Cultural hub set in a suburb
In the suburb of Norwood in Johannesburg, in what in yesteryear would have been called a corner shop, sits the quaint, unassuming eatery N'dawo Yummy. The establishment looks small from the outside but opens up into a courtyard, which is ideal for outdoor dining and allows access to other shops, such as a bakery in the precinct
Though small, the restaurant has maximised the space, with a rooftop event area, a high-rise bar and a box where book events and designer showcases are attended. It's three venues in one. The decor is Afrocentric, with plush couches, wooden chair and tables sets and a concrete wall that shows half-exposed bricks just to add some gritty romance to the decor.
The restaurant aims to be the cultural hub within the suburb, with book signings and readings as well as live music on offer. In one corner of the restaurant sits a rack of designer African clothing,made locally using materials sourced from the continent, which are for sale. The upliftment of all things African, including design, is one of the things owner Thula Ngonyama wants to ensure. The restaurant alternates their African food menu between mostly Southern African foods and West African's.
"We do Afro-fusion where we bring our African cuisine and combine it with cuisine from other parts of the world.
"We fuse it and create these dishes that are uniquely ours. We are also creating a culture around the cuisine where we're looking at predominantly wine pairing and African cuisine which is rarely done in our country... and that's how we're trying to uplift our African cuisine to the same level as European and American levels," she says.
An example of such a pairing is that they'll serve mogodu and steamed bread, paired with a Graham Beck Brut. This is one of the many pairings available.
"We are a restaurant that embraces the food from our continent . this Sunday we're celebrating Congolese cuisine paired with a champagne tower. It sounds like chalk and cheese but it works very well; it says listen, our cuisine is at that level of being paired with a champagne tower and celebrated that way," she says.
Another differentiating fact from other establishments is that the wine list features a map of the regions where the wine selection comes from, a brief explainer of the history of the label and a guide on what to pair the different wines with.
Ngonyama, from Nkandla in KwaZulu-Natal, was motivated in part to start her restaurant because one of her daughters is interested in the culinary industry and hopes to run a restaurant that is pro-African in the future.
The other motivating factor was a visit to Accra in Ghana where she saw a cocktail titled Flaming Zulu Girl on the menu. "I felt that there was a need to take over our cuisine and not allow other nationalities to take them and celebrate, but for us to do it ourselves."
The restaurant offers a Zulu Girl cocktail as well. Another drink is called Tswana Maiden and the cheekily named Slayer. She says the names help to educate tourists and those curious about the names.
Ngonyama's upbringing in rural KZN was strongly influenced by cultural practices. She is a staunch believer in giving back, having had a stranger help her with signing for surety when she was looking for a National Student Financial Aid Scheme (NFSAS) loan while studying.
With this in mind, she also runs a nonprofit organisation called House of Pearls. She supports young girls and two couples in need, one in Durban and another in Joburg.
She's now thinking of adding young boy children to those she helps.
She credits her financial services background with helping her run the business that has been operational since November.
Ngonyama's vision for the business is to grow it locally, possibly franchise it with an eye for moving it internationally. "And to continue supporting local artists and local designers and transforming [the culinary industry]."