November 14, 2019

Perfection on the plate

Top Johannesburg restaurant dw eleven – 13 owned by chef Marthinus Ferreira celebrates a decade of delighting diners. Susan Reynard reports.

Single-minded, perfectionist, experimental, exacting – Marthinus Ferreira’s obsession with creating the best cuisine is evident in his menu at his award-winning restaurant dw eleven – 13, located in Dunkeld West in Johannesburg’s northern suburbs. He opened the restaurant in 2009 with the help of his family and has hit a major milestone of ten years, impressive by any standards and more so in this economy and city.

Marthinus trained at the prestigious Institute of Culinary Arts in Stellenbosch, founded by Letitia Prinsloo. When he decided to open his own restaurant, he already had a notable checklist of top chefs and establishments under his belt, including Franck Dangereux at La Colombe, Gordon Ramsay at Berkley Hotel, and Heston Blumenthal at Riverside Brasserie, The Hinds Head and The Fat Duck.

“When we launched ten years ago, I couldn’t imagine where we would be today. My idea was to open a fantastic restaurant in Johannesburg, something different with a small menu. At 29 I was still learning and evolving,” Marthinus recalls. “I knew how to run a kitchen, but not a restaurant. It comes with a lot more responsibility. It was a learning curve from day one.”

Marthinus stands out on the Johannesburg restaurant scene for being different, distinctly himself. He says being away from Cape Town, where a lot of restaurants influence and copy each other, helps as he was able to find his own identify. The Johannesburg market is different to the Cape Town one, he adds, with restaurants open all year round, many regular guests, and an expectation of larger portion sizes. At dw eleven – 13 they produce 45 covers a night, all year round.

The restaurant offers a nine-course tasting menu and a four-course menu, plus a 10th anniversary lunch special menu. Dishes on the menu change almost weekly, depending on seasonal ingredients. Each dish is carefully chosen for exceptional flavour as well as financial viability. Surcharges are added for extras like truffles and wagyu beef, and for expertly paired wine, whisky or non-alcoholic beverages. Mario Monteiro is in charge of food and wine pairing, as wine director and general manager. He joined the restaurant eight years ago.

Marthinus spends a lot of time researching food and visiting markets, suppliers and farms, sourcing sustainable ingredients. He takes several trips to Cape Town a year as well as a major trip overseas to see what’s new and recharge. As a self-confessed food nerd, he emphasises that “this is not just a job, it’s my life – I think, drink and eat food. I don’t really switch off, so for me to rest is to cook for myself or go out to a nice restaurant or wine bar with friends.”

Always on the lookout for the latest ingredient, dish and décor element, Marthinus successfully marries consistency with innovation, which has ensured that dw eleven – 13 has evolved over the past decade to stay relevant and up to date. “There is still a need for this style of restaurant and people know they will have a great experience here, try something different and unique, and enjoy an excellent night out. We take you on a food and wine journey,” Marthinus says.

“A big part of being successful is doing what you do well without compromising your style and the cuisine you’re trying to achieve. You may need to compromise on variety to achieve quality,” maintains this top young chef.

The chef, the restaurant and the wine list have won numerous awards. Marthinus notes, “Accolades are important, especially in the beginning to reinforce that you’re doing a great job. However, awards can only fill your restaurant for so long – you have to give customers something worth the money, worth the experience, to keep them coming back.”

Known as a tough task master in industry, Marthinus says he only wants the best for his team and his customers. Chefs who have come through his kitchens are able to handle the pressure anywhere in the world. “The goal is not to just earn a salary but to create food that not many restaurants in the country are doing, to become better chefs,” he explains.

Marthinus’s recipe for running a successful restaurant:

  1. Have a clear vision
  2. Stick to your guns: don’t try to please everyone
  3. Check the restaurant yourself before service
  4. Make sure staff are happy: the quality of work will be better
  5. Manage food costs, staff costs and overheads
  6. Manage your creativity
  7. Manage your energy
  8. Be there every day
  9. Take responsibility
  10. Be proud of yourself, your team and your establishment

Signature dishes

Marthinus Ferreira changes the menus at dw eleven-13 almost weekly. Some of his signature dishes include:

  • Pickled fish: Cured Cape salmon, curry pickle, mint, buttermilk raita, cucumber and tempura
  • Fried gnocchi: Pomme Dauphine, spinach purée, roasted seeds, raisin gel, capers and Karoo crumble
  • Chicken ballotine: Sous-vide chicken, prune purée, braised lettuce and jus gras
  • Frozen cheese: Belnori goat’s cheese snow, guava sorbet, pickled red peppers and sesame seed

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