Authentic South African Cuisine in Atlanta
By Hope S. Philbrick
Vacations usually end too soon—and have a tragic way of retreating from memory as soon as you return to the office.
Hoping to recapture a trip to South Africa, I head to 10 Degrees South in Buckhead, which is billed on its website as “the only restaurant of its kind in the U.S.A., specializing in South African cuisine.” Newly educated in South African cuisine, my objective is to verify the restaurant’s claim of authenticity.
The restaurants I visited in Johannesburg and Cape Town boasted sleek, contemporary décor infused with a distinct sense of place through animal prints, folk art and earthy elements. 10 Degrees South achieves this same style with brown walls, woven chairs, a twisted vine nailed to one wall and a traditional mask hanging on another. The minimal approach is tasteful and accurate.
South African cuisine is a fusion of the cuisines found across the African continent with French, Indian, Portuguese, Dutch, German and Malaysian influences. Dishes feature native game meats, fish from the Atlantic and Indian oceans, seasonal produce and intoxicating spices. Having been impressed by the quality and sophistication of South African dishes, anticipation is mouthwatering.
Scanning the menu at 10 Degrees South, my heart leaps upon seeing biltong as an appetizer. Biltong is a cured meat—similar to beef jerky but more tender—that can be made of beef or game meats like kudu and springbok. The snack so captured my fancy that I’d considered sneaking some past U.S. Customs, but ultimately abided by the law and left my purchase on the plane. This newfound local source lived up to memory. Sprinkled with herbs the presentation is fancier than that while on safari in the South African bush, but the beef looks and tastes exactly right.
Boerewors is lean beef sausage with a side of tomato onion sauce. The savory dish melts in my mouth and is spiced to perfection with enough heat to make it interesting without overwhelming the palate.
Calamari is a South African favorite. It’s typically served in wide strips, but 10 Degrees South cuts its squid into rings like most U.S. restaurants. Once grilled it is tossed in lemon butter or spicy peri-peri sauce made with the hot Birds Eye Pepper. I opt for lemon butter and don’t regret the choice; it gives the tender meat a tangy edge.
The bar menu features many South African wines, beers and spirits. Since I’d visited Durbanville Hills and met the winemaker Martin Moore on a day trip from Cape Town, I start with the Sauvignon Blanc and switch to Shiraz for the main course. Just as I’d remembered them to be, the wines balance fruit with spice and pair well with food.
Cape Kingclip, the king of South African fish, offers tasty filets. The firm white flesh is generally free of bones and cooks into dense, large flakes. Here it’s grilled to perfection and served with a thickened lemon butter sauce with rice and vegetables.
Though I didn’t sample curry while in South Africa, by this time I’m thoroughly convinced of the chef’s skill at authenticity and opt to try something new. Chicken curry is served on a bed of yellow and white rice accompanied by sambals—which turn out to be small piles of banana slices, fresh diced tomatoes, coconut flakes and mango chutney to mix into the curry as desired. A few bites transports me to Trinidad where I’d eaten similar curry wrapped in a roti, which is a bread as thin as a tortilla. Of course, the similarity makes perfect sense given the history between Africa and the Caribbean.
Amarula Cream Liqueur makes for a yummy dessert. The second largest selling cream liqueur in the world, its base is marula, a juicy, thick-skinned fruit from the mango family equivalent in size to an apricot. Marula trees grow only in the subequatorial open plains of Africa, so sipping it is an exotic treat.
The single disappointment at 10 Degrees South is the bread. In South Africa I’d discovered breads ranging from fluffy to dense, sweet to savory. Each basket was an adventure with surprises like coconut, sweet potato, pumpkin and rose petal breads (to name just a few) served with various dips and spreads like hummus and olive oil. 10 Degrees South served two warm single-serving size white loaves with cold butter—good, yet standard fare.
Still, in its quest to replicate South Africa in Atlanta, 10 Degrees South exceeds expectations. And what could be better than a South African culinary adventure without the jet lag?
Bottom Line: One of Atlanta’s best restaurants and a personal favorite.
10 Degrees South
4183 Roswell Road
Atlanta, GA 30342
-Photos by Sara Hanna
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