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Rustic restaurant will take you back home

A clash of thunder accompanies me into the cosy confines of Blaque Wine Bar and Grill House - those famous Highveld thunderstorms during the warmer months.

I'm immediately surrounded by the raspy vocals of local singer Amanda Black.

The 40-seater venue is by far the most intimate eating space I have ever been in.

The dark charcoal wallpaper and mahogany furniture complement that cozy feel. In one corner sits an ottoman and Richard Branson's book Like A Virgin: Secrets They Won't Teach You at Business School. In the opposite corner is a couch in the same colour as the ottoman, decked with cushions with depictions of minibus taxis.

Owner, chef Sizo Henna, who hosts Rustic Chakula, a cooking and magazine show on SABC3, tells me that the couch and ottoman are his personal set from home.

"Rustic is something that's warm, something that's accessible, it's something that takes you back home," he says.

Henna has just decided to change the eatery's menu to reflect that theme of home - offering food items such as umleqwa (free range chicken), mogodu and oxtail potjie.

Henna has an impressive 16 years in the industry but he's had Blaque for just over seven months.

The entrepreneur is getting the word out there by hosting a bi-monthly event called "One Night with Sizo". Patrons are treated to live jazz music, can request a song and enjoy a beautiful six-course feast with different wine pairings.

"When people come to Blaque, they're coming home, isekhaya, their home away from home."

Henna refers to himself as playful and flirtatious, though he's quick to point out that it's harmless as he's absolutely taken.

"Rustic is something that's warm, something that's accessible, it's something that takes you back home."

"Overall Sizo is that naughty chef that likes exploring different flavours and different textures. I have an understanding on what's good and what blends with certain palates," he says.

During our interview, I'm offered a Cajun chicken salad. The flavours are divine - the sweet peppadew paired with crisp cucumber and rocket leaves make the taste buds dance. The generous portion of ribs i was offered next will be enough to keep the crowds coming back for more.

The chef says that South Africans are adventurous with our food, though there is a large market that loves simple fare. His face becomes animated when he talks about food. He tells me that from the age of nine he travelled a lot with his family.

His parents were civil servants. His mom was a teacher and his dad a police officer, and they saved up so they'd be able to go on holiday every term break.

They'd visit places like, Knysna, Cape Town, Swaziland and Durban. He fondly remembers staying at the Thohoyandou Sun.

"From my travelling, I got to understand different flavours, different textures and, at the age of nine years old I had my first encounter with ostrich meat, it was the best thing ever," he elaborates.

He was precocious as a child, and loved to order from the grown-up menu instead of the kiddies' menu.

"I was very curious - that's how I ended up falling in love with food and having that relationship with food."

He claims that Somerset East makes the best koeksisters in the country and stresses that all foodies should make their way there.

Henna is a charismatic character, and a consummate host. During our interview, he was busy training new staff and entertaining patrons.

He draws you in and makes you genuinely feel at home, then he tells you about the delicious food on offer and you can't help but want to try it all out. Owning his business, which he self-funds, has been an eye-opening journey, according to the chef.

He says he wanted a space where black excellence could be celebrated.

"What it has taught me is to have an understanding of people. In my business I became not only a chef, owner but an HR manager, so you get to understand people and [their] backgrounds."

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