“Tswalu’s latest dining extravaganza is the speakeasy of cuisine. Michelin-starred chef Jan Hendrik van der Westhuizen has teamed up Tswalu Kalahari to create the acclaimed Restaurant Klein Jan. Tswalu has certainly taken dining to the next level…Or have they?! There’s certainly an air of mystery surrounding Jan’s latest exciting venture at Tswalu. Jan mentions that the Kalahari is all about the earth, and guests will literally enter the earth to experience this unique culinary journey.”
There’s nothing more thrilling than something that’s shrouded in secrecy. It could be a person, a place or an event that sparks this sense of child-like excitement. And what could be better than adding a sense of mystery to a culinary experience? We all love a secretive speakeasy bar, or a delectable misleading Masterchef dessert hiding a chocolate lava centre. Tswalu Kalahari and chef Jan created a gastronomic journey in the heart of the enigmatic arid Kalahari region, essentially delivering a game-changing culinary experience.
Let’s go underground and see what the Kalahari has in store for us!
Restaurant Klein Jan
After a few mouthwatering canapes at the old unassuming farmhouse, guests are taken to a dilapidated structure. This is actually the entrance to Jan’s root cellar, which wouldn’t be out of place in the Chronicles of Narnia. A small, magical hidden doorway sits neatly upon a wall made from a sheet of rustic corrugated iron forming part of an old water cooler. When entering the magical kingdom, you will wind your way down a snaking staircase that opens up into a massive hall area resembling a cathedral and ancient monastery. The smell of fresh earth and produce hits you as you approach produce Nirvana!
The underground hall area is lined with wooden shelves, while the walls are built from natural brick. Chef Jan stores homegrown produce in handwoven baskets on the shelves. His root cellar is laden with vegetables, raisins, produce, and jars of pickled goods. Burial food preservation is a unique way to keep produce fresher for longer. Not much light and oxygen can enter below ground level, making it an ideal place to store freshly picked produce straight from unforgiving lands of the Kalahari.
Chef Jan’s soup kitchen, located at the end of the root cellar, houses a bit of emotive history. The same antiquated stove that his grandmother used, and where Jan watched her cook, is still being used today. A way to keep connected to the past, bringing in a sense of heritage into Jan’s latest brainchild. After an exploratory adventure, guests are led to a modern area where they can feast on the delights served at Restaurant Klein Jan.
About Tswalu Kalahari’s Chef Jan
Jan Hendrik van der Westhuizen is the first South African chef to receive a Michelin star, and currently has his own TV show, award-winning cookbook, and a celebrated restaurant in the south of France. Jan grew up on a farm in South Africa’s Mpumalanga province, where his mother and grandmother nurtured his passion for cooking. In fact, one of his exclusive and intimate dining concepts, MARIA, is named after his grandmother.
Jan Hendrik van der Westhuizen’s recent project is the underground culinary experience at Tswalu Private Game Reserve in the Kalahari, right here in South Africa.
The Restaurant Klein Jan Experience
The experience at Restaurant Klein Jan introduces its guests to traditional South African flavours, re-interpreted and presented with contemporary flair. You will be introduced to avenues of produce lining the rustic shelves on a walk-through tour, before settling down to a sumptuous eight-course tasting menu. Day visitors are welcome, but they will need to book 3 months in advance.
In the cellar, you will get a glimpse of the foods foraged on-site, which include tsamma melons, springbok and gemsbok cucumbers. The tour of the produce is tactile: you’ll get to taste and touch. Chef Jan is also a whizz at creating unique cheeses such as cheddar, feta, gruyere, camembert, and brie.
Tswalu not only offers an incredible gourmet experience led by South Africa’s top chefs but it’s also located in South Africa’s largest private game reserve. A culinary journey and unforgettable safari experience neatly rolled into one.
* Images courtesy of Hanru Marais