It’s not Christmas without a good cheeseboard. For an easy, low effort course for the busy festive period, try it on your menu for the big day, New Year’s Eve or Christmas parties
Staying positive and being brave at Zim Braai
Healthy, colourful and fun, the cuisine of southern Africa is still something of a voyage of discovery for many of us. But that’s not stopped Zim Braai’s owner, Andy Lennox, and Head Chef Sean Rust bringing a much-needed boost of vitality to their two Dorset-based venues, and a much-needed escape route from the everyday for their loyal customers.
With an unpredictable festive season ahead that promises to put them to the test, how are the team planning to keep their unique USP alive?
How important is Christmas going to be for you this year?
Andy: I don’t think it’s going to be crucial. It will probably be relatively quiet. But that doesn’t mean we’re not going all out and giving our customers the best time. For us, the key period will be the tough months of January and February.
Sean: Christmas is going to be very different this year. We’re so used to the Christmas party chaos starting mid-November. This year, there’s unlikely to be any of that pandemonium.
Faced with a very different festive season, what changes are you planning?
Sean: We’re looking at a much cosier and more intimate festive period. We’ll still give the restaurants a festive vibe of course. As we won’t have the large
corporate Christmas groups, we’ll actually be able to focus more on personal service.
Andy: It might be different to the Christmas we’re used to, but it may be a fresh experience we can learn from. Less (or no) bigger parties make way for memorable mini gatherings where customers can focus on the experience of the restaurant, rather than the free bar tab your boss has organised!
“Be prepared to pivot and weave this Christmas. Don’t be afraid to think outside the box. Don’t ‘dial up’ your Covid-safe changes. Keep them subtle. Make the customer feel that they’re having a normal dining experience”
What have you learnt this year that’s helped you plan for Christmas?
Andy: Sometimes survival mode really forces you to be brave. We’ve always wanted to slim down our menus. Covid made us do it and we’re stronger for it. Our fret-cut screens have been so well received, we’re going to keep them.
Sean: Most of our party offerings include sharing, so we’re going to change that. But it gets those creative juices flowing, which is always a good thing. It also means that our guests can expect something a little different if they’ve had a Christmas meal with us before.
What advice would you give to other venues on keeping Christmas alive?
Andy: Pivot and weave. Don’t be afraid to think outside the box. Don’t ‘dial up’ your Covid-safe changes. Keep them subtle. Make the customer feel that they’re having a normal dining experience.
Sean: Keep a positive headspace about it all and deal with each change as it comes along. Adapt and move forward. We all have to do that to get through this.
How are you making the earlier closing time work for you?
Sean: Brunch! We’re launching a brunch menu in our Bournemouth restaurant, and we’re planning to stagger our starting times for lunch, and potentially even introduce a festive brunch menu.
Andy: Even before the Eat Out To Help Out scheme we pioneered a campaign, with other local restaurants, to stretch the week out by offering discounts Mondays to Wednesdays. If a new restriction comes out, find a way to weave through it and make it work.
“Christmas from a drinks perspective is all about luxury and celebration,” says Sean. “We can’t have our sharing platters this year, but everyone can raise a glass to each other!
“Don Pedros will be on the menu, which is a real favourite in South Africa. It’s basically an alcoholic milkshake for grown-ups! Take a few scoops of good vanilla ice cream, a shot of whisky, 50ml of cream and whizz in a blender. Garnish with a cherry.
“Amarula is another festive favourite. It’s a cream liqueur from South Africa made with sugar, cream and the fruit of the African marula tree. Or maybe an espresso martini or a couple of choice reds from our wine wall.”