so we’re going to make La Stalla a mini version of that.”
The industrial-chic pizzeria will be open Wednesday through Sunday from 07h00 until 10h00 and will serve three meals a day. For lovers of The Federal’s brunch – don’t despair – a range of farm-fresh breakfasts will be available for R75 each. For lunch and dinner, La Stalla guests can choose from a selection of well-priced small plates, as well as a number of wood-fired dishes and pizza options, roasted chicken and fresh salads. Dessert will be delicious Italian gelato, served in either cones or bowls.
Two of the farm-fresh dishes that will be available from La Stalla are bruschetta with a variety of toppings, and arancini stuffed and dusted with wild-boar bacon (which we managed to sink our teeth into at La Stalla's launch). James will be working in partnership with Il Contadino’s Head Chef, Rausharn Griffin to operate and manage the establishment. Rausharn has worked alongside James since 2014, first at Coobs and later heading up the team at Il Contadino.
Along with having a pizza oven installed into the space, James is also updating the façade and some of the décor – the trademark reclaimed wood-paneled wall and copper-piping will remain.
For drinks, expect OC Brewery craft beer, a wine list featuring some quirky and affordable boutique wines, and some interesting cocktails. Spending time with James Diack, you soon realise that he is passionate about wine (just have a look at our interview with James). “This will be my simplest restaurant to date, and I can’t wait to share the experience with Rausharn, and with Melville,” James concludes. With his almost 100% sustainability record, James remains the pioneer of provenance in South Africa and a serious purveyor of farm-to-table deliciousness.
Our first impression of the restaurant is nothing short of two thumbs up - it is James Diack after all. Patrons can expect a similar vibe to Diack's El Contadino in Parktown North mixed with his signature farm-style flare.
By Shawn Greyling
Just when you thought Maboneng can't get any fancier, Sphere Monk bursts into the scene. The idea behind Liam Bloy's inner city fine dining concept is to bring haute cuisine to the masses at an affordable price. You can expect a mixture of molecular gastronomy and old-school cooking with a menu that reads like something out of an undiscovered Roald Dahl novel: octopus carpaccio, springbok tartar, goat's cheese ravioli and lemon sage macaroons to name a few.
It's good to see that Brixton is on the rise. To add to the excitement, there's a new owner-run cafe in the area. Breezeblock is your new one-stop brunch shop before you head into town – or out of for that matter. You can expect an old-school cafe complete with newspapers and a chessboard. Breezeblock bakes its own buttermilk bread and serves up classic breakfasts such as scrambled eggs, and their already famous baked pancakes and huevos rancheros. Breezeblock is not licensed yet so at the time of writing it's a BYOB type of vibe.
MyShake Milkshake Bar
Feel like taking a dream-like journey through milkshake country? Then head to MyShake, South Africa's premium milkshake bar in Rosebank. Here you can get your fill of flavours such as Oreo Craving, Peanut Butter Lover, CandyLand and Rocky Road to name a few. MyShake also serves luxury milkshakes such as their super velvety Lindt chocolate shake, and their Ferrero and Nutella hazelnut concoction.
The pairing of food with art has a long-standing tradition. A contemporary version of this can be found at the Wishbone Cafe, a new bistro bar and cafe on Alice Lane, Sandton. Here you will find South African artists such as Stefan Bos, Marcus Neustetter and Roberto Vaccaro on display. The artworks at the Wishbone Cafe are curated by Berman Contemporary in Bryanston. But what about the food? Biltong and mushroom omelettes, Moroccan chicken salads, steak tartare, pizzas, pastas, gourmet burgers... You get the idea – it's a bistro.
Jerry's Burger Bar
Cape Town's most famous burger joint has taken the N2 all the way to Jozi and set up shop in Greenside (with further plans to open another shop in Illovo). Outside of being a burger bar, Jerry's also serves ribs, wings, tacos, brats and many more. You can expect both SAB and craft beers on tap, as well as a selection of Cape coast vino and spirits. If' you're into the hipster culinary craze, then Jerry's Burger Bar in Greenside is the spot for you.
Joburg top chef James Diack has opened his fourth restaurant, il Contadino. The restaurant's vibe circles around "peasant" food from the Italian, Spanish and French countryside. All of the produce used in il Contadino's kitchen comes from James's family farm in Magaliesburg. James is a firm believer of farm-to-table cooking and he has bled those ideas and ideals into il Contadino's menu. The restaurant will serve three farm-style meals a day.
By Shawn Greyling
“My wife always said that if I opened a fourth eatery it would have to be called ‘Divorce’ or ‘The Singles Club’,” laughs Chef James Diack. “Instead, I’ve decided to call it Il Contadino, which means ‘the farmer’ in Italian and really embodies the spirit of our season-focused, farm-to-table style.”
Set to open in October 2017, Il Contadino will be nestled in the heart of Parktown North and will serve three farm-inspired meals a day. Its menu will be prepared as an ode to the rural or ‘peasant’ food from the Spanish, French and Italian countryside – some of James’ favourite places. Dishes will be fresh, simple and rustic: roast chicken, slow-cooked pork, charcuterie boards, salads, homemade pasta and pizza from the in-house wood-fired oven – all using seasonal ingredients.
It will also be James’ most sustainable restaurant to date, with the menu designed to be entirely supplied by the Diack’s family farm, Brightside in the Magaliesburg.
“All three of my restaurants offer something different – Coobs is refined dining, The National is a neighbourhood dining room away from home, and The Federal is our take on a NY-style dinner. But they all have one thing in common: seasonality,” says James. “Il Contadino will be the perfect spot for a morning coffee from the espresso bar, a light lunch or after-work drink.”
Over the last two years, James has worked exceptionally hard to become the go-to person for provenance. His restaurants have evolved to such an extent, that now 95% of everything on his menus comes off his family’s farm, Brightside. Il Contadino will be the first time James cracks the 100% mark.
As usual, the wine list will be an extensive catalogue of boutique wine farms and those that share Diack’s passion for bespoke offerings including Garajeest, Blackwater, Beaumont and Alheit. Oh, and Aperol Spritz on tap.
The 133m2 restaurant, located on the corner of 4th Avenue and 7th Avenue in Parktown North, will seat 90 and provide indoor and outdoor seating. The interior design and décor process will once again be spearheaded by Janet Diack, James’ mother and farmer at Brightside Farm, so expect reclaimed and refurbished items that extend the farm-to-table concept from the plates to the walls, floors and furnishings.
Brightside Farm, in the Magaliesburg, is the Diack’s family farm and where James grew up. Janet is passionate about farming and supplying the restaurants – what they can’t grow themselves they source from suppliers who share their passion for provenance. The gardens are as beautiful as they are functional. Flowers abound, and they are all edible. Apart from the large main gardens you will find smaller gardens, situated to provide the right conditions for some of the specialty plants. All the gardens feature benches, stone paths, ponds or sculptures with rambling plants like peas, beans and tomatoes climbing up willow woven structures. The gardens supply all three restaurants with herbs, vegetables and fruit – it even makes its own ricotta. The farm also supplies Diack’s now legendary acorn-fed wild boar, lamb, duck and the occasional pigeon or guinea fowl.
It will also be friendly to the pocket, “I’m trying to build a restaurant that’s going to fit into where our economy’s going, so it’s not going to be expensive. I’m trying to keep prices down and keep things casual in every aspect: simple glassware, enamel plates, dishcloths for napkins. It’s going be fun and rustic, but not kitsch.”