Review: Africola

In a bold makeover, the fiery and colourful eclecticism of Africola and its southern African cuisine has been replaced with a white coat of paint and a menu inspired by the north of the continent. The right call? Our food reviewer journeys to the new Africola to find out.

The main challenge that comes with being at the top of your game is the need to continually reinvent yourself to stay fresh.

Africola’s Duncan Welgemoed waved goodbye to his restaurant’s southern African roots and beloved braai fire pit to focus on the northern influences of his home continent’s diet. Design changes have opened up a previously cluttered, eclectic kitchen and dining space while the menu has reached a new level of maturity.

It’s still enthralling and stimulating but more refined (not a word generally used to describe this rascal chef ). Cocktails to start. Africola lost their boozewiz Andrew Cameron to Singapore’s Burnt Ends Bar and Grill, but have streamlined things after his departure with less bottled clutter on the freshly tiled shelves.

‘Cheryl from Accounts’ will punch you in the guts and then soothe your soul in one fell swoop with mezcal, grapefruit, honey and ginger. Their signature Africano is like a Negroni with a pleasant kick thanks to the addition of chilli.

An open preparation area is always a risk; chefs are oft to blow their tops over the under-seasoned, the overcooked and the unreliable underlings who threaten to damage the reputation of their craft. But in the design transformation they’ve kept it, and Welgemoed keeps his cool while the food hums and the kitchen team murmur.

The rumble of satisfied diners is all they need to soldier on over the hot and spicy grills of Africola’s new and improved voyeuristic kitchen.

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It’s best to arrive famished because you will over-order. We do. And don’t regret it. Fried chicken with hell-fire sauce is a spicy start, crunchy on the outside and tender in the middle. From the sea a school of grilled sardines coated in chermoula, is a balanced delight, with the acid of grilled lemon adding a smoky-tart fragrance and flavour to this simply prepared fish.

Tartness also features in a citrus-flavoured mejadra dish of rice and lentils, piled onto flatbread, and Goolwa pippis swimming in a garlic and chili infused broth are succulent and spicy. Sides of pickles cool down the palate – our selection includes dill, cucumber, radish, fermented turnip and curried cauliflower all made and preserved in the restaurant’s basement cellar.

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More gratification comes from Africola’s meaty dishes, though there are fewer beasts on this new menu than before. The beef falls from the bone off the short-rib and is served with more flatbread and pickles for a DIY sandwich or for dunking in the residual pool of stock.

Grilled lamb is hewn from the bone, revealing perfectly pink meat that sits in its own roasting juices. A pile of yogurt sweetens things up before peri-peri chicken introduces more fire with a relish called ‘boom!chakalaka’ – pushing spicy limits to the brink and then tapering off, displaying layers of flavour beneath the chilli.

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Vegetables shine in the new Africola, after a stint as a vegan gave Welgemoed a push to restore the focus on ingredients that can often be a side-dish or afterthought. Heads of broccoli and halves of cauliflower are now given the full treatment, grilled and roasted and robust enough to sate the most carnivorous.

Roast beets are piled on spiced yogurt and carrots sing alongside seaweed and coriander in a brown butter sauce. Maitre’d Nikki Friedli pours the good stuff. Local and South African wines feature heavily on a naturally-inspired list.

Jauma Wines’ Chenin Blanc is a complex, crowdpleasing favourite, and the Black Bishop GSM is a well-priced drop from McLaren Vale that complements the meatier end of the menu.

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In an era of obsessed foodies traversing the globe to seek out the ultimate experience, Africola is influencing itineraries. When dining here, rock stars are humbled, industry counterparts gush (with envy), and the rest of us are just happy to join the party.

Welgemoed has learnt from the best, not just from other chefs, but from his ancestors, his trans-continental journeys, and thousands of hours of trial and error in an effort to provide diners with pure unadulterated pleasure. Boom!chakalaka indeed.

Africola
East Terrace
Tuesdays to Saturdays, 6pm to late
8223 3855
africola.com.au

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