Every South African town celebrates its tales of historic lore, but in Plettenberg Bay, South African history is served up nightly at Nguni Restaurant. Nguni is located in one of Plett’s most iconic historical buildings, an old fisherman’s cottage in the heart of the business centre of Plett’s Main Street.
Nguni Restaurant is arguably considered the cosiest and friendliest restaurant in town. Don’t be fooled, there is nothing old and dusty about the food and flavours, or the warm and attentive service at this trendy spot. The restaurant features an original 18thcentury fireplace and architecture, and with funky plastic Ghost chairs and an eclectic mix of furniture and unique décor, there is a whimsical allure to this restaurant.
The Nguni girls, Jacqui Carter-Johnson and Natalie Eray, are as well known for their sunny dispositions as they are for their off-beat sense of humour – and scrumptious food. Their traditional African cuisine is always served with a smile and often with a unique twist, helping to put Plett on the culinary map with their signature dishes. A first course might include salt and pepper squid served with lime and chilli aioli or a Bushveld meze platter with smoked ostrich, springbok carpaccio and a garnish of ‘plaaskaas’ and ‘roosterkoek’. You might find solace in their roasted butternut and goat cheese salad served on a bed of rocket with chillied spring onions and a drizzle of balsamic glaze. Main course will tempt you with their signature Nguni steak; superior A-Grade, grain-fed, lazy-aged Chalmar beef chargrilled to your perfection, served with smoked paprika and sage dusted potatoes. Or you might want to try their traditional beef Bobotie, a South African speciality of beef mince and a Cape Malay blend of spices baked with an almond-egg custard and served with a homemade dried-fruit chutney.
Jacquie and Natalie are not strangers in the kitchen, they studied together at the Christina Martin School of Food & Wine in 1992. While Natalie headed out to Italy to try her hand (and patience) as an au-pair, Jacqui began her culinary career. When Natalie returned from abroad, she joined Jacqui who was head chef at The Plettenberg Hotel. They worked together for several years and became very good friends.
Shortly after, Jacqui started a new restaurant called Blue Bay Café, and eventually Natalie joined her after working in the UK, Portugal and France as a private chef. Jacqui sold her restaurant in 2003, having children and running a restaurant wasn’t an easy task and she needed a slight break.
Passion called, and in 2007 she and Natalie joined forces to open Nguni together – a great combination for two dynamic and talented chefs who also had very young families. “We go together like thick lashings of butter on fresh bread. Her bad days are my good days, and vice versa. We complement each other in the ways we work, we have strengths in different areas and that’s why it works,” says Jacqui. “Our main ingredient that not many family-run businesses can even reproduce is laughter till the end! When the chips are down, we laugh our way through it and that is the special magic.”
Inspired by simple, fresh, local produce, the Nguni girls wanted a name that was synonymous with South Africa. They wanted to serve local dishes with a contemporary twist, and ‘Nguni’ is part of South Africa’s beautiful history and future. These girls rock, they are always on trend with new ideas and décor and infusing this into their menu.
With a minimum staff turn-over, you can tell their staff love what they do and love where they work. Robert Neurumba is Zimbabwean and has been working at Nguni since the beginning. With his honest smile and enthusiastic presence, what an incredible asset. Another constant presence is Elias Nonganga. Elias has worked with Jacqui since her Blue Bay days and joined Nguni when they opened the doors. Always smiling and laughing, he adds an incredible spirit that is absolutely contagious. I don’t think Nguni would be the same without these two!
New to the staff line up is Murray Pienaar, Nguni’s in-house wine master and night manager and fantastic catering assistant. A breath of fresh air for these two hard working restauranteers and dedicated moms!
What do they look forward to most each year? Natalie says, “Our philosophy is that because we work double hours, so we deserve double paid leave! What is life worth if you don’t enjoy it and your family to the fullest?”
With their continuous laughter and contagious smiles, the Nguni Girls and their team provide customers with a unique setting and superb menu. A true taste of the Cape!