Could southern African food find a foothold in the UK?

A new concept called Zim Braai is being launched by Koh Thai Tapas founder Andy Lennox, bringing together South African, Zimbabwean and Namibian flavours.

25 October 2018
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image credit: Getty Images

Southern African flavours and dishes are the next big foodie frontier, according to Andy Lennox, who is launching new brand Zim Braai into the UK, with its first site set for Dorset. The menu will feature dishes not only from South Africa, but also the Seychelles, Malawi, Zanzibar, Madagascar, Zimbabwe and Cape Town.

Lennox, who is the founder of Koh Thai Tapas – currently fielding 13 sites – says he hates the word ‘chain,’ but does have plans to launch the Zim Braai brand throughout the UK, growing it into a “boutique restaurant group.”

The focal point of the food will be the South African style of barbecuing called braai and pots of stews and curries known as potjie, Lennox tells Food Spark. However, the menu will borrow widely from around the region with dishes like the Zimbabwean dovi (a peanut butter stew), fish plates from Mozambique, Durban-style curries, Cape Malay curries and a dish called bunny chow, a fast-food dish consisting of a hollowed-out loaf of bread filled with curry.

There will also be salads with pear and feta, common ingredients like biltong and plantain, and satay skewers of chicken, lamb and pork, as well as steaks.

It may seem like a meaty affair, but Lennox says plant eaters will also be catered for with a vegetarian stew from Namibia, grilled veggies like aubergine and courgette, salted broccoli and chilli, stew pots with spinach and, potentially, tofu.

Lennox has also overseen the installation of a robata to keep veg cooking separate from the meat.

Zim Braai is also open for breakfast and lunch, with morning offerings including a version of bunny chow with eggs, fish soup and grilled sandwiches.

Not more of the same

Lennox has been on the hunt for the next big cuisine, which is what led him to launch Zim Braai. There is some evidence to back up his own research trips as well, with restaurants like Kudu opening earlier this year with a focus on braai and start-ups looking to take products like boerewors, South Africa’s version of the sausage, mainstream.

He believes food from southern African food will appeal to the UK consumers for a number of reasons: the dishes are fresh, healthy and a good source of protein; flavour profiles aren’t too spicy and overpowering; there is some similarity to British favourites like casserole stew and roasts, comments Lennox.

“We have got something that will work well in the UK if presented in the right way. If it’s authentic and real, then it ultimately has legs for that to roll out. It’s the right time for the market and this flavour profile to hit, and ultimately the market needs a bit of a shake-up at the moment. We’ve got too much of the same stuff being done and restaurateurs are meant to find bold new flavours and bring them back to England and let people try them,” he says.

“We can’t keep repeating the same thing as customers are savvy to that... We are also facing a consumer that is demanding more, wants more of an experience, wants more flavours and wants to feel like they are eating in a bold new way, so that’s why I’m bringing southern African now. We need to keep on innovating.”

A boom for food?

Crucial to the concept for Lennox was the ability to cook over a big region, rather than one country.

“Just focusing on South African seems stupid to me when you can focus on southern Africa, as you have got this broad mix of different flavours and cultures and opening up that continent is the next big thing,” he explains.

“You’ve got some people doing some stuff in West African with a couple of restaurants, you’ve got a couple of northern African restaurants and with southern Africa you’ve got great food types. Zanzibar is an island of spices, Cape Town was on the trade links for every single ship over the last two centuries, the Zimbabwean dovi was created because of peanuts being imported by colonists – it’s a broad and rich heritage and it’s quite exciting, as there is so much to try and different things to do and play around with.”

The plan for Zim Braai is to roll out five sites in the next five years, with the second site already in final negotiations and due to open in the middle of next year, and a third on its way by the end of 2019.

 “Ultimately, if people accept that southern African food is not something to be scared of and embrace it, then the food profile is brilliant and I don’t see any reason why it can go boom,” he says.

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