Is celeb chef Siba Mtongana's special R750 Sunday lunch worth it? We tried it
Siba The Restaurant has popped up at The Table Bay hotel in Cape Town. Jackie May pops in for a taste test
Let me begin with the ending. Pudding. We did it. We cleared our plates. This is an important piece of information considering the portions of food we were served for the already famous #SibaSundayLunch, a "South African-inspired seven-colour Sunday lunch served family style".
Now, let's get to the beginning. I arrived at The Table Bay hotel in Cape Town on a misty Sunday to review Siba The Restaurant, celeb chef Siba Mtongana's first pop-up eatery. It was empty except for a man wearing a MaXhosa Africa mask working on his laptop.
A woman was cleaning the glass panes of the doors into the kitchen. She smiled warmly as the restaurant's host showed me to my table at the back of the bistro-style restaurant from where I had a view of the V&A Waterfront and a section of the Cape Town harbour.
The decor is in line with that of the hotel: Tall ceilings, marble floors and dark wooden furniture with dark green leather coverings. A chandelier made from crystal carafes. While I waited for model and sustainability advocate Liyanna Basini, who was joining me for lunch, I watched a seal play happily as tugboats to and fro-ed from the wider sea. Sightseeing boats were aplenty. It was good to see people having fun.
After Liyanna arrived we were served our mocktails. My choice was the SIBA, a frozen lemongrass-infused ginger beer, unusually good and with a real kick.
With tables filling up, celebrity chef Siba Mtongana came out from the kitchen to greet her guests. Now dressed in her chef's uniform, I recognised her as the woman who had been cleaning the glass panes.
She was keen for us to understand the concept of Sunday lunch. Portions are big and generous. "This is a traditional family meal - you must feel full and happy when you leave," she said.
Her three-course Sunday lunch (R750 per person excluding drinks) is a hearty meal, but meals during the week are fine dining, with tapas on a Wednesday and tasting menus on Thursday, Friday and Saturday.
Chicken wings are on the tapas menu. Liyanna asked if these are cut or left as they are traditionally. "Yes, they are cut," said Siba with a smile. "It's still fine dining."
According to Siba, customers are returning for meals, and during the holiday season guests had flown from Joburg and Mpumalanga for meals. I'm sure this also has something to do with the perfectly pitched service - not too much and not too little.
For starters, I had the tuna salad and Liyanna ordered the beef carpaccio with chakalaka cream and mustard and citrus dressing. We ate this with Siba's reimagined dombolo. [Sigh. If only all bread could taste like this.] The tuna, beautifully plated, was tender and slightly rare, and the dressing light and delicious. Liyanna missed a chilli kick to her chakalaka cream.
The main course was brought to us on a platter, from which we served ourselves. The seven-colours meal included rice, chakalaka, butternut stuffed with a creamy spinach, sautéed greens, beetroot and feta salad and char-grilled corn. The meats were roast leg of lamb and Siba's Asian roasted baby chicken. The vegetables were homely and wholesome. The chakalaka got Liyanna's approval - it had a good kick. Siba's seven-coloured rice is turmeric yellow with tiny diced vegetables and a good dose of chilli. The chicken deserves a special mention: it was a sticky, sweet-sour deliciousness. The leftovers came home with me and were gobbled up by a teenage son.
Back to the beginning. After not finishing our main course, we had pudding. I had ordered Siba's famous trifle. Traditionally trifle is soggy sherry-soaked sponge cake, with custard and berries (often tinned). Siba's version is feather-light and alcohol-free, with fresh berries and cream. I got to the bottom of the bowl with ease.
In a dreamy voice Liyanna's comment about her mixed berry cheesecake was: "It's beautiful." She wasn't referring to the gold leaf, which she nibbled carefully before tucking into the cake. The coulis sauces on both our puddings were fresh and not too sweet. There was nothing jammy about these desserts. They were summer fresh.
Vying for my favourite of the day are the dombolo bread, the ginger mocktail and the chicken. Or it could be meeting the charming Siba and her husband, Brian (the lone man in the MaXhosa Africa mask).
• Visit Siba The Restaurant at The Table Bay hotel at the V&A Waterfront in Cape Town. It's open Wednesday to Sunday from 1pm to 7pm. For reservations call 021 406 5988. Visit suninternational.com to check out the menu.