Inspired by customers’ increased demand for vegan and vegetarian options, the new additions to the tashas menu are healthy and mostly plant-based, but never lacking in flavour and overall moreishness. “We’ve always had a strong focus on plant-based dishes, but now we’re really shining a light on them,” says Natasha Sideris, tashas founder. “The new dishes on our Classic Menu reflect feedback from our customers – a continuing shift to healthier eating, vegan options or a flexitarian approach to vegetarianism – and the option to add in protein. We are always looking to innovate.”
Most of the veggie options can be adapted for meat eaters with add-on protein options. One of the standout new items on the menu is the Sicilian panini, with a tried-and-tested combination of ingredients – olive tapenade, napolitana sauce, sauteed brown mushrooms, capers, olives, roasted cherry tomatoes, melted mozzarella and basil, with anchovy and bacon as optional add-ons.
Crispy and delicious butternut and zucchini rosti are topped with grilled, pickled and red onions, labneh, roasted butternut, coriander, lime and pumpkin seeds – with egg, salmon and bacon waiting in the wings as added extras. The tashas comfort quinoa bowl does exactly what it says on the label – red and white quinoa is mixed with roasted cherry tomatoes, crispy chilli mushrooms, sauteed brown mushrooms and spring onion, and topped with a poached egg for a hearty, savoury breakfast bowl. Other new dishes include the zucchini pasta in a tomato rosa sauce, barley and broccoli salad, and the little miss sunshine, with homemade granola, paw paw curd, caramelised fruits and yoghurt.
On the beverage side, three new smoothies feature in vibrant traffic light colours – berry acai (banana, berries, coconut milk, dates, acai, cranberry, honey), golden mango rooibos (mango, yoghurt, honey, orange, chia, turmeric, rooibos shot) and green goddess (banana, pineapple, kale, apple, honey, mint, cucumber, lemon). For something warm as we head towards winter, a homemade honeybush chai is beautifully served in a tea infuser together with a mug of warm milk.
We chatted with tashas founder Natasha Sideris about their food philosophy as well as how Covid has affected the restaurants, her part in the Restaurant Collective, and how standards stay high while she’s based in Dubai.
After a year of Covid, do you feel that the pandemic has informed the way that people are eating out now? Has that had any effect on your planning for tashas going forward?
One of the biggest changes we’ve seen has been a shift to take-aways – which is not something we’ve offered in the past. tashas is built on providing fresh, made-to-order food in our beautiful spaces. Previously we found that this was then compromised in the delivery process. With Covid-19 we were forced to make this work as an option for us. Now, takeaways contribute significantly to our turnover and we’re continually looking for ways to improve – right now, we’re looking into biodegradable packaging options to ensure we do everything we can to be as sustainable as possible.
Can you tell us about your food philosophy at tashas? Why is it important to make everything from scratch, on-site? Are there any operations or staffing challenges in doing it this way?
Our food is made using the freshest ingredients, it is made-on-order and you are guaranteed great service, in a beautiful space. The new dishes embody this philosophy of using the best ingredients and are made to order. Nothing is pre-made or pre-cut so that the taste, vibrancy and freshness of every ingredient is retained. To ensure we deliver this, we have an “army” in each tashas kitchen, and we’re continually training our team about the ingredients and processes.
Can you tell us about your plans for some of the SA-based tashas?
We continually reinvest into our business. The most important thing is always offering a first-class experience from the food to the service, to the space. We also need to stay relevant and so a number of the tashas stores are being revamped to make sure we stay on trend. tashas Bedfordview is being revamped and tashas Le Parc in Hyde Park is being reenergised with a new look and being turned into a one-of-a-kind food emporium.
While you’re based in Dubai, how do you ensure standards remain high in the South African branches?
I have an incredible management team! I’ve always been incredibly detail-focused – positions, or a piece of paper on the floor – my team are the same. I’ve also worked with a core group of suppliers for the last 16 years, so we’re family and we all work to the same standards.
On that note, how are the Dubai restaurants doing? How have you adapted tashas for that market, and what is it about the tashas brand that has resonated with the Dubai market?
The Dubai restaurants are performing extremely well – even despite the challenges brought by the pandemic. We didn’t really adapt the restaurants, we stayed true to our South African roots, but added a few dishes based on customer requests. Our approach to food – to prepare everything fresh and to order – has also resonated well with the local Emirati market. We also find, that because we’re owner-operated, and give our stores and teams a lot of personal attention. This translates into a true sense of hospitality – which is a big drawcard for the Dubai market.
What are some of the dishes you’ll never be able to remove from the SA menu?
Some of the dishes that have been on our menus since day – the Parmesan Cous-Cous Chicken, Dr Paw Paw, Savva’s Chicken Pasta and the Texas Salad.
Are there any menu items from the past that you were surprised didn’t do well? Perhaps too ahead-of-their-time?
Any time we add a new item to our menu we take a risk – although we have a rigorous development and testing process, a dish’s performance will differ from store to store. Many of the people in our stores are repeat customers who order the same thing every time – they don’t even look at the menu to try new dishes! So, we give each new dish at least six to eight months to see how they perform. Having said that, we’ve never had a dish that didn’t do well – when we do remove dishes off the menu it’s because we have to add new ones and so we simply remove the lowest performing dishes based on our sales mix reports.
You’ve been a part of the Restaurant Collective during lockdown – what was that experience like and why do you think that it was and is important?
It was an amazing experience. When lockdown happened, a lot of restaurants who weren’t part of a bigger groups were really looking for guidance and help on how to cope – how to reduce menus, deal with labour issues and negotiate with landlords. In fact, I gave a presentation to the South African Council of Shopping Centres (SACSC) to help them understand the impact of the lockdown on restaurants and how the restaurants would not sustain lockdown and reopen if the landlords didn’t come to the party with rent reprieve. This was a topic I was very vocal about in both South Africa and Dubai.