Tom Breytenbach, owner of Brenaissance Wine & Stud Estate and two cattle farms in the North West, teamed up with Michael Broughton, award-winning chef and restaurateur, to bring his farm-to-fork vision to life. After many years of planning, the restaurant dream became a reality when Cucina, a chic Italian-inspired eatery, first opened its doors in March 2020. Stud The Burger Shop was the next one to open, specialising in the very best beef burgers, followed by Ember Meat Room, a unique flame and grill dining experience. The trio call 43 Plein Street home, an iconic location in the heart of Stellenbosch. We spoke to Michael Broughton, the man behind each menu’s curation and responsible for the top-to-bottom running of each establishment, to get a better idea of the exciting new venture.
What is the concept around the new venture?
Being a part of opening multiple restaurants during Covid was an interesting challenge to tackle – the sort of opportunity you can’t easily walk away from! It was sort of like bucking the trend or swimming upstream – everyone was busy closing restaurants due to Covid, which created the perfect opportunity for something unique and new. The concept for each restaurant is rooted in the farm itself. Each menu is about taking food back to its root or essence of things, but with a fresh, quirky twist for each restaurant concept. It’s all about small menus with simple good food, which really does showcase the fresh produce and beef. For example, fire was one of the first discoveries, so Ember is all about high heat, the “emberised” (charred) way of cooking over coals or over an open grill.
How is each restaurant set up? Do they operate independently or is there a shared kitchen?
Each restaurant has its own identity. They each specialise in different things, even though they are all situated in the same space. The space was so large it made sense for it to accommodate more than one restaurant. We had initially spoken of opening four restaurants in the same space, but it’s important to be adaptable in these uncertain times, so for now we are still establishing if a fourth restaurant would be feasible.
What does farm-to-fork mean to you and why is it close to your heart?
I’ve always looked up to Christian Campbell and his farm-to-fork concept seen at Boschendal, so it’s amazing to be part of a new venture like this. Farm-to-fork means you know exactly where your produce comes from. If you take the biodynamic form of grazing approach to cattle farming, seen at Brenaissance Wine & Stud Estate, you can really understand why the product is so good. By the time the beef meets the plate it’s only six to seven weeks old. We are working on a 100-day aged Boran beef cut at the moment, which is quite exciting! (So, in other words, watch this space!)
How has the Stellenbosch lifestyle and farming influenced key menu items?
The menus are purposely simple and small. Each menu really highlights a specific type of food or cooking style. At Ember, the lunch menu is short and concise – it comprises a choice between beef, fish or a vegetable with good wine, of course. The main objective around lunch is get people in and out in 40 minutes. The dinner menu is also purposely small – it’s all about being known for specific menu items and doing those specific items well. Stellenbosch is a very meat-centric area, so incorporating a menu that really highlighted the Boran beef seemed a perfect fit.
What does a venture like this mean to the community and farmers?
It’s all about trying to bring the farmyard to the city, to really showcase the beef and fresh produce. Each restaurant is really an extension of the farms that supply the fresh produce and meat. The wine list is a unique showcase of all the best wines that Stellenbosch has to offer – it starts at the Helderberg mountain range and ends at Simonsberg. While the food is great, wine really is the whole show, because it is such a fundamental part of the community and livelihoods within the Stellenbosch community.
What does good food mean to you?
Food must be memorable and enjoyable, and ideally you should always leave with a full, satisfied belly!
What is something you can’t resist ordering when you see it on a menu?
A good beef burger with an equally good glass of red wine. A good burger is all about a clean patty with the perfect fat-to-meat ratio. At Stud Burger, our patties are made from Boran beef with 10% Wagyu beef fat, minced twice. It’s all very precise – that’s what really makes a good burger stand out.
Lasty, what is your advice for opening restaurants in lockdown?
Always be open to taking advice – you’ll often find you learn things even when didn’t know you needed to! Tom Breytenbach is a numbers guy, and he has taught me many things from a broader business perspective, and so the most valuable bit of advice I’ve learned from him is: if the numbers don’t add up, don’t do it. Most businesses fail simply because they run out of money. Restaurants run on such tight margins as it is (even tighter now due to Covid constraints), so you really need to make sure the numbers work out; what margins you must work within to succeed. And, lastly, drive is very important. You must be super driven and really want it.