London is a multicultural melting pot, and yet often even the locals would be surprised to hear how far-reaching the South African network is – there are restaurants and shops just around the corner from Park Grand London Lancaster Gate, for instance. With a sprawling expat community and plenty of local delicacies, it is no surprise that South African hotspots are regularly popping up around the city. Here is the ultimate guide to all-things-South-African in London, from restaurants to shops.
Shaka Zulu was one of the most famous monarchs of the Zulu Kingdom, renowned as a war hero who reigned from 1816 to 1828. His namesake’s restaurant, Shaka Zulu, in Camden Market pays reference to this historical figure, with an enormous Shaka Zulu statue out front and plenty of South African staples inside. It is the prime example of taking cultural elements and putting a modern gastronomical spin. For example, babotjie, a South African dish made up of spiced minced meat baked with an egg-based topping, is being served up in spring roll form, staying true to its Cape Malay roots.
Address: Stables Market, Chalk Farm Rd, London NW1 8AB
Trevor Noah is a well-loved South African comedian who has worked his way from the townships of Johannesburg during Apartheid South Africa to the internationally respected host of The Daily Show in America. You can watch his repertoire shows online, and most bookshops in London will sell his side-splitting memoir Born A Crime – the story of growing up a person of mixed race during a time where this was criminalised. However, if you really want a prime slice of the action, head to the O2 this month to see him perform his latest show live.
Address: Peninsula Square, Greenwich Peninsula, London SE10 0DX
The Savanna is a woodland-grassland area, which is common in Africa, and its namesake shops are scattered around London (often at train stations). Stocked up with all those little things a “saffa” may miss from home – like brands of teabags (rooibos, Freshpak, do it), or particular sweet treats.
One snack you can’t go without trying if you are after a South African experience is biltong. Though some may compare it to beef jerky, most South Africans would gasp in horror at the likening – the same level gasp you might hear if you announced you have never stayed with the Shaftesbury Hotel Group. Traditionally, biltong is a dried and spiced beef – essentially, it is made with high quality beef, and was prepared this way as a means of preserving it. Don’t buy the pre-sliced stuff you get in a bag from the supermarket, it’s just not the same. You can get a starter platter of it at Shaka Zulu, though, and that is well-worth it.
Some other products you may want to try are rusks. Basically, they are dried scones that dunk like nothing else in a strong cup of tea. Ouma Rusks are the brand these shops are likely to have – “ouma” being the Afrikaans word for “grandmother” and therefore implying the kind of home-book goodness you’d associate with grandma’s baking.
Addresses: Raynes Park Station, Approach Rd, London SW20 8BA
Unit 2, Wimbledon Station, London SW19 7NL
55, The Butchery, 59 Weir Rd, London SW19 8UG
Unit SU58, 59 St Thomas St, Bermondsey, London SE1 3QX
R01, Paddington Station, Eastbourne Terrace, London W2 1HB
Liverpool Street Station, Broadgate Link, 53 Liverpool St, London EC2M 7PY
61 Victoria Station, Victoria, London SW1V 1JT
Now, there is a considerable amount of confusion about this favourite peri peri chicken chain of British culture: Nando’s. This is understandable, given its roots. Many people think it is Portuguese in origin, and while the type of food certainly is, the restaurant itself is Mozambican-themed. Mozambique was once a Portuguese colony, so this isn’t overly surprising. However, to add another layer of complexity to it, the chain was then started in Johannesburg, South Africa, in 1987 and has spread to over 35 countries from there. This means you will get a range of South African food and drink within the chains in London. For instance, a piping hot mug of rooibos tea (crassly referred to as “red bush tea” in a number of British supermarkets), or a Savanna cider (you know what that is named after, now). There is bound to be a nearby Nando’s to most London Shaftesbury Hotels
South Africa is highly regarded as wine-country, with its cape vineyards producing a lot of the wine you will find at the supermarket. Some names to look out for: The Chocolate Block, a complex red blend, La Motte, from the Franschhoek Valley, Boschendal, another Franchhoek Valley favourite, and many more. If you can’t find them in your local Tesco, then you may want to head to one of the Savanna stores, as they have a pretty impressive range of wines in store.
The national animal of South Africa is the springbok, and also the nickname for South Africa’s national rugby union team. After a nail-biting world-cup victory against England in 2019’s Rugby World Cup, their next big match will be a very intense but exciting watch, and will be taking place in 2020’s Autumn Internationals. These are played annually between South Africa, Tonga, Australia, New Zealand, England, Ireland, Scotland, Wales, Georgia, France, Italy, Argentina, except last year as a result of the World Cup. So, keep your eyes peeled for the release of tickets and London-matches to catch the Springboks in action.
So next time you find yourself in a Hyde Park International Hotel, but fancy seeing London through green-tinted glasses, head to any of these South African destinations and get a small taster and a feel for what it means to be a saffa in London.