The tiny restaurant that looks out on to a parking lot in Jo'burg is probably the closest thing we have to Yotam Ottolenghi’s restaurants in London.
‘I love that man,” says Danielle Postma from Moemas. “Everyone loves Yotam.”
Postma, the owner and chef, first worked with the now famous chef and cookbook author while at the Baker & Spice bakery in Knightsbridge, where Ottolenghi was a pastry chef. Before that, Ottolenghi gave a demonstration at Leiths Cookery School in London, while Postma was a student.
At the time she had taken a £10 000 bank loan to pay for her studies. She paid it back by working in kitchens and baby-sitting.
Ottolenghi was an early investor in Moemas and they still trade recipes, two of which have made it into Ottolenghi’s recipe books: a creamy sweet potato gratin baked with sage, and her grandmother Joy Anderson’s foolproof recipe for marinated sweet and sour fish. Basically, it is a kind of Malay pickled fish recipe: kingklip, curry powder, whole dhania seeds, sweetened with sugar, sharpened with vinegar. I must have made it about a dozen times and it works every time.
Moemas is hardly a secret in the near north where it has nestled in a nondescript shopping centre for six years and has a devoted following.
It’s tiny, with hardly a dozen tables, including a small outside area that looks on to a parking lot. The window is full of trays with brownies, light pink and blue petit fours, croissants, macadamian shortbread and something Postma calls a “magic bar” — a biscuit base with pecans, Bulgarian chocolate, coconut and condensed milk that has been allowed to caramelise for a few hours.
One morning when I was there, what seemed like a daily ritual was played out at an adjoining table — a woman ordered a cup of coffee and a single petit four.
But many come for the salad buffet (at R14 for 100g), which never seems to be without a beetroot dish, either paired with goat cheese curd or ricotta, or lentils and red onions, or a combination of these, with a balsamic or red-wine dressing. Temptingly close to the buffet are small savoury tarts (R30): asparagus, pea and feta, or caramelised onion, chorizo, zucchini and gorgonzola.
A handful of ingredients
Postma recalls that, at the Ottolenghi restaurant, it was his business partner Sammi Tamimi who eventually took over most of the cooking, leaving Ottolenghi to run the business and write his cooking column for the Guardian.
She says Tamimi is the kind of chef who can create a dish out of a handful of ingredients, such as his famous seared broccoli with chili and garlic, a version of which I have never seen the buffet without.
Moemas roasted sweet potato and butternut salad is one of these, served with a sweet chilli, lemon and chopped dhania dressing. A dish of chickpeas with an emerald dressing is another, made from puréed avocado and a little wasabi, which adds a hard-to-identify piquancy.
Moemas is now also open in the evenings. There’s no buffet but instead a range of mid-priced meals such as aubergine croquettes with feta and parmesan and a yoghurt dressing (R52), salmon fishcakes made with dill and a little potato, Dijon and panko breadcrumbs (R85), or a beef fillet wrapped in bacon and puff pastry (R135).
As Postma says: “Customers come back for what they crave and it better well darn be there.”
Moemas, 3rd and 7th avenue, Parktown North