Meet the restaurateur

If it's not wow, it's not on the menu - Bespokery owner Nadia Singh

Singh tells us how sustainable sourcing, quality ingredients and a leafy pavement atmosphere are all key ingredients at the eatery in Parkview, Joburg

07 March 2021 - 00:00
By hilary biller AND Hilary Biller
Nadia Singh at Bespokery on Tyrone Avenue, Parkview.
Image: Supplied Nadia Singh at Bespokery on Tyrone Avenue, Parkview.

This is a first restaurant for me and my husband/business partner, Mitesh Pema. The planning started while we were living in Bogotá, Colombia, where Mitesh was working. Bogotá really is a melting pot of influences.

Colombian food is not considered a culinary experience in the same manner as one would think of Peruvian or Mexican food. However, we thoroughly enjoyed our dining experiences there because of the sheer variety of affordable restaurants that consistently delivered good food and great service. We're both lovers of comforting food and restaurant experiences and whenever we went to a restaurant, I would talk about how one day I'd like to have my own.

We completed a full business case for a restaurant concept in Bogotá but had to return to SA prematurely so did not have the opportunity to take the next step. Back in SA, I enrolled at Prue Leith Culinary Institute to gain hands-on industry experience.

We started planning the restaurant when the industry trend (pre-Covid) was that one in three restaurants failed in their first year so it was daunting even before the pandemic. We delayed opening during the most restrictive lockdown phases and we worked hard towards being in a position to open as soon as the lockdown restrictions were eased.

In our search for the right location, we were clear that we wanted to be a neighbourhood eatery in Johannesburg. There are very few leafy suburbs that offer the pavement café vibe that Tyrone Avenue in Parkview does.

The inspiration for the low carb/keto, vegetarian and plant-based elements on our menu stems from my family, a mix of vegans, vegetarians, pescatarians and banters. Whenever we went out as a family, someone always seemed to be making a sacrifice.

Bespokery has an entire team of culinary artists headed by chef Michael Hibbins, who has embraced our concept and continually ensures that we are sourcing sustainably and serving the best quality ingredients. My role is to engage with customers to ensure our concept remains relevant and that we are responsive to customer requests and feedback.

When we were designing the menu, the overriding criteria was that if it wasn't "wow", it shouldn't be on the menu. The confit lamb shoulder served with our chef's kalamata tapenade and marinated tomatoes has been popular because there's an unusual balance of flavours that come from the combination of the richness of the meat and the salty acidity of the olive tapenade.

The interaction with a patron who expresses their love and appreciation for what you do just makes your day and spurs you on past the reality of long, unsociable working hours and incomplete tasks.