It was a ‘wow’ reaction when I entered newly opened Imibala Restaurant on Bright Street on Monday, at the invitation of Ian Downie representing the restaurant owners Johann and Gaynor (Ian’s sister) Rupert, and of PR Consultant Ann Wallis-Brown. The Imibala Trust, its Gallery and its Restaurant is focused on giving back to the Helderberg community through the monies that it raises, a very noble initiative.
Ian and I connected immediately, very interested in good food, Ian having founded Gastronauts in Johannesburg when he still lived there. We both have been members of Slow Food in Cape Town, when Jos Baker was running it, but we both have left since she handed over the leadership. He loves to travel and to cook, he said, but he does not document his food experiences in a Blog, a loss I told him. His phone rang a lot, and it was only at the end of the meal that it emerged that he runs a security company too, looking after home developments and wine farms, including those belonging to the Rupert family. He is very proud of his Terra Madre apple cider, which he made with Nicole Precoudis of Elgin, who supplies a large number of their ‘potted products’, including preserves, dips, and ready-made meals. Nicole bought an apple farm in Elgin, and is hands-on in making all the products. She uses the Terra Madre brand name for her products, which are displayed in a special stand in the Deli. Nicole previously ran Icon and Cilantro restaurants in Johannesburg.
I met Clare Jeffrey, who does ‘development work’, a better term than ‘fundraising’, she explained. She used terms like ‘impact investing’, to describe that measurable results from monies generated must be established, and that they must make a difference. She referred to the ‘paralysis of development’, describing how the socio-economic background of many children in the Helderberg affects the local community. In developing confident young persons, and to retain them in the area, they discovered that a simple gift of a school uniform makes a difference. The full amount of monies generated by Imibala goes to the Trust for development activities, no monies being deducted for administrative fees. Clare referred to receiving ‘investments‘, and not ‘donations‘.
‘Imibala’ means colours in Xhosa, and each of the Imibala businesses reflects a different colour. The logo consists of the soundwaves of a child’s laughter, represented in different colours, and designed by agency Canvas. The Imibala Trust runs a retail centre across the road, rental benefiting the Trust. Everard Reid runs the Imibala Gallery alongside the Restaurant. Whilst not visible from inside the restaurant, the back part of the building stretches all the way to the next road, with space for afternoon art education (run by Ian and Gaynor’s 85-year-old mother Dawn Downie), and drama and pottery lessons for the school children. Across the road is a room with twenty computers, donated by Dimension Data, at which children can develop their internet skills. Started on a small scale 12 years ago, 2500 children now benefit from Imibala. Two-thirds of the investment come from foreigners. School liaison officers in the local region help to select deserving children for support, and monitor the benefits. Appreciation by the recipients of the support is an important measurement of success. Support for job placements and bursary applications is provided by the Rupert Foundation. I was told that the involvement in the Imibali Trust by the Rupert family is very low profile.
Wood dominates the interior design, used in its shelving, the front counter, tables, and chairs, all of which are upholstered in a variety of fabrics, and covered with a white chair cover, something I have not seen before. The restaurant is one large room, with a longer table for groups to share, and individual four-seater tables in the rest of the restaurant. The tables have white cotton placemats, with stylish olive oil and balsamic vinegar bottles, and alt and pepper grinders. Cutlery is by Sola. The inside walls are painted white, making the area look more spacious. Interesting paintings by Simphiwe Ndzube adorn one side wall (main photograph), overlooking an old-fashioned drinks trolley. I asked about the decor design, and was told that it was done by Gaynor, the impressive brass lamps at the counter coming from the decor shop Arabesque across the road.
The restaurant doubles up as a Deli, with shelves laden with products, most locally made and some imported. A cake table looked wonderful, laden with a selection of cakes, cones, muffins, and croissants. Chef Nicole previously worked at Bushmanskloof and at Bartholomeus Klip. Her passion is baking cakes, tarts and pies, and the chicken pie I was sent home with was delicious. Chef Nicole is also passionate about training and mentoring staff, and a chefs’ school is planned. What excites her is the access she has to fresh produce from the Rupert family farms, Parel Vallei (the small farm of the Ruperts in Somerset West supplying vegetables, olive products, and herbs), L’Ormarins (supplying olive products and honey), and meat from farms in the Karoo. All these products are used as ingredients for dishes, ‘making the best that they can be‘. Ian said they have a simple menu, which helps them to ‘edify the ingredients‘. They source the very best ingredients as close to the restaurant as possible, including organic eggs, acorn-fed pork, whole fruit juices, making everything as natural as they can. Chef Nicole also uses the produce to make soups, herb pesto, lamb korma, and chicken pies, which are sold in the Deli, as are dunking biscuits, Dalewood cheeses, honey, olives, and olive oils.
The winelist is not yet ready, but will consist of only Rupert wines, from L’Ormarins, Anthonij Rupert, Rupert & Rothschild, and La Motte. The wine prices are kept low in this way. The only non-Rupert wines offered are Paul Cluver Riesling, Pinot Noir, and Noble Late Harvest, and Cederberg Bukettraube, all cultivars which the Ruperts do not make. Some international reasonably-priced wines will be offered too. A connection in Elgin has natural spring water, and the restaurant will offer free water in future. Ian’s gourmet passion will become visible over time, in that they plan a special dinner once a month, like a Gin and Tonic tasting, and an Indian curry evening. A Southern Italian evening of food and wine to be held next Friday is sold out.
We talked a lot, and finally it was time to eat. The menu is a large A3 white board, unbranded, and strangely had some items price-corrected by hand. Lunch is available from 12h00 – 16h00, the menu advises in fine print. A delineation between starters and main courses has not been made, but this will come on a new menu, with many of the dishes being available in two portion sizes in future. Described as ‘simple’ is in fact an extensive menu, with ten starters, twelve main courses, and six desserts. We each chose different dishes, and I was spoilt with a taster of Ian’s and Ann’s dishes. In addition to the print menu, a blackboard at the front door announces the specials of the day.
Ann recommended the layers of marinated smoked salmon and avocado starter, with homemade mayonnaise, drizzled with olive oil and lemon zest, and topped with trout caviar (R75), a fresh-looking and tasting dish matching the warm autumn day! Ian had the open mushroom lasagne, which I had considered as well, made with truffle ricotta cheese, heavenly burnt sage butter, and pumpkin seed oil (R85). Ann chose a small portion of char-grilled corn salad, to which was added quinoa, a coriander chimichuri, avocado, and feta (R75). Other starters, all in a price range of R75 – R85, include caramelised onion, chili salt Patagonia squid with chili sauce, prawn and fish cakes, Caesar salad, chicken strips, roasted baby beetroot salad, and a grilled free-range Karoo lamb loin salad with roasted eggplant.
Our main courses were a Thai salmon and prawn curry (R85), which Ian had selected from the Specials list. I ordered the pork belly served with broccoli and beans, and a ginger and caramel sauce, and a cracking piece of crackling (R130), also on the Specials list. I don’t like chili in my food, and the waitron had not revealed that the dish contained chili. Ann ordered beer battered hake, with good-looking homemade chunky chips, lemon aioli, and a ‘kitchen salad‘ (R89). Additional main courses are slow roast lamb shank pie, free range chicken thighs, pan-seared kingklip, grilled grass-fed beef fillet or aged sirloin steak, beef burger, roasted sliced lamb loin cutlets, aubergine parmigiano, salmon and prosciutto, slow roasted free-range Karoo lamb shank, sirloin steak sandwich, and cheesy oregano chicken toasted sandwich.
Desserts are available all day, ranging in price from R40 to R65. The list includes a cheese board, a delicious roasted hazelnut and chocolate meringue gallette (which Ann ordered), my order of baked apple tart with a puff pastry crust and served with crème anglais and vanilla ice cream, buttermilk panna cotta, vanilla créme brûlée, and apple caramelised crêpes. Ian chose the special of rhubarb crumble, served with raspberries, custard, crumble, and vanilla ice cream. Ian told us that they serve Illy coffee, selected after a blind tasting of different coffees. Breakfast is served between 8h00 – 11h00, while a number of items are available all day, including platters of charcuterie, vegetable antipasti, and bread. A children’s menu is also available.
Our waitron Mary is regarded as the best of the restaurant staff, but was hard to understand at times, having a heavy Irish accent. Manager Shirley starts tomorrow. Staff wear black aprons with the colourful Imibala logo.
The Gallery has a most interesting exhibition by Isabelle Grobler, her ‘the cannibals’ banquet‘ being a commentary on our ‘monster’ consumerist society, the artist having used a diverse mix of discarded items to create a ‘sculpture’. More conventional exhibitions have been the work of father and son Anton and Lionel Smit, and a Dylan Lewis exhibition is planned.
I spent a fascinating four-hour lunch, stretched in terms of the amount of information provided about the Imibala Trust and all its activities, and the fabulous fresh food prepared by Chef Nicole and her team. Imibala Restaurant offers Somerset West a new quality restaurant, a rarity in this town, having a unique benefit that one is doing good whilst eating good!
Disclosure: As if the lunch was not generous enough, Ann packed a goodie bag of items from the Deli to take home, consisting of Rigg’s salted butter, L’Ormarins honey, Parel Vallei olives, Parel Vallei Olive Oil, an aubergine, Terra Madre granola, Terra Mare Pommes Classique handcrafted dry cider, and a chicken pie made by Chef Nicole.
Imibala Restaurant and Gallery, 18 Bright Street, Somerset West. Tel (021) 851-2364 www.imibala.com Twitter @Imibala Monday – Saturday 8h00 – 17h00.