REVIEW: Eat local and grit-free at AmaZink

dsc_0031.jpg It’s surely a sign of a nation’s maturity when foodies reject fancy foreign styles to rediscover local home cooking. AmaZink Eatery in Stellenbosch’s friendly Khayamandi township is the latest spot to offer this option, and I hope it catches on. Opening during June 2010 for the World Cup, Overture chef Bertus Basson was roped in as culinary consultant. But it appears that township intrinsics have been left intact so the menu available at lunch or dinner is largely a result of cook and owner Loyiso Mbambo’s inspiration.

What’s instantly noticeable about AmaZink is that hygiene standards are a cut above the average township restaurant or shebeen. The colourful dining space is neat, the kitchen spotless and regularly cleaned, modern loos conform to high standards. The venue is easy to find and feels totally safe - ironically no car guards hustle diners for change here when departing. The premises form part of the Ikhaya Trust, a community centre offering child after-school care, HIV support and business training. It receives local and foreign sponsorship.

AmaZink rents the premises and the name is a play on the typical corrugated iron roofs and walls found in South African townships, although this building features solid cream cement walls under its zink structures. Mbambo is a Khyamandi resident who originally owned a shebeen. After receiving some inhouse training at Spier, he launched a restaurant called Roots on these premises a few years ago. Roots is his childhood soccer nickname, but name clashes with other venues necessitated a fresh start for the AmaZink eatery. dsc_0008.jpg

Mbambo hasn’t done this alone. Other locals have provided funding, know-how or creative input – Stellenbosch company Fanakalo is responsible for painting the funky pine tables in colourful ethnic designs, chairs in primary colours, framed cellphone models on walls, and cleverly colourful tractor tire outdoor seats. Waiting staff seem well trained too, contributing to my hunch that AmaZink could soon become a trendy yuppie hangout while township locals pass by outside on foot.

On to the food. A small printed menu is duplicated cheerily on a hand-written wall section under the ceiling. An order of Roots vegetable and pulses soup with vetkoek (R30) was a wintry bowl of fine veggies and grains. We had to wait for the vetkoek dough to rise, but it was the best I’ve eaten in years. The portion size made us pleased we shared. Waitress Nondi told us an elderly neighbour used to sell vetkoek and pilchard fishcakes to the whole of Khayamandi before she passed on - Loyiso now has the vetkoek and chakalaka prepared by a woman called Nzuki, who seems blessed with similar talents. I was a little surprised to see Greek salad and ciabatta grissini as an alternative starter option. But then Mbambo says the menu includes township staples plus “a few things added that were ideas of my own”.

AmaZink main courses are also substantial. We tucked into a quarter chicken peri-peri with veg (R65), and a portion of wors, pap and chakalaka (R35) respectively. Alternatives were beef stew and samp with spinach (R50). A mixed grill of meats seems to be available when the venue is busy, conforming to the African cultural norm that a meal without meat is a waste of time. dsc_0022.jpg

Although stiff maize pap is moulded into shape and plates are smarter than most, this is not pretty food. Rather hearty, homely grub with tasty gravy or spicy peri-peri sauce. The sausage: mighty tasty, the panfried peri-peri chicken portions perky with bite, although wood flames would bring out more flavour. Both dishes were served with cinnamon-laced butternut, cooked spinach and green beans mushy with potato. The crowning glory was Nzuki’s chakalaka, a delicious Cape Malay curry of cooked vegetables laced with a dab of chilli.

There isn’t much to excite on the wine side – five white and reds respectively - dependable Stellenbosch labels offering good value is the thinking here. The AmaZink house white and red is colourfully packaged in an African label and made by Ernst Gouws – the Gouws Chenin Blanc 2009 selling for R50, his red Devonair Cab Sauv at R60.

After over-indulging in vetkoek earlier we had no capacity for sweet things. But you could finish an AmaZink meal with dessert at R25 apiece. Ice cream and hot chocolate sauce was an option on the printed menu, apple crumble, cream and ice cream mentioned on the wall version. Alternatively why not try ‘ikofi lekker filter at R10. Good times for free.’

dsc_0035.jpg Spend: About R90 to R110 for two to three courses, excluding drinks. Those with moderate appetites might want to share starters or desserts as portions aren’t small.
Value: Fair to Good. Flavour rating: Very good. Few options for vegetarians although a plate of vegetables and pap or samp would probably satisfy.

AMAZINK, 118a Masithandane Street, Khayamandi. Shortly before entering Stellenbosch, exit right from the R304 at Khayamandi centre. Continue right at the circle and follow the road as it snakes towards the restaurant.
Tel 021 889 7536, AmaZink Open for lunch and dinner Tues to Sun. Booking essential when sports events are televised.