Cape Town’s Restaurant Heavyweights: Round One

“The foodie team at Travel Concepts is always on the look out for inspiring experiences and genuine local knowledge of where international visitors to our shores should wine and dine. ”

“The foodie team at Travel Concepts is always on the look out for inspiring experiences and genuine local knowledge of where international visitors to our shores should wine and dine. ”

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In a city where restaurants open and close faster than you can tuck into a crab cake appetizer, there are two gentlemen in this fickle industry who – despite their vast differences – have somehow managed to get the recipe right.

With both of them currently operating at least five successful restaurants each in Cape Town, Richard Griffin and Giorgio Nava can without a doubt be considered as two of the most industrious Restaurateurs in the Mother City.

The foodie team at Travel Concepts is always on the look out for inspiring experiences and genuine local knowledge of where international visitors to our shores should wine and dine. So we took the time to sit down and have a chat with these interesting gents to find out what really makes them – and their restaurants- truly tick.

 

Richard Griffin

With a Masters with honours from the Cordon Bleu School in London you’d be easily fooled to think that this person was the type who donned a stiff tie and suit to work on a daily basis. Quite the contrary actually. Richard exudes everything that you would associate with the Madame Zingara philosophy: fun, laughter, passion, and enthusiasm with flair. Richard is the ultimate hedonist and the mastermind and energy behind Cape Town’s most loved bohemian spots like Madame Zingara, Café Mozart, The Bombay Bicycle Club, Sidewalk Café and now the much loved Café Paradiso.

 

Tell us about Madame Zingara, what is the story behind it and how is it going?

Madame Zingara was a very special place that will always conjure up special memories for me and I think many others.  It had such a brilliant bohemian vibe about it.  All the glitz and glamour, the hedonistic environment – people were attracted to that I think because it was a momentary break from their current day to day lives.  It was one of those institutions in Cape Town that if you went there once, you almost certainly had to go again.  After the fire and then the liquidation it was sad but we all evolve and move on. With the Spiegel tent – which is one of the last remaining Mirror Tents in the world – we have been able to bring the show back to Cape Town and Johannesburg audiences once again. The Tent of Dreams, Victoria as we fondly call her, is in Durban at the moment from June to August 2011.

There is a consistent philosophy that runs through all your restaurants, and that is one of creating a unique dining experience.  What was your initial thinking behind this?

Each of our restaurants is very different and unique.  At Paradiso, the staff are part of the experience.  They have attitude, are fun and are always very enthusiastic.  We are selling a tonic – this makes for an experience that one will not forget.  Service is extremely lacking in our industry and this is something we try to focus on and perfect at Paradiso and the other restaurants.  At Paradiso we have a child friendly atmosphere which many comment on and appreciate.  Finding somewhere to eat with the kids can sometimes be quite a challenge!

We’ve also brought back the original chef and his wife who started at Paradiso 26 years ago.  With them come all the original recipes that made Paradiso the institution that it was.  We still make everything by hand from the pasta to the butter, to the bread.  We really put our heart and soul into everything we do there, from the service, to the food, to the atmosphere.  It is all about food but emotions definitely factor into it.

Cape Town is synonymous for producing some of South Africa’s best restaurants, however it is also somewhat known for restaurants closing down after a year or two.  So, why the restaurant business for you? And what is your winning formula as your restaurants seem to be standing the test of time.

I have been in the hospitality industry since I was 13 years old and I am now 38. It was and is my life. I was inspired by the women who I grew up with in Cape Town and who inspired many a generation of us to enter the industry.  That is why I do this. As to our winning recipe, I think it is our staff.  I have had some staff work for me for many years and we train them and allow them to move them “up the food chain”.  We expand on our people, not our financials.  I think that’s what makes us work.  We have almost 236 staff members and are very proud of the wage contribution we give them.  Our growth is mainly due to our staff and their diligence and it seems to be working.  We bring in over 1500 clients per day across all the restaurants!  I tell my staff, we are only as good as our last shift!  Focus on everything, the entire experience.

If you are not eating at any of your own restaurants, where do you choose to eat and why? And what is your favourite dish?

I rarely eat out at other places; I don’t want my mind to be contaminated with other people’s food and product.  But I do eat occasionally at the Cook Shop. Usually though it’s at one of our restaurants.  The Buffet at Mozart’s is amazing and at R40 for lunch, a steal!

As is the coffee, the only thing that keeps one alive at seven in the morning!  At Sidewalk Café we make the best burger – chicken, bacon and chilli.  You cannot forget the chilli! And then definitely the ribs at Bombay Bicycle Club and at Paradiso, the salt and pepper calamari.

What do you enjoy most about living in Cape Town?

I absolutely love Cape Town!  People do their own thing here and are not influenced by any other city’s culture.  I visit Joburg often so I can say that it is a fantastic place but when it comes to dining out, the options are not there.  If you want to chow down there you usually have to be near a shopping centre!  There is no focus there, but things are changing.  I am finding little pockets of soul in Joburg like the Arts on Main where one doesn’t have to deal with the mass market.

Dead or alive – if you could invite anyone for dinner who would it be and why?

Definitely Leanne Manas, I don’t know why but I just love her!  Brad Pitt purely because he’s gorgeous. Graham Norton, maybe Sandra Bullock, we’ll need some hot chicks around the table. Oh and Chris von Ulmenstein from the Whale Cottage! Then I would like Giorgio Nava to cook and serve us. Now that would be a party!

What our team had to say: Why Richard

Kate

I love Café Paradiso for many reasons. It’s one of the best settings in Cape Town for any occasion from a first date to first anniversary; the waiters are always amusing and full of beans, and lastly every dish on the menu has that familiar “home-cooked” sentiment with every mouthful!  

Hannes

I remember this restaurant from my days at university when it was the hot spot for an unbeatable Sunday Mediterranean buffet lunch.  These days, its perfect for sipping on a glass of wine in the shade of a Pine Oak tree while watching Table Mountain disappear in the dusk, or tucking into one of their daily specials around a cosy fire in the private courtyard behind the main restaurant.  The interior is normally full and quite lively, so this is the ideal place for dinner with a group of friends.

Mandi

I love Paradiso for its kid friendly perks: story time, pizza making in the kitchen, excellent kiddies meals and its courtyard garden (a rare find in the Bowl). 

 

Look out for the next part in our Cape Town Restaurant Heavyweights feature where we share with you our chat with Giorgio Nava of Mozzarella fame!