“Days often start early in this part of the world, especially for guests going into the Kruger National Park or doing a day trip to take in the sights of the Blyde River Canyon,” explains Joris Bertens, the owner and managing director of Sefapane Lodge and Safaris. “When you come back, you’re ready to eat,” he says, as Solly serves up a game meat platter and a steak, medium rare at the lodge’s signature restaurant, the Calabash Grill.
Indeed, being on safari in South Africa’s Limpopo Province is hard work; you’re experiencing pristine bushveld and incredible wildlife sightings or taking in all the sights and impressions of some of the most scenic spots in the country. “You have the wind in your hair and the sun on your face and of course, you’re on holiday! We know that food is an important part of your experience,” says Joris, who has been running the lodge and making sure its guests are well-fed for 21 years.
This is why the Calabash Grill is at the heart of Sefapane’s hospitality experience. The open-air restaurant, with its deep red walls and funky, African-inspired décor, is a relaxing place to indulge. Open to the large, tropical garden, it overlooks the large swimming pool and in the evenings, is atmospherically lit with lanterns.
The steak is generous and tender. Served with thin, crispy fries and a simple salad, each bite is satisfying, especially when followed by a sip of (insert wine), a popular selection from the restaurant’s wine list. The game meat platter is an enduring favourite amongst South Africans and foreign guests.
“We don’t like to over-complicate things or pretend to be something we are not,” says Joris, who has recently worked Craig to launch a new menu as part of Sefapane’s 25 year celebrations. “With a quarter of a century of experience behind us, we know what guests like. Of course we innovate and keep up with trends, but at its core, our menu is an unpretentious, tasty mix of popular dishes; great meat, subtle curries, (one more) and traditional favourites like chicken kiev.”
Recent innovations include a number of cold soups and lighter options that are better suited to Phalaborwa’s hot climate. “If you’re staying at Sefapane Main Lodge for pleasure or for business, we want your dining experience to make you feel like you’re on holiday,” says Joris. They have also recently introduced a Friday night social club, where guests and locals can mingle and enjoy typically South African fare at the Snack Shack; things like ‘pap and vleis’, boerewors rolls, brisquets and the occasional pizza, in a shebeen-style setting.
If you don’t feel like a large meal, there is a tapas menu on offer, with a variety of decidedly local interpretations of classic Spanish dishes. “We call it tapas, but it’s really tasty, snack food that’s designed to be shared and enjoyed with friends and drinks at our bar,” says Craig. Spacious and stylish, the bar is one of the lodge’s most attractive features. Set on the opposite end of the swimming pool to the Calabash Grill, “we keep the beers cold, and make the cocktails strong,” jokes barman (?), preparing a classic G&T and a Fishbowl cocktail for a couple at a table by the pool.
Chef Craig oversees the kitchen for the Calabash Grill, the Snack Shack and the Tapas menu. Trained in Johannesburg, he is enjoying the experience of working in the Lowveld. “I can pay attention to the food here in ways I couldn’t in the city,” says Craig. He believes the components of a good meal include texture, crunch and complementary flavours. “Each ingredient I use has a function – we don’t roast our cherry tomatoes just because it looks pretty – the process sweetens them and that flavor is designed to work with the rest of the dish. There is nothing more satisfying than a satisfied customer,” he says, presenting us with an exquisite cheesecake, it’s smooth, cool lemony goodness providing the perfect note on which to end a satisfying meal.
The Calabash Grill is also a popular venue for locals from Phalaborwa to escape to and caters for large functions, including conferences, weddings and other events.
To launch its 25 year anniversary celebrations and its new products, Sefapane Lodge and Safaris is running various specials. Follow them on social media and use the #SefapaneMagic hashtag and book to experience some #SefapaneMagic for yourself.