Madiba's chef the secret ingredient at Sanctuary Mandela's restaurant
Insights at Mandela's former Houghton home, now a hotel, has Xoliswa Ndoyiya, his personal chef of 22 years, as its chef de tournant
At the recently opened boutique hotel Sanctuary Mandela, the Nelson Mandela Foundation has revamped and remodelled Nelson Mandela’s first Houghton home, where he lived soon after his release from prison, and created a venue with luxurious accommodation, a restaurant, bar and conference facilities.
Beyond experiencing the hotel and the food, my recent visit was an opportunity to catch up with Madiba’s personal and loyal chef of 22 years, the wonderful Xoliswa Ndoyiya, now the newly appointed chef de tournant at the hotel's Insights Restaurant.
I’d worked with Sis Xoli on her cookbook, Tastes From Nelson Mandela’s Kitchen, in 2011, and the best part of the collaboration was watching her conjure up Madiba’s favourite dishes with love and care while sharing the anecdotes behind each dish.
The real beauty of the food lay in its simplicity, like the memorable stiff maize-meal porridge with finely shredded curried cabbage (umqa wekhaphetshu), the turmeric in the curry powder offering a vibrant yellow colour to the dish rich with buttery flavour, bringing the two very different textures together so deliciously.
Today we find Xoliswa in a very different kitchen — brand new with gleaming stainless steel equipment and bright lights, to one side a large opening into the restaurant which allows diners to watch the team at work.
The menu is small with a selection of starters, mains and desserts, described as “a historical ‘food-print’ of the modest tastes of Nelson Mandela ... we’ve strived to refine and modernise these tastes”.
Some of Mandela's favourite dishes as featured in the cookbook have a whole new take and look, like the Eastern Cape favourite of samp and beans (umngqusho) that Xoliswa says is a Wednesday ritual of many Xhosa households. It has evolved into a fancy mushroom and samp risotto (R155) made with oyster mushrooms.
Xoliswa’s famous recipe for the most succulent finger-licking oxtail stew (umsila wenkomo) is now served Italian style, off the bone in delicate rounds of ravioli (R125). Her simple fish starter in the cookbook — one of the many dishes she could whip up for unexpected guests — also has a fresh take. Pretty as a picture, the dish is a pimped version of pickled fish, Cape Malay style fish (R110), featuring lightly spiced kingklip with a paw paw curried salsa and pickled pumpkin shavings.
All dishes are elegant helpings of deliciousness but the disappointment is that they lack the authenticity and simplicity of Xoliswa’s traditional dishes, which the late great statesman loved.
• Insights restaurant @ Sanctuary Mandela is located at 4 13th Ave in Houghton Estate, Johannesburg. Contact 010-035-0368