BY ANDREA PAFITIS-HILL PHOTOGRAPHS SUPPLIED
Some 10 years ago, I recall being saucer-eyed when tallying the experience Marthinus Ferreira had clocked up on his CV at such a tender age. From training at the renowned Institute of Culinary Arts in Stellenbosch to working under Franck Dangereux at Constantia Nek’s famed La Colombe, followed by UK-based stints at Gordon Ramsay’s Boxwood Café at The Berkeley hotel and Heston Blumenthal’s Riverside Brasserie, The Hind’s Head and The Fat Duck, there was no doubt this chef was one to watch.
Thus, upon the opening of his restaurant, dw eleven – 13, in 2009 when Marthinus was just 28 years old, I couldn’t wait to discover what lay behind the alluring mystique of its dark façade at Johannesburg’s Dunkeld West Shopping Centre. As I soon discovered, two distinctly different worlds awaited – The Grazing Room and its come-as-you-are informality beckoned you to dip into its trendy tapas menu, while The Tasting Room drew you into a tranquil oasis of fine dining. The latter has endured with good reason: the consistently high standard of the ever-changing dishes on the restaurant’s tasting and four-course menus continue to capture imaginations and taste buds, while competitive pricing and generous portion sizes have ensured what are arguably Joburg’s best-value offerings in their categories – the four-course menu (available at lunch and dinner) is currently priced at R650, R800 with non-alcoholic pairing and R900 with wine pairing; while the six-course tasting menu (available at lunch and dinner) is R900, R1 125 with non-alcoholic pairing, R1 375 with wine pairing and R1 500 with whisky pairing.
A current lunch highlight that’s available until the end of November 2019 is Marthinus’s take on the classic Japanese bento box. “I always like to think out the box,” he quips. This special (Tuesdays to Fridays only) includes a salad, soup, main dish (protein, veg and starch) and dessert for R250 excluding wine and gratuity. Please note that this offer is not available for functions.
Marthinus, with typical candid charm, is down to earth about his dw eleven – 13 journey: “When we opened, my biggest fear was hoping people would come and experience the food. Now, 10 years later, we are fully booked almost a week in advance for dinners. I am humbled by the growth we have achieved. I also used to take reviews very personally, but with time and maturity, I have realised that not everyone is going to have the same experience and this is why consistency in both our food and service is so important to me and my team. Learning to deal with both the positive and negative reviews has definitely contributed to our growth.”
A team member who’s been part of this growth for almost its entire decade is Mario Monteiro. “He is not just our general manager and wine director – he has become part of the family. His attention to detail, consistency and overall professionalism are huge assets for us. Mario has an amazing work ethic and, from early on, showed great drive and maturity beyond his years. He has always treated dw eleven – 13 as if it was his own baby and our success would not have been possible without him,” Marthinus enthuses.
This is high praise indeed for Mario, who has also been a mentor to Kudzai Kupeta, the restaurant’s charming and erudite sommelier. Having completed his working practical internship with dw eleven-13 through the International Hotel School, Kudzai joined dw eleven – 13 in January 2018 as junior manager. From there he was quickly taken under Mario’s wing when he showed a keen interest in wines and pairing dishes with both wines and non-alcoholic beverages.
The recent loss of the restaurant’s stalwart head chef, Andrew McKinnon, to distant shores has given Marthinus the unenviable task of replacing him. In keeping with Marthinus’s recognition of the talent that lies within his team, he’s decided to upskill one of his young chefs who was trained by Andrew. This decision is also testament to Marthinus’s unwavering hands-on involvement in the restaurant from the start, to the extent that he and his mother even laid the sleek wooden floors of the restaurant with their own hands. When I remark on this level of commitment, Marthinus replies: “This is a family business. We didn’t have the capital available to get someone else in when we started. So we did it ourselves. We put in the personal sweat and love that I continue to implement through my food. It’s been a labour of love and hard work from the beginning and I aspire to continue this ethic.” Yes, there’s no doubt those floors were laid on a firm foundation.