Black Bamboo restaurant at the Menlyn Boutique Hotel in Pretoria is helping to change the face of the fine dining scene in the city, with a focus on a dining experience and a menu that changes every three weeks. We chatted with Chef Pellie Grobler to find out how diners first reacted to the restaurant, his food philosophy and inspiration, and why he places so much focus on his exceptional wine list.
I’ve always loved food. My grandmother was a brilliant cook – she was the cook of the town and everyone would always ask her to bake the birthday cakes or cook for the dinner parties. I guess I inherited some of her genes, and will certainly say my love for food comes from her.
I loved working for Bruno Loubet and consider him a mentor. What I learned very quickly is that there is nothing like experience in a professional kitchen. The amount I leant from him would have taken me years somewhere else. His passion and drive was infectious.
My food philosophy is to keep it fresh and interesting. I guess my inspiration comes from every day in the kitchen, and constantly questioning how we can make a dish taste different or better.
Why did I decide to open a fine dining restaurant in Pretoria? I think what we are doing at Black Bamboo is perfectly suited to Pretoria, there has never been something like it, but Pretoria was ready for something interesting.
The first couple of months we had a lot of resistance from guests. Pretoria is a very traditional city with deep-rooted ideas about food. We wanted to change those ideas, get people thinking differently about eating out and place the focus not just on food but rather the experience. Now we have been very blessed with a lot of returning guests that we call friends rather than guests.
There is a worldwide drive to be healthier and we have seen an increase of guest looking for healthier dishes. I think a lot of restaurants are not necessarily focused on vegetarians because most of the patrons are non-vegetarians, so little effort is put into the vegetarian dishes. We decided to have a completely separate menu for vegetarians, and we approached the menu exactly the way we do our normal menu. Some of our vegetarian dishes are cracking dishes and non-vegetarian guests often order from the vegetarian menu.
Most ingredients are locally sourced, and although Pretoria is not really considered a farming community, you’d be surprised by how many people are producing beautiful product not far from us. it makes everything easier when you are able to go out and have a look at some of the product, speak to the producers, and ask for a special product.
You will often hear me saying, “Food is my passion, wine is my work and I love my work.” We want to create an eating experience at Black Bamboo and it’s pointless just focusing on exciting and different food and then not putting the same effort into your wine list. I believe the two are synonymous.