Umtunzi Experience 03/30/11
A little off the beaten track lies a unique Eastern Cape dining experience... if you're not scared of spiders!
About 10km outside of Port Alfred on the potholed road, an orange sign protrudes from the deep thicket of the lush Eastern Cape vegetation: You’ve reached Umtunzi. A bush restaurant near all the famous Eastern Cape game reserves that offers a dining experience that is memorable, purely because of the setting and its attention to detail.
As you enter, you walk on a wooden boardwalk carefully constructed so as not to disturb the natural habitat of the long, thorny Acacias that forms a close canopy to your head. Winding below, the Riet river runs below. If you can reach the canoe at the bottom wading through the undergrowth, I am sure you can have a free paddle!
Then you reach the open-air restaurant, which is perfectly set to form part of its natural habitat. Natural colours such as terrocotta and clay and wood feature, and a beautiful ceiling is constructed from the Acacia thorns. As you sit and enjoy the heat of waning Summer, you hear beatles, birds and busy sounds of the evening interspersed with chatter from other patrons, and clanging from the kitchen. Umtunzi, meaning shade in Zulu, really offers a bush experience, but with a unique ‘family’ touch so to speak. It is run by a family, from the front of the kitchen with waiters to managers to the kitchen behind.
Impressed by the low-key, casual yet fantastic local and authentic experience, I was ready to see the menu. Unfortunately the menu presented was rather mediocre, offering not much to the vegetarian but veggie lasagne choice. Reluctant, I ordered it because truth be told, there weren’t many options available. Perhaps meat was dominant on the menu because, to keep with the authentic feel of the restaurant, it was situated in a game-farm area. With limited choice, I was not expecting too much from my meal. When it arrived, however, the meal spoke much more of the owners, I imagined, than of the place. The meal was hearty, homely, warm, tasty and quite surprising. The accompanying salad was more than a garnishing, and you could sense that care had been taken in preparing all the delicious fresh-tasting goodies in it. For the rest of the table, there were murmors of a hit and miss, and others seemed to love their dishes. I appreciated the simplicity of it, but perhaps a little heavy for a Summer’s evening.
Either way, if you’re in the area, Umtunzi is a worthwhile stop. A great spot for Summer evening drinks, or perhaps a hearty Winter meal. There’s a lovely open fireplace that will create a warmth, I imagine, if the weather is slightly chilly. Word of warning though, if you’re a little squirmish of the furry, leggy creepy crawleys, be prepared to squeeze as you’ll want to stay away from the bathrooms!
For more information, to make a booking or see what else is on offer by Umtunzi, call +27 82 550 2196 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.