The rise of micro-dining restaurants

Wolfgat. Picture: Supplied

Wolfgat. Picture: Supplied

Published Feb 7, 2024


Let me introduce a new term to your gourmet palate: micro restaurant.

Before and after the Covid-19 pandemic, we started to see more and more micro restaurants which are intimate dining concepts often spearheaded by well-known chefs.

Unlike larger restaurants, micro restaurants allow chefs to try out new recipes in a more intimate, interactive setting.

They are dining establishments that operate on a much smaller scale than traditional restaurants, both in terms of physical size and often in menu offerings. Micro-dining restaurants accommodate a smaller number of people, ranging from approximately eight to twenty, on average.

Some of these restaurants choose to have limited meal sittings in a day or in a week too. The benefit of such specialisation is that it allows the chefs to pour all their expertise and creativity into a few dishes, potentially elevating the quality and uniqueness of the offerings.

They are, in fact, the ideal choice for candlelit dinners, among a few friends, or in any case for those looking for a quiet but high-quality evening.

Wolfgat. Picture: Supplied

According to “The Economic Times”, micro restaurants have been an elite dining trend in global capitals for some years now. They report that micro restaurants, be it in New York or Singapore, have been the fallout of the hipster culture where everything artisanal is celebrated and at a premium.

In our research on micro restaurants, we have also come to know that these restaurants are also having a moment in Mumbai, a city on India’s west coast.

What I personally do like about these restaurants is the intimate atmosphere they create. With fewer tables to serve, staff can give more attention to each customer, leading to improved service and a cosy atmosphere.

This ambiance appeals to diners looking for more than just a meal but an overall enjoyable dining experience. I would also like to think that they offer faster service compared to most traditional restaurants.

With fewer dishes to prepare, the kitchen can operate more efficiently, allowing diners to get their food quickly.

A Strandveld eatery by Kobus van der Merwe. Picture: Supplied

And if you are looking for one micro restaurant in South Africa that will have you experience this big trend that is taking over many parts of the world Wolfgat is the place to be.

Wolfgat, which is located in Paternoster in the Western Cape offers a unique dining experience that showcases a selection of indigenous ingredients specific to their coastal location.

Drawing inspiration from the surrounding landscape and its dramatic seasonal transformation, founder chef Kobus van der Merwe’s signature Strandveld food menu comprises a series of tasting dishes presented in seven courses.

Some of the elements on the tasting menu take weeks of preparation, while other ingredients are hand-picked on the day for the exact number of bookings received. The restaurant only books twenty diners per sitting and by keeping it small, they keep it sustainable.

The award-winning restaurant has a string of awards under its belt, putting Paternoster on the international culinary map.

While the next one is no longer considered under micro-dining restaurants, it once was and even today presents an intimate and presentable feel.

Emazulwini, which was founded by chef Mmabatho Molefe started as a 10-seater incubation space at Makers Landing in the V&A Waterfront in Cape Town and has now moved to a newly designed 40-seater space next door.

Molefe’s Zulu-inspired restaurant opened in 2020 after she lost her job in the restaurant industry due to the pandemic.

Emazulwini owner chef Mmabatho Molefe. Picture: Supplied

“Makers Landing is a food space promoting local cuisine and SMMEs and my mentor helped me fund the set-up to share my story as a black, young Zulu woman. My parents always tried to make sure that as a family we always spent time together, so when I think of food it is associated with family and being in a group.

“I tell myself every morning I am telling my story; my interpretation of what Zulu food is. I hope people embrace it for what it is. We hope to elevate ordinary dishes to the exceptional,” said Molefe in a recent interview with IOL.

In 2022, she was named “hospitality pioneer” on The World's 50 Best’s 50 Next list. Molefe’s recognition on the list came just weeks after the restaurant won the African Restaurant of the Year title at the 4th annual Luxe Restaurant Awards.