POP-UP GOES PERMANENT
Siba finds space at the Table for her own restaurant
Drawing from childhood memories combined with global travels, Siba The Restaurant presents a menu of nostalgia tinged with cosmopolitan flair.
For four seasons on the Food Network channel, Siba’s Table brought viewers Siba Mtongana’s scrumptious recipes into our homes. Her food journey reveals that while the shortest distance between two points is a straight line, a straight line is rarely the direction in which life travels.
Siba took her shared loves of food and science and got a bachelor’s degree in Food and Consumer Sciences with majors in Food Science and Nutrition. Along the way, she has become a celebrity chef, a television presenter, cookbook author, and now, restaurateur. And a wife and mother of four. Mtongana is the poster image for women who can have it all.
“The beauty about this course was that it was deep and broad and afforded me plenty of options and opportunities within the food industry whether it be mainstream culinary arts like being a chef or recipe or product development, research and developer, food buyer or even food editor and so much more,” she said of her degree.
It certainly worked to her advantage.
“The main reason I studied this course was because I come from a family that is very passionate about education and higher learning, and I needed to ensure I had a solid foundation and so I could be a credible expert in my chosen career path.”
Mtongana had wanted to be a food buyer for retail stores and eventually be a business person and “just have a positive impact on humanity worldwide”.
“So looking back I am grateful that my life turned into the direction that it did,” she said.
For her latest venture, Mtongana has Siba The Restaurant at The Table Bay hotel at the V&A Waterfront. It began as a pop-up and has now expanded into a full and permanent restaurant.
“I was looking for a space for my restaurant in Cape Town and I found it at The Table Bay. It was the right size and right location for the pop-up which was opened during Covid in 2020, which was a great way to test waters with the concept I was bringing to the market at that time.”
The pop-up was a success and the next step was to extend and renovate the space for the permanent Siba The Restaurant so it fitted the aesthetic Mtongana had always envisioned for it.
On Wednesdays to Saturday evenings, the restaurant serves two set menus, of four or eight courses, although more accurately, the former is six courses: pre-starter, bread course, starter, palate cleanser, main course, and dessert. Seven if you count the tea or coffee that’s included. On Sundays, a family lunch is served – bread and a starter followed by a feast of sharing plates which can include chicken roulade, pesto beef fillet medallions, seven-colour rice, “Siba’s famous chakalaka”, and a variety of vegetables. Plus dessert. Plus coffee or tea. Plus petit fours. No one is going home hungry.
The pre-starter we had is called Tata’s Garden and comprises three nibbles – seared Wagyu on roasted cauliflower purée, beetroot cannelloni with goat’s cheese, and polenta mfino bites with snoek pâté. They’re presented in a bowl filled with pebbles, and the garden is “watered”, resulting in clouds of dramatic vapour that drift across the table.
The bread course is “The Dombolo Dance”, steamed buns with different flavoured butters. The actual starter is sesame seed crusted and seared tuna with charred baby corn, edamame beans, compressed cucumber with sweet soy dressing.
The palate cleanser, a ginger and rooibos berry infused sorbet, is on the generous side, and prepared at the table. Our waiter, Barry Botha, was such a delight who not only brought us our food but also lighthearted fun and banter.
Main courses are a choice of Asian cured duck breast with creamy samp and mushroom risotto or slow braised beef short rib with potato pavé and vegetables. The desserts on the menu were not what we had, so it’s important to note that any and all of the above is subject to change.
Neither of us complained about the coconut and vanilla panna cotta with lemon curd, berry coulis, cream cheese frosting and berries; and the vanilla sponge stuffed with pineapple, passion fruit and chilli compote, with plantain and cinnamon ice cream and lime gel.
From these descriptions you can plainly see the style of food reflects a wide range of influences and styles, with local ingredients being represented.
“I have carefully curated all recipes to retell my food story from childhood to my travels up to date,” said Mtongana. “Tata’s Garden refers to my dad’s garden that he tendered for my mom many years ago. That is where my love for food began and I recreated some of my childhood dishes fused with international flair to create an elevated fine dining experience. Each dish that follows is a unique story telling of my travels and food journey.”
This amalgamation of contemporary with traditional is not a new thing, with a number of chefs experimenting with their food memories. What sets Siba The Restaurant apart from other fine dining restaurants is, said Mtongana, “My food heritage and my story is one that has not yet been told or shared in fine dining space both locally and internationally.
“Having had the privilege of travelling the world over, I observed that Africa and South Africa are not presented enough in the global world cuisine. Locally, Siba The Restaurant has introduced so many people to fine dining which means we are bringing in new consumers for the benefit of the whole industry. We have had so many stories of guests telling us how much they enjoyed our fine dining experience even though they were a little intimidated at first.”
Mtongana spends 90% of her time at the restaurant, where she cooks with her back of house team, as well as trains new staff. “I also spend a sizable amount of time training my front of house team and ensuring that standards are kept high. An exception is when I’m travelling, or have appearances, or taking time to rest,” she said. “The ultimate goal is to train my team to cook without me but still adhere to our high standards we have set – consistently! I’m proud to say they are doing exceptionally well.”
Having taken a small break from TV so she could focus on her businesses, Mtongana has however continued with cookbooks and appearances. “I have a family cookbook that I launched called Siba Let’s Cook; my older son, Lonwabo, was my sous chef and the rest of my kids were the food critics. It was very fun to put together.
“I have continued to do appearances on TV, as well as speaking engagements for different events, cooking masterclasses and so much more. These are what have kept me busy along with the restaurant.” Mtongana promises she’ll be back on screen soon enough with more Sibalicious recipes.
With so many pots on the stove (sorry not sorry), Mtongana understands her time is her most valuable commodity. “My team and I are very intentional in ensuring we use it wisely so I can continue my other role as a mom of four little cutie pies.
“Part of my balancing act is that I hire great resources as staff personnel to help me with my business so that not everything sits on my shoulders. It really is such a huge blessing to have a team of like minded people who are able to push through whether I’m there or not.”
When it comes to weekends, Saturdays are family days. “As a rule we spend time together, going on outings – like lunch at Siba The Restaurant! We go to indoor activity parks; Play A Lot is our most favourite as the children just love it there. We also do art, we do picnics, we do early morning breakfast in their favourite breakfast restaurant which I will not mention,” she laughed. “We eat out for dinner or sometimes order in their faves like pizza. We cook together at home and our first born, Lonwabo, makes the most amazing pancakes, flapjacks and scrumptious scrambled eggs for breakfast or brunch.”
There you have it – the family that cooks together, stays together. It’s a legacy that has been passed down and no doubt will continue in the future. DM/TGIFood
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Follow Bianca Coleman on Instagram @biancaleecoleman
The writer supports The Gift of the Givers Foundation, the largest disaster response, non-governmental organisation of African origin on the African continent.