Bringing an occasional South African flavour to the Brisbane restaurant scene are Paul and Kim Newsham, owners of Olivetto's Restaurant in Red Hill, Brisbane.
Chef Paul, who was born in Lancashire, met South African-born Kim in London and then spent several years working in Durban before immigrating to Australia in August 2002.
Olivetto's serves modern European fare, but one of Paul's signature dishes is Bo-Kaap, a South African Cape Malay prawn and chicken curry, which is served with griddled banana, fragrant rice and a tomato and chilli sambal.
The dish is inspired by Cape Town's luxury Mount Nelson Hotel. Shortly before leaving South Africa, Paul obtained a sachet of the masala blend used in the hotel's prawn and chicken curry. After getting the sachet into Australia, he took it to Gaynor Long, an Australian master spice blender, who sells spices at the Jan Power Farmers Markets in Brisbane. Gaynor replicated the blend and supplies the replica only to Olivetto's.
“It's become an iconic dish,” says Paul, adding that Gaynor insists that she will never give Paul the recipe. “She says the only way we would get it is if she died, in which case it would be given to me, or if I died, in which case it would be given to Kim!”
Paul grew up around his grandmother, who was a baker, and started his apprenticeship at the age of 14. Two years later he left for London initially knocking on restaurant doors asking for work. His persistence paid off and during his subsequent years in London he worked under renowned chefs including Gordon Ramsay, Albert Roux and Marco Pierre. He also notched third position in the United Kingdom's National Young Chef of the Year.
Kim also grew up in a restaurant environment – her dad owned The Langoustine restaurant that was situated in Pinetown, Durban for 20 years. The couple met when Kim was on a working holiday and serving scones and tea at the Hampshire Hotel in Leicester Square.
“I dragged him to South Africa,” she says. Paul subsequently worked as a head chef at the Mount Edgecombe Country Club and had a stint as head chef at the five star Beverly Hills Hotel in Umhlanga.
Within two weeks of immigrating to Australia, Paul was employed as the head chef at Olivetto's Restaurant. “They wanted an Australian chef,” says Kim, “but he badgered them. He had worked with renowned people though and had the credentials. He had also been buying Australian magazines and had started to get a feel for local produce and Australian fare.”
In 2005 the owners of Olivetto's offered to sell the restaurant to Paul and Kim. “It was probably the worst timing,” says Kim. “I was seven months pregnant and we had bought a house a few months before. But we were offered the restaurant at a good price and we did it!”
It is now six years later – they celebrated the 6th anniversary of owning the restaurant on April 1 this year. Kim now does the accounting side of the business, and tries to spend at least one night a week in the restaurant.
The couple continued a tradition started before they owned Olivetto's of holding South African Degustation Dinners. Initially intended primarily as a wine promotion, the three night celebrations are now more about the food. Items on the most recent degustation menu included housemade mielie bread with smoked snoek pate; boerewors frikkadel salad with caramelized apple, parsnip and walnuts and Cape Malay style reef snapper and prawn tails with fresh coriander and traditional sambals and chutneys.
Paul is known as a dessert guru and his sweet creations on that occasion were Malva pudding soufflé with Amarula ice cream and traditional melk tert with a summer red berry parfait. These dinners are held annually in September.
Kim says that it's not only South Africans longing for traditional food who attend the dinners. “One year about 75% of the guests were Australian! We also find many Australians trying the South African wine and beer that we serve in the restaurant. People are very interested in the South African wine because they are unlikely to find such wine without visiting South Africa. And when we have Windhoek, Castles and other South African beer we occasionally have Australians trying one of each – they love the opportunity to experience something from a different country.”