Stumbling upon an interesting eatery in an unexpected neighbourhood is the stuff of blue moons and hen’s teeth – hardly ever happens. So when it does, it deserves to be shouted about from the rooftops! (Particularly in a city like Cape Town, whose overflowing restaurant scene can, at times, feel overwhelming with all the choice!)
Ragamuffin Curry is one such place. This gem of a restaurant in suburban Kenilworth shares pavement space with a post office on one side, and a pharmacy on the other (both of which have been there for the past 40 years) in a building formerly occupied by a three-decade-old travel agent.
A small space with a huge heart, Ragamuffin is the sort of place where you’re guaranteed a good time – and an even better meal – without having to take out a loan… the sort of place Cape Town needs more of…
The restaurant is owned and run by 31-year-old Thinus Ras – a towering, softly spoken, black-bearded “boerseuntjie” and mechanical engineering graduate – who opened Ragamuffin Curry in December 2017, with the help of his wife Christy, who is pregnant with their first child. “A lot of people asked me why I chose curry,” says Thinus. “I didn’t grow up with curry, and when I eventually got to know it, it enthralled me. And I wanted to share my joy.
“The business plan was simple,” he continues. “Find a neighbourhood without a curry shop. Open a friendly curry shop in said neighbourhood.”
Sounds easy enough – in theory… but reality is sometimes not that straightforward…
“Everything was going relatively smoothly,” says Thinus, “until two months after we launched, another Indian restaurant opened down the road – which nearly gave me a heart attack!
“I immediately went into ‘Holy shit!’ mode, and realised my best bet was to differentiate myself from them, which I did by keeping our prices low, and leveraging the fact that I’m an outsider. Because, let’s face it, I don’t have the cultural heritage to be able to sell authentic Indian curries, but there’s nothing stopping me from selling Ragamuffin curries!”
Two sides to every menu
So, Thinus came up with a menu concept to distinguish himself from his competitor based on the adage: “Know the rules well, so you can break them properly”. As such, the food is divided into two sections: a white column (“Know the rules well”) and a black section (“So you can break them properly”).
“The white part includes your traditional items,” he explains. “Butter chicken, chicken tikka masala, chicken korma, beef curry, kadai mutton, butter dahl and red-lentil curry, and so on, while the black side is filled with interesting Ragamuffin twists, where I could bring in my heritage, such as Margate braaied-chicken curry, pork-and-mango curry and Hodge-Podge.” But more about that later…
As for the prices, everything is ridiculously well-priced. Ridiculously! (Everything in the photo below costs R180.)
The small 20-seater restaurant has a wonderfully cheery atmosphere – “not bad for a former engineer,” laughs Thinus. The eclectic hodge-podge of art, decor and furniture includes a painting by his grandfather, shweshwe bunting that Christy made, framed poems by David Whyte and a corrugated-iron roof (“the most expensive thing, but I really wanted it”).
The bustle and clatter of the open-plan kitchen just adds to the vibe. In the galley, Thomas, Jean-Claude and Sammy manage to churn out dishes at a steady pace – and there’s no dishwasher, so they clean everything by hand -– and you know how messy Indian food gets!
“Before I quit engineering,” recalls Thinus, “I spent way too much time on Youtube, googling techniques and recipes. The butter chicken and chicken tikka masala, for example, are adapted Heston Blumenthal recipes, and the beef curry is a Gordon Ramsay derivative.”
My favourite was the Indian fried-chicken wrap – a taste-and-texture extravaganza! The Indian fried wings are another winner, as is the chicken tikka masala, which I enjoyed in a roti with oodles of pickled sambals. But that’s not to say the beef curry, or the vegan brinjal, chickpea and peanut curry wasn’t delicious either… It was all so damn tasty and moreish!
The vegetarian dishes on the menu are by no means an afterthought. “I worked at Son of a Butcher just after I quit engineering,” explains Thinus. “Working at a butchery made me realise that people who take what they eat seriously, need to be honoured.
“As such, I’ve put a lot of effort into the vegetarian dishes – they are not just an afterthought.”
My second favourite dish on the menu is the palate-popping Hodge-Podge – a vegetarian dish that’s hot, cold, crunchy, chewy, and contains everything but the kitchen sink. We’re talking: falafels, potatoes, eggs, atchari curry, raita, sambal, chutney and crispy wonton wrappers, served with a roti.
And then there’s dessert – four items, ranging from R15 to R35! The chai-spiced malva pudding with ice cream and burnt marshmallow (apparently malva means marshmallow in Afrikaans) is comforting and delicious, the coffee-cardamom date squares are biscuity, chewy, redolent and delicious, but it is Pearl’s sorbet that stole the show. A bright-yellow orb of utterly smooth and refreshing frozeness.
Ragamuffin Curry has all the makings of a long-standing concern (if its four-decade-old neighbours are anything to go by). That, and the fact that the food is excellent, the service is personable, and the atmosphere just lovely.
Good to know Bunny Chow Tuesdays get busy, so book ahead if you’re partial to Durban Mutton Bunny (R95), Margate Chicken Bunny (R75) or a vegetarian Butter Dahl Bunny (R65).
You can place orders for takeaway tubs of Pearl Spiller’s vegan sorbet with Thinus.
Opening times Monday – Sunday, 11am – 9pm
Contact 083 548 0708