Dine among the stars: Six SA restaurants owned by local celebrities
Meet six SA celebrities who have stamped their personalities on their own eateries from Thembisa to Cape Town to Sandton
1) ASHLEY RAPHALA aka DJ SHIMZA
THE HANG AWT 1632, THEMBISA
SA record producer and DJ
Talented and creative SA record producer DJ Shimza is well known for his popular high energy performances and more recently his foray into food. Sbu Mkwanazi visited his hometown restaurant to sample the vibes, soak up the music and savour some flavours.
The concept of a formal restaurant in a township is not a new one. Wandies Place and Sakhumzi in Soweto; Max’s Lifestyle in Umlazi (KwaZulu-Natal) and Bo-Kaap Kombuis (Bo-Kaap, Cape Town) have been setting the bar for years.
What has been lacking is a larger-than-life name whose reputation attracts locals and international revellers who would not ordinarily frequent a restaurant in what is deemed an unwholesome area. Enter Ashley Raphala aka DJ Shimza and The Hang Awt 1632.
The restaurant is in Raphala’s hometown of Thembisa, also home to popular entrepreneur DJ Sbu, and Rita Zwane, who made her name as the owner of Imbizo Shisanyama Busy Corner, another upper-class spot in the hood. What Raphala has continued to get right since the doors opened in 2020 is to combine the concept of gourmet township meals with global food trends. The Deep South ribs, R80, are sure to Americanise your accent quicker than a trip to the States, while you do not need to be an oil sheikh to enjoy the Middle East-inspired spicy egg shakshouka, R90.
Better known by his stage name — DJ Shimza — he shines the spotlight on township cuisine through dishes such as the braai pack, consisting of a chicken drumstick, a cut of brisket and word, served with pap, coleslaw and chakalaka, for a mere R160.
You do not have to convene a commission of inquiry to discover that the starters, mains, desserts and drinks are inspired by the various countries and festivals he performs at. Among other types of meat, the mixed grill platter, R330, is made up of a German frankfurter, thanks to the Fusion Festival in Müritz.
The Farao Festival in Portugal influenced the Hang Awt espetada, R250, a hearty combination of chicken thighs, lamb chops, meatballs, spinach and a starch of your choice. The classic hake fillet and chips, R100, is straight from the Art of Burning Manevent, in London, and this rendition is so deliciously soft it is capable of solving life’s problems.
The only drawback is the lack of more than one vegetarian meal. There’s a Chinese-style stir-fry at R75, which means this is a place for those who enjoy their meat. This also means the three desserts: malva pudding, R50, mini cheesecake, R25, and the incredibly sweet chocolate volcano, R30, are an afterthought as the chefs seem to concentrate only on the proteins on offer.
2) SIBA MTONGANA
SIBA — THE RESTAURANT, CAPE TOWN
Celebrity chef, cookbook author and television presenter
Siba Mtongana’s cooking show, Siba’s Table, on Food Network, has a large local and international following. More recently she and husband Brian Mtongana have opened Siba — The Restaurant in The Table Bay Hotel in Cape Town.
Well known for balancing a busy career and family life, the mom of four is never one to rest on her laurels. Nor is she shy in taking up a challenge. Their plans to launch a restaurant in 2020 were scuppered by the pandemic. The Mtonganas then tested the water with popular pop-ups at the restaurant before officially opening Siba — The Restaurant in October last year.
“Multitasking has always been part of my life,” said the chef, who describes opening the restaurant as a dream come true. “The restaurant started many years ago in my heart and mind and took many years of planning and conceptualising before it became a reality.”
Apart from being very present in the restaurant so diners get the real “Siba” experience, she also gets stuck in in the kitchen and is central to the preparation with a team of chefs before she changes out of her chef whites to spend time with her guests.
Proud of the signature hale and hearty food, some of the popular dishes carry the Siba stamp, such as the fluffy dombolo buns which are inspired by traditional steamed bread, and her rendition of risotto featuring creamy samp and wild mushrooms.
Running a restaurant isn’t easy, admitted the celebrity. “Anyone who has run one will tell you how demanding it is, especially in the early stages,” she said, adding that it requires a lot of hands-on work and constant quality control checks. “Expectations are a lot higher when one is in the limelight, with most diners expecting perfection as the Siba brand comes with local and international recognition.” The downside, she said, was the belief that diners expect to see her in the restaurant every night. “It's difficult as I need time off to rest and to give attention to my other business interests and my family. ”.
The Mtonganas never tire of dining out in their own place. “We dine at Siba for date nights, we take our friends out for dinners for a great food journey and experience, we celebrate all our special occasions such as birthdays, anniversaries and more there.”
She said it's also a family treat as they bring their children to the restaurant for Sunday lunch.
3) THAPELO MOKOENA
CO-OWNER MOLITVA ORTHODOX MEDITERRANEAN, CRADLE OF HUMANKIND
Actor, TV producer, presenter, wine producer and businessman
Thapelo Mokoena said deciding to open Molitva Orthodox Mediterranean restaurant in the middle of a pandemic in December 2021 with head chef Milan Cerimaj and business partners was a matter of “if not, why not?”
“People were feeling claustrophobic, they [had] been stuck in their homes so we opened our doors.” But more than seeing an opportunity to lure people outdoors, Mokoena said he fell in love with the space — a farm in the Cradle of Humankind, 50km northwest of Johannesburg.
“Having grown up on a farm understanding the idea of ecofriendliness, farm to table, healthy fresh food, I thought it would be a breath of fresh air, not just for Johannesburg but for The Cradle of Humankind,” he said.
“I always call it more than just a restaurant. It’s actually a destination; you ‘destinate’ to Molitva. You decide to drive out, and once you’ve made that decision our job is to make sure that it’s worth your while and you spend a full day outside the city in the middle of these beautiful mountains on an ecofarm.”
On top of the tranquillity to be found in nature, Mokoena and his team pride themselves on offering fantastic Mediterranean cuisine under the helm of Cerimaj, a restaurateur and chef from Serbia. As Mokoena explains, the name Molitva is deliberate: meaning “prayer” in Serbian, it's also, coincidentally, the meaning of his name, Thapelo.
Mokoena often eats at Molitva with his wife and children as it’s a family restaurant and he still feels overwhelmed at the menu options. Some of his recommendations include the ćevapi, a dish of grilled minced meat; the octopus which, when available, is very popular; and the oysters, which are flown in fresh from the ocean.
Part of the experience, of course, is enjoying a mezze platter at leisure with your friends and family. “I’ve never really travelled the Mediterranean route but through this food I feel like I’m experiencing territories that I’ve otherwise never been to,” Mokoena said, inviting visitors to likewise travel together through food.
“Let’s create memories. Let’s tell a beautiful story under the African sun in a world heritage site and redefine what it means to enjoy lifestyle from an African perspective and still maintain a global feeling.”
4) MASEGO “MAPS” MAPONYANE
BUNS OUT BURGERS, LINDEN, ROSEBANK AND NORWOOD, JOHANNESBURG
TV presenter, fashionista, model and entrepreneur
Depending on who you speak to, most will concede that entrepreneur Masego “Maps” Maponyane has the best buns in Johannesburg. The question is always whether they are referring to the model’s gluteus maximus or what is on offer at his BunsOut gourmet burger restaurants scattered around the City of Gold.
In 2019, the 32-year-old actor opened his first BunsOut in Linden, followed by Rosebank (2020) and Norwood (2021) outlets. This was testament of just how popular the actor’s offering of high-end burgers, chips, drinks and desserts are.
“Opening the restaurant was a collaboration with an old friend from school, Tom Savage. Both of us had always wanted to open a restaurant, so we just decided to go for it! We opened six months before the lockdown, but we were lucky to have such an amazing customer base and staff contingent, allowing us to trade from the moment the restrictions were eased. It was a really tough period, but with a little bit of cost control and a strong product, the team, lead by Tercia Ratema and Tamzin van Zyl, lead us through,” said Maponyane.
Maponyane’s CV is impressive but for someone who also boasts the title of fashion designer, he does not seem to like shirts as he tends to stay away from them for his various magazine cover shoots, displaying yet another skill: six-pack specialist. With so much on his plate, how does he manage to balance his career with being a restaurant owner?
“It has not been easy. Initially, there was time to give the businesses that extra love and attention on a consistent basis. Now that things have opened up again and travel has burst open the international work I do, it’s been far more difficult. That’s why it’s necessary to have a great team, and my partner Tom has been doing most of the heavy lifting to ensure everything remains in order."
As a celebrity, Maponyane is known for being fun, vibrant and easy going, traits he seems to have carried over to his restaurants.
“BunsOut is a fast, fun, fresh and simple concept. We prepare all of our burgers fresh daily, from having fresh baked buns to making our own patties and hand-cut chips. This allows us to keep the menu simple.”
The burger joint was the only African establishment to feature on Bloomberg’s Best Burger Restaurants list in 2020, flirting with the likes of The Wolseley in London and Pop’s Place in Ljubljana, Slovenia. As a regular at his own restaurants, having dined there more than 120 times, he describes the top three burgers that did not cost him R22m to place the South African flag on a prestigious list.
“The Baconings has plenty of bacon, avocado, feta and guacamole and it has been a real hit. The Classic follows at a close second with lettuce, cheese, onions and tomatoes. In third place is the Future Burger, which is a vegan meat alternative with all the trimmings.
5) PHILANI BENSON BOYAMA aka BENNY MAVERICK
CO-OWNER WISH ON FLORIDA, DURBAN
Musical artist, DJ, producer, promoter and entertainer
For young South African pioneering entertainer Benny Maverick, opening a restaurant was only a matter of time. He gained popularity for his Good Sundae events which he started in 2011 and after spending a decade in the hospitality industry he decided to open Wish on Florida in Durban with his business partner Wayne Ndlovu in 2019.
They traded for barely three months before the pandemic closed the door on the restaurant industry and put them through the ultimate test of resilience. But, with some clever managerial skills while trying to take care of their staff through the rollercoaster, they managed to come out on top. Today, Wish on Florida is a favourite on the Durban restaurant scene.
But the idea was never to have the semi-fine dining Mediterranean restaurant Wish on Florida is known for today. “The initial inspiration behind it was to create a 24-hour pizza spot much like Andiccio in Johannesburg: something for the young where you can just go and have a slice of pizza [and] a milkshake,” said Maverick.
“As we were building Wish we realised we have an opportunity to actually create one of the first black-owned restaurants in Durban, especially a restaurant of this calibre.”
While the restaurant was halfway completed, they decided to change their business plan to turn Wish on Florida into a semi-fine dining restaurant with a high-energy feel on weekends, a DJ on the decks and a band once a month on a Wednesday.
If you ask the maverick, he’ll tell you that head chef Snegugu Wanda makes the best food in town. “Snegugu is very particular on her meals. She critiques herself and her meals regularly.”
The menu changes seasonally between summer and winter when they introduce hearty, warm dishes. The most popular dishes at the moment are oxtail and lamb or chicken and prawn curry with a side of dumplings. If you plan a visit when the weather starts warming up, expect light, seasonal plates such as fruit and cheese boards.
Despite keeping a busy schedule, Maverick spends most weekdays at the restaurant. His favourite dishes are the whole fish, lamb rack or seafood paella which he pairs with a double Don Julio tequila, tonic and a slice of cucumber.
6) NICKY VAN DER WALT and LEE-ANN LIEBENBERG
TANG RESTAURANT, NELSON MANDELA SQUARE, SANDTON
Hospitality entrepreneur Nicky and his model wife Lee-Ann
“I put my offer to lease the premises to TANG the Friday before President [Cyril] Ramaphosa announced the first lockdown,” said Nicky van der Walt, who opened TANG in May 2020. “I truly loved the site and the location was world-class, situated on the most iconic square in the richest square mile on the African continent.”
When it comes to the food, Van der Walt leaves that in the hands of the experts. “The real star of the show is not me, rather group executive chef Vixa Kalenga,” he said, adding that the classically French-trained chef “has a great palate and deep understanding of Asian flavours”.
The Pan-Asian restaurant offers a range of Asian dishes, the most popular are the tuna takaki, a seared loin of tuna with onion ponzu and citrus soy; the crowd-pleasing Peking duck; and a dish made famous by chef Nobuyuki “Nobu” Matsuhisa, a miso black cod.
“I’m very lucky because I enjoy lunch at TANG almost every day with my beautiful wife,” said the restaurateur. “We usually order the chicken Yakitori prepared on a hibachi grill, a Japanese table top charcoal griller.”
He does try to taste as many dishes as possible on a weekly basis and on Sundays he tries to set aside lunch at the restaurant with their children.
Beyond the restaurant, Van der Walt has added his brand to a wine. “I love the Provençal style rosé wine I’ve enjoyed on my travels to the south of France and set out with Mirabelle Vineyards to create a rosé wine,” he said.
And does he believe the couples’ celebrity status has had an impact on their restaurant? “Strangely, I don’t regard myself as a celeb and still can't get my head around it. I’m a hospitality entrepreneur, but if my and my wife’s public profiles benefit the business, all the better,” he said, adding, “we try to stay very grounded and not let all the media attention go to our heads.”
For Capetonians, the good news is TANG will be opening at the V&A Waterfront later this year.