James Diack first introduced us to his farm-to-table approach as Chef Patron of Coobs in 2012. Recently he opened The National in Parktown North and, together with Sous Chef Sachin Gosai, has continued in the same vein, but with a slightly cheekier, smokier menu. The menu is an exploration of all things comforting and indulgent. The flavour profile ranges from smoky Texan to South American and from Asian to bistro. It sounds rather eclectic and it is.
The must-try items from the starters section have to be the perfectly crisp tempura prawns and calamari served with a light ginger, miso and soya vinaigrette as well as the lamb empanadas: delicate, spiced lamb pastries served with a coriander aioli and a cooling, mint pesto dressing… simply put, they’re scrumptious. For mains, the homemade chorizo sausage and smoked, free-range chicken gumbo served with dirty rice and charred corn on the cob is the perfect winter warmer, as are the homemade Suffolk lamb bangers (rich and beautifully spiced, but amazingly light and not at all fatty) served with the creamiest of mash, beer battered onion rings and a leek and sherry jus. Blowing everything out of the water, however, has to be the confit acorn-fed pork belly served with udon noodles and kale stir-fry, kimchi, sprout salad and a crackling crumble. The dish perfectly balances sweet, salty and sour with subtle warmth from star anise. It’s a dish that will have people going back time and again.
If you’re in the mood for something decadent to round off your meal, you’ll find a deep fried snickers bar with vanilla pod ice cream that is as good and as naughty as it sounds. The traditional malva pudding is a marvel and their freshly fried, homemade doughnuts served with a choice of dark chocolate, white chocolate or caramel sauce are delightfully sinful.
It’s trendy and sophisticated. A beautiful copper bar divides the restaurant from the bar seating area, the décor is cool but doesn’t try too hard and the outside deck is perfect for summer nights. The music is current and hip, but it doesn’t blare through the speakers or interrupt conversation.
The wine list at The National is simply outstanding. It has none of the usual suspects, but the list still remains very well priced. From rieslings to cinsaults, pinots to grenache blancs, there is something for every wine fundi, and, with over 20 choices by the glass, it’s wine-heaven. Wine lovers should go to The National purely to experience the joys of a wine list curated with impeccable knowledge, consideration and a great deal of joie de vivre.
The service is casual and warm. The waiters are informed, helpful and efficient, but could be more attentive when it comes to topping up wine glasses.
The National is supplied by Diack’s family farm, Brightside, in the Magaliesberg. All their vegetables are organic and the free-range chickens, ducks, eggs, acorn-fed pigs and wild boar, as well as the grass-fed Suffolk lamb and Dexter beef, are reared here.
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This speakeasy-style eatery ticks all the right boxes: cool bar, trendy décor, attentive service, and innovative takes on food from the Americas, Asia, Italy and Mexico. But what really gives The National Eatery the thumbs up is its ‘farm to table’ approach. They can trace the origin of all the ingredients they use. Some of their protein, and all of their veggies, herbs, fruit and eggs, come from the family farm, Brightside, out in the Magaliesberg. The chef behind this wonder? James Diack, the owner of Coobs in Parkurst, who is clearly creating a culinary stir in the area.
The stand-out dishes here come from Diack’s reverse Texan smoker. Items like pork, duck, chicken, beef – even ricotta cheese – have been delicately home-smoked using only fruit and oak wood. The indirect heat and fragrant smoke adds real depth to the hand-chopped pork or chicken tacos, and the smoked pork belly with corn purée and BBQ jus.
The menu has some rewarding surprises, such as crispy fried tofu with coriander and chilli served in a hearty bowl of glass noodles in a coconut-lemongrass broth. Also look out for the creative burger combinations, like chermoula-spiced lamb with smoked ricotta and tzatziki.
While all the food here is full of generous flavour, the wild boar ragu is pure comfort. Braised for 18 hours in a tomato sauce and served with luscious homemade duck-egg pasta, tasting this dish is an almost life-changing experience. Finish off your meal with churros served with dulce de leche, or indulge in the beer-battered Snickers with choc-chip ice cream.
The wine list is well priced and carefully chosen, with a good selection from boutique wine farms, such as Ataraxia, Blackwater and Domain de Daley. Many wines are available by the glass, so you’re not limited to the usual house white or red. For beer drinkers, there are local beers and a selection of craft beers on tap.
Service Efficient and keen, yet quite informal.
The restaurant is decorated with distressed wood panels, interesting art and ther bar’s all exposed brick and copper piping. The small outdoor deck that faces the street is perfect for lunch or balmy Jozi evenings
Look out for the specials menu. James offers exciting new options weekly, which will certainly keep me coming back for more.