Chef Mark Radnay heads a contemporary restaurant in Franschhoek designed to showcase local cuisine. Going back to South African roots, it’s all about comfort food with a twist.
By Kim Maxwell
Franschhoek has been a strong contender for South Africa’s culinary capital for years. Thanks to a number of good restaurants in the village, options range from casual French bistros or country cuisine for lunch to fine-dining tasting menus for dinner. Many dishes have been borrowed and adapted from Europe and Asia, with local trout, game, cheese and produce used prolifically in menus. Yet with the exception of Topsi & Company restaurant in the main street, no serious Franschhoek restaurant has focused on traditional South African cuisine for today’s diners. With the opening of Mark Radnay’s Genot restaurant on Klein Genot Wine & Country Estate, that is about to change. Angie and Joey Diamond built and own the restaurant and chef Mark Radnay runs the food side of things.
The Genot restaurant shares a building with a new Klein Genot barrel-maturation cellar, tasting room and winery on the Diamonds’ property. Genot’s menu offers homegrown dishes with a contemporary tweak – the sort of Cape Malay and Afrikaans dishes you might come across in a dusty South African cookbook – listed alongside local fish and meat on the grill. The idea came from Angie after guests at her Klein Genot guesthouse regularly requested simple South African comfort food.
The appeal of eating fiddly restaurant food wears off once you’ve spent a few evenings dining out. “Genot is an Afrikaans word meaning ‘a small pleasure’; the idea is to make you feel warm, welcome and at home in the environment,” Mark explains. “Angie’s marketing team found a gap in the market for South African cuisine, especially with tourists keen to try something local. At Genot we’re doing contemporary South African cuisine, taking old favourites and giving them a new twist.”
The A-framed venue uses an ecofriendly palette with touches of glam and colour. Balcony tables overlooking the vineyards form a casual lunchtime area. Genot’s one-page menu suits both lunch and dinner, and a few dishes change weekly. Creative salads and lighter lunchtime options incorporate local elements in ingredients or sauces, so you may find a coriander and ginger vinaigrette or an apricot chutney served on the side. Tomato consommé is spiked with rooibos, while rooikrans wood smokes snoek for the quiche. Smoked snoek also partners biltong and butternut slices, giving Mark’s Caesar salad a fresh, distinctive African edge. Mark’s preference for Asian flavours infiltrates some seafood dishes – think Thai coconut seafood curry or seared tuna with daikon and a soy and mirin sauce.
But it’s a traditional direction that dominates the menu, bobotie being a good example: ostrich is alternated with springbok mince (instead of the traditional lamb), and a red pepper fondue adds vibrancy. Game also comes into its own, with chargrilled kudu loin on creamy herbed polenta partnering tomato chutney, for instance. But you can also go for a plain grilled kudu or gemsbok sirloin or fillet, with vegetables and side sauces.
Homely side orders include mash, rice or chips, fresh vegetables or that Afrikaans favourite, pumpkin fritters. Mark has spent most of his career working in five-star hotels in Johannesburg, Cairns, Dubai and the UK. He also owned a casual restaurant called Yum in Cape Town. To regain some culinary inspiration when he sold the business, he travelled through South-East Asia for about seven months. “I wasn’t really working; I just had a break and ate my way through Vietnam, Laos, Cambodia and Singapore.
I did a bit of work as a chef on a private yacht on the Great Barrier Reef, catching fish off the back of the boat.” Mark’s background includes good kitchen company. He is in a partnership called Three Chefs on the Move, a trio formed with Bertus Basson of Overture restaurant at Hidden Valley farm in Stellenbosch, and Craig Cormack who runs the catering company All Things Culinary in Somerset West. Both Bertus and Mark lease their restaurants on a turnover-based system. On returning to Cape Town after his travels, Mark decided to do more teaching. He met Craig while lecturing at Cape Town Hotel School. When things became hectic during a catering season, Craig roped Mark into the thick of it. It was the end of 2007 and Overture restaurant was also opening. Mark was eventually brought in as a partner.
The partnership system works well because the chefs all run their respective businesses themselves, but they cross-train, share equipment and even help each other with staff if one of the partners is working on a function. Mark describes his culinary style as an eclectic mix of Middle Eastern, Australian, Asian and South African cuisines. “You go through fashions as you progress. What I cooked in my 20s and 30s is different to what I’m doing now,” he says.
Days off are spent eating somewhere or going on day trips with Anja Stoeckigt, who works the front of house at Genot. Anja discloses that Mark is mad about sweet things, eating a chocolate bar on a daily basis. He grins, his secret out. “My mom is English so I’m a big fan of traditional English treats such as trifle and sticky toffee pudding.” This explains Mark’s adaptation of Malva pudding: the traditional moist cake contains naartjie zest and dark chocolate. And it’s quite simply yummy.
By Greg Cox