We’ve all heard of pop-up restaurants, but how about eating dinner in an exhibition? Find out how you can go to Cape Town and back over a glass of wine and a savoury doughnut at Tate Modern
While Canteen style tables and communal dining are nothing new, Meschac Gaba’s Restaurant doesn’t just serve up food. It takes you on a trip. Let me explain…
The night I visited - the second of four dinners prepared and hosted by guest artists - was hosted by the Cape Town-based Jazz student, and cooking adventurer, Jade de Waal, who had been slaving away in the kitchen since the day before, and photographer Roelof Petrus van Wyk from Johannesburg.
We were offered a glass of South African wine - and printed napkins with Nelson Mandela’s face on (more on that later). And if you’re wondering whether you actually get fed properly at an art dinner, the answer is yes, oh yes you do. Terracotta pots bulged with chakalaka (vegetable) chutney and groundnut dips, lined-up next to wooden boards piled with fried slithers of sweet potato, chunky stywe pap (maize chips) and vetkoekies (savoury doughnuts).
After a few moments, our hosts gave a speech on how they took their cue from the unlikely friendship between Winnie Mandela and Adele de Waal (Jade’s grandmother), two women on opposite sides of the political spectrum in apartheid South Africa. Roleof spoke of how in 1977, the women became true friends and in doing so broke a boundary ‘that crossed right through the heart of apartheid’. This was ‘the beginning of a complex personal history of reaching out, breaking down barriers and perceptions’ and our meal was to be a small way of exploring the African philosophy of Ubuntu, meaning, ‘we are each other. I am me, by virtue of you’.
With this in mind, I turned to my neighbour and discovered over a platter of vetkoekies that she was Jade’s mother and had made a special trip from Cape Town that day as a surprise. Talk about crossing boundaries! Although, soon after popping a vetkoek on the Mandela napkin, Roleof revealed ‘you’re not allowed to print fabric with his face on anymore, so this would be apparently be the last of the fabric. We have them here for you to take home’. Oh dear. I’m sure the grease stain will come out…
Soon we were literally digging into the bunnychow, a loaf of bread filled with curry and encased in paper. Whilst unravelling our packages, Jade’s mother said how this is historically a ‘utilitarian dish, a real workers meal’ and that there are now tiny, trendy versions in Cape Town. This didn’t sound too disimilar to me from the ‘street’ food trend now causing queues at restaurants around London, where if you want a bit of pulled-pork in a bun, you’ll be waiting on a street corner for it.
At dessert, Jade sat with us and we were sharing a love of the aforementioned vetkoek - ‘one of the ultimate ultimate tastes’ - when a sticky, sweet version of these balls of doughy joy arrived (called koeksisters). And so with that, I felt like I got a little glimpse of dinner with friends as they do it in Cape Town - no passport required.