DIANE DE BEER
Mad Nomad, Shop 2001, Level 5, Mall of Africa, Magwa Crescent, MIDRAND
Open seven days a week. Phone: 010 786 0250
The new Turkish restaurant Mad Nomad in the Mall of Africa is a passion project.
It’s been the dream of the Turkish-born, German-raised Tufan Yerebakan, now South African restaurateur, for as long as he can remember. And while he grew up on the Turkish street food so popular in Germany, he has always had his head and heart set on the real deal.
If there’s one word that slips into the conversation regularly, it’s authenticity.
Mad Nomad is a response to his roots and is completely different to his two smart family restaurants, Kream, in Brooklyn and in the restaurant square of the Mall of Africa.
Now in his mid-40s, for Yerebakan, restaurants have been his business since he came to this country in the early 90s. Kream has a very specific feel and philosophy which Pretoria will recognise as part of the smart, traditional dining experience so loved in the capital city.
But Mad Nomad is something completely different. The name points to his journey across the world and the interiors – for which Yerebakan brought in a young designer who would push the boundaries – say what he wants to achieve with what he views as his special place. He wanted something that would make a splash – and it does.
With an open kitchen, as you enter the restaurant to your right, you’re immediately engaged with the food as chefs are busy baking and braaiing behind a counter that runs the length of the restaurant.
The seating space is divided into two areas differentiated slightly by look and, as with all Yerebakan’s restaurants, art plays an important role and is introduced when he spots something he wants to live with.
“I spend most of my time in my restaurants, so that’s where I show my art,” he says, and it’s wonderful to see how he displays local art in such a magnificent way. “I don’t really care what others think because this is a huge part of my life.” That’s who he is and what he wants to show the world – in full colour.
When you get to the food in Mad Nomad and that’s after all why you’re there, it’s the real deal. If anything, this was the most important thing for this restaurateur. He went to Istanbul to check the food at source and to find chefs who could help him establish a strong kitchen while training local chefs in the art of Turkish food.
It’s an on-going process with a full kitchen of chefs to get things started. “I have to keep at least one here because you need someone to check on the authenticity,” he says.
Only a few months into the life of Mad Nomad and they’re still experimenting and distilling the menu. It’s impressive as it stands now yet while there’s no watering down of textures and flavours, they are still adding some new ones and removing recipes that aren’t quite pulling their weight.
It’s important that South Africans experience a truly Turkish feast and that’s exactly what you’re in for.
On the night, we were a table of five and served extravagantly from a menu that’s as wide in its approach as it is in narrowing down the Turkish flavours. As you tuck in, you cannot help but wonder about the dearth of Turkish restaurants in this country.
Many people visit that part of the world and the Middle Eastern palate is one that’s familiar to us. It’s perhaps the most fun to approach this one as a group, which means you can order more and a greater variety which is really what this food is all about. Once you get to know the dishes better, ordering will be simpler but, in the meantime, ask the staff for guidance. They should be able to help.
Starters can be done meze style and these will include all the usual suspects including hummus, tzatziki, aubergine with yogurt or with tomatoes depending on the style you prefer, roasted red pepper, vegetarian vine stuffed leaves (dolma) with rice, onion, tomato, currants and olive oil, and Icli kofte (deep fried meatballs with walnut and spices covered in potato and bulgur wheat crust), falafel with hummus and flat bread, Urfe kebab (starter version of minced lamb served with bread) and the list goes on.
But you could also, as we did on the night, go for a selection of pide, the Turkish version of a pizza which comes in many different versions. It’s a thin crust: with mozzarella cheese, beef mince and diced onion, tomatoes and peppers, or fillet cubes and mozzarella cheese or sucuk, a cured sausage made with lamb or beef and flavoured with garlic, cumin and red pepper flakes. There’s also a vegetarian option with mixed vegetables or with spinach and feta. Nomad Doner, which some might recognise, is another option with thinly sliced beef and lamb, onion, parsley and mozzarella. But keep the portions small or the mains won’t be an option and you want to try some of their finger licking meat. You won’t resist.
The shawarma options aside for the moment, their kebab selection is excellent and again, it’s best to check the various kinds ranging from the Iskender (the name of the original creator), Adana, Urfa or the Beyti Sarma. There are also fillet cubes on a skewer, chicken chops that are quite spectacular, lamb sis kebab or a Turkish-style filled pasta called Manti. A mixed platter on the first visit (R200) is perhaps the best way to go because of the riches the menu offers. It can be overwhelming.
The wine list is also something that has been given special care with many other liquor choices.
What this expansive selection on all fronts means is that there’s something for everyone and for us, the flavours of the Middle East were what lingered the longest. That and the superior quality of everything on the plate. We did get to dessert, but I must be honest, by that stage, my palate took some time out. I do remember that even though the rice pudding and kazandibi (famous Turkish milk pudding) were both there, Tufan spoke about their sweet selection and that they were still experimenting.
It’s a sweet spot and even though the Mall of Africa seems vast, once you’ve checked your bearings, it’s easy to find. Because this is this restaurateur’s dream child, it’s going to keep evolving as he keeps shaping and streamlining.
Already this is a huge plus on the Gauteng cuisine landscape and beckoning to be explored.