Nguni Restaurant has long since been recognized as one of the premier dining destinations representing all that is good about this beautiful town of Plettenberg Bay. You only need to sample just some of the feedback relayed through review platforms, such as Trip Advisor or Eat Out to see how universally adored the whole Nguni experience is for most, if not all of the patrons who walk through the restaurant’s front door.
This place is the sum of many wonderful parts, all working to the highest standards, with a variety of available dishes prepared, cooked, and delivered to the hungry, soon-to-be-happy, customer. But one part of the parts that can never be left out of the conversation is the quality and consistency of the steaks that have been crossing the threshold at Nguni for nearly 15 years.
I’ve enjoyed a few steaks at Nguni Restaurant – one look at me and you might hazard a guess that this would be true – but I wanted to find out more; get behind the scenes and find out what goes into delivering, arguably, the best steaks in the region.
My guide through this process is Chef Caliph, who greets me with a firm handshake and a welcoming smile before introducing me to the rest of the team working at the various food stations in the neatly organized kitchen. More on those members of the team in the weeks and months to come on this page.
Tonight, however, it is all about the meat! I ask Caliph what the options were and what his recommendation would be. ‘Tonight we have our house cuts of beef – fillet or rib-eye. We also have on the menu tonight ostrich, chicken, and lamb dishes. The most popular is the rib-eye so maybe you would like to try that?’ Rib-eye it is! A beautiful cut is brought forth and I watch on as Caliph covers it in olive oil and a generous sprinkling of pepper. He asks me how I would like my steak cooked and again I ask for his personal opinion, ‘I have it medium rare, which is the most popular request but we will cook it anyway our customers like. I just think medium rare is the perfect state for a steak to be consumed because you get all the benefit of the flavors that come from the meat whilst keeping that delicious, juicy texture.’
Without further ado, Caliph places the steak onto a piping hot skillet whilst describing the cooking process to me. ‘It depends on the thickness of the steak, this piece is quite thick, so I will cook on one side for around 4 to 5 minutes, no turning. Then, when the time is up and I am happy, I take the steak off the grill and place it on a plate to rest. This usually works well, because there are normally other meals being prepared as part of the same order. Once the meat has rested for 5 or so minutes it then goes back on the heat, this time cooking the other side for around 2 minutes, 3 minutes maximum. During this time I season with some salt. Once that is complete, and I am happy the steak has been cooked to order, I rest the meat for a short while longer to make sure that the juices seize up into the meat. Then it’s plated and sent out with the order.’
The final resting time prior to my devouring this glorious-looking piece of meat gives me an opportunity to find out a bit more about Caliph and his time working at Nguni. ‘I started here in 2015 when a friend asked me to come and help service at an event that was being held at Nguni. After that, I was asked by Jacqui and Natalie whether I would like to come and work full time which I jumped at. I started on the 22nd of December 2015 working in the scullery. Then, in 2016 I was given the task of dessert chef, then in 2017, I was put on the salad station. During the winter break of that year, the restaurant owners sent me on a barista course so that I could also provide our clients with excellent coffee. In 2018, I was placed in charge of our seafood section, which is where I stayed until the pandemic hit in early 2020.
Everyone was on lockdown for a long period of time, and of course, the restaurant was closed. At that time, we still had a pod at the Market on Main in Plett called Sanga (providing delicious burgers, steak sandwiches, and more), which was allowed to open before the restaurant, so I worked there for a few months, which is where I learned the basic skills of cooking meat to order. When the restaurant re-opened, I was given the opportunity of working on the meat station which is where I have been ever since.’
There’s a lovely charm and softness about Caliph who comes across as both humbly proud of what he has achieved and hugely grateful for the opportunity he has received.
But now, as they say, the proof is in the pudding or in this case the well-rested rib-eye beckoning me from the kitchen. When ordered from the menu, the dish comes with delicious hand-pulled roasted potatoes and a selection of homemade sauces – Sriracha Mayo, Chimmichurri, Mushroom, or Green Peppercorn. For this tasting, however, I have decided to take the steak as it comes.
As the steak knife effortlessly cuts through the outer layer of the slab into its pretty pink middle, I know I’m in for another treat. Rib-eye is one of those steaks that can, if not selected properly, feature just a bit too much fattiness in its marbling, but this cut was spot on. The fat is an integral part of the overall flavor of the meat but you don’t want to have too much as it can steal the limelight from the other flavorings on offer.
I devoured the 300gms in front of me, perhaps pausing for the first few mouthfuls to savor and critique the taste, but soon all bets were off and it was gone in the blink of a rib-eye. Wow. If I hadn’t watched the cooking process I would have guessed that there must be some secret, some special way of cooking something so delicious, and there was. The secret can be found in the simplicity of it all. Don’t overdo it with basting or too much seasoning and allow the meat to be the hero on its own.
If you haven’t already, then book your seat at Nguni Restaurant to experience this and all the other culinary delights this esteemed establishment has to offer.