This article is brought to you by Woolworths.
A carrot is described as “ordinary” on The LivingRoom’s menu – as in “Ordinary carrot, dahl miso and mint.” We’ve grown so accustomed to vivid recitals of posh-sounding ingredients that a description stripped of all adjectival artifice actually stands out.
“We don’t use super luxurious products,” says chef Johannes Richter of their plainspokenness. “We stick to humble ingredients and prefer to concentrate on three main components per dish. Our dish descriptions are understated to allow guests some leeway on interpretation.”
Said carrot may be of the ordinary (albeit organic) variety, but in the hands of chef Richter and his team, its journey is transformative: caramelised in honey and a homemade Durban-inspired miso paste made with fermented sorghum and dahl, and served with a buttered carrot juice and miso-caramelised macadamias, it personifies The LivingRoom’s reverence for all that is humble, sustainable and local. And for packing vegetable-forward dishes with deep umami flavours.
Dishes frequently have a botanical foundation with an abundant use of vegetables, a preference for lesser-used meat cuts and, due to concerns around the ethical treatment of the oceans, no wild catch is served.
The food is proudly Durban-centric with African and Indian influences. “It’s not about one cultural group trying to assimilate others, but rather about creating an inclusive cultural platform,” he says, describing their culinary style as “subtropics meets the Midlands”. Durban’s strength is its abundant produce but its humidity isn’t conducive to organic produce, hence the production of European-style vegetables being outsourced to farmers in the Midlands.
While agricultural crops like amadumbe and sorghum are menu staples, the team also goes foraging for wild foods. Summerhill Guest Estate is only 10 minutes from Durban’s CBD but the many surrounding green pockets harbour fruits like msombo (black nightshade berry), umDoni (water berry) and umgwenya (coastal plum). Endemic mushrooms are harvested in season, and with summer and autumn’s bounty of ripe fruit, ancient Japanese fermentation techniques are used to give longevity to surplus produce. Homemade miso pastes and shoyu sauces lend tremendous depth of flavour, allowing modest ingredients to shine.
The LivingRoom made the exceptional jump from entering the Eat Out list at 13th place in 2019 to taking top honours in 2022 by being named Eat Out Woolworths Restaurant of The Year. “We’ve always measured ourselves against the best restaurants in the country and thought it would take much longer to reach this level of recognition,” says Chef Richter.
He attributes their success in part to an accelerated appreciation of indigenous food cultures. “As a small, very young team with humble roots, we feel unbelievably proud. From service to ingredients and cooking, our approach is down to earth. But we have a real depth of knowledge and technique that gives our food the ability to compete with other restaurants in this category. This also applies to my wife Johanna’s knowledge as sommelier and host.”
Johannes describes their vantage point as people, pride and patriotism. “It hasn’t been easy for our province these past few years. It’s fantastic to see people walk out of the restaurant with a sense of pride in Durban’s identity,” says the self-proclaimed “100% banana boy”.
Read more about the other Special Award winners at the 2022 Eat Out Woolworths Restaurant Awards.