A little ‘hole in the wall’ eatery that is more of an extension of his lifestyle than a place of work. Owner Eugene Botha tells us about the small culinary gem that is Mfino.
It’s simply an extension of me, of who I am and of what I stand for,” says Eugene as he sips his homemade lemon syrup water and sits down to chat.
We are seated at the only table inside this unique, little Sheffield eatery and Eugene’s wingman and best friend – a fluffy, cream-coloured labrador named Moya – is lying at our feet. An old Neil Young classic plays on the vintage vinyl record player behind us.
Eugene is well-known on the North Coast. Not only because he grew up and spent his entire life here, but also because he and his sister Talya were the owners of a popular, award-winning fine dining restaurant at Dunkirk Estate, called Umami, about ten years ago.
His new venture, Mfino (which is a Zulu term for wild spinach) is quite the opposite of that, though. “This is completely different. I have kept it very small, because I want to forage for the ingredients and make everything from scratch myself.”
After Umami closed, Eugene started his own boutique wine company called Niche. But when Covid happened, he was forced to close the business.
Living in his Sheffield home at Christmas Bay, Eugene and Moya walk on the beach and swim in the ocean every single day. When he started trying to figure out what his next move would be, he decided to fall back on what he knows best – making good food with simple, fresh ingredients.
Everything in Mfino is either made by Eugene (including a large part of the actual structure), or comes from his home and is a part of his history. And everything has a story.
From the collection of old Life magazines and National Geographics you can browse, to the vinyl record player and selection of classic records, this warm, inviting space feels more like someone’s home than a restaurant.
There are surfboards and beautiful, old photographs on the walls, each weaving a different thread in the tapestry of his life and Eugene is particularly proud of the framed collection of beer labels on the wall. “These were collected by my grandfather in the second World War,” he says.
The set-up is quaint and the kitchen is small, but Eugene says it has everything he needs to produce the small menu he has on offer. A serving hatch with wooden shutters (made by Eugene), allows you to peek inside and see what he’s up to, and this is also where guests can pick up their food and drinks themselves. There are no waiters or dishwashing staff. Eugene does it all, alone.
So, what about the food? The menu is small, but the flavours are large. Having travelled extensively around the world, Eugene says his passion for good food and wine developed organically.
Everything is carefully thought out and each ingredient has a purpose. “I don’t mass-produce anything and I only cook with ingredients that are in season and readily available.”
The menu, written on a chalkboard at Mfino’s entrance, comprises a selection of Isinkwa (a Zulu word for bread), which is basically an open ciabatta-style roll with three different toppings: Prawn with Egg Alioli and Rocket or Gammon, Gherkin and Swiss cheese with Sweet Yellow Mustard or Fillet with Basil Pesto, Mayo, Soy Sake and Baby Spinach.
The Prawn Chowder is one of Eugene’s most popular dishes. “I make it with homemade fish stock and the taste varies slightly depending on what fish I’ve caught to make the stock – it could be snoek stock or rockcod stock. Things do change according to the season and I get what I can when I can.”
Eugene has risotto on his menu, as well. “This is something that people are often nervous to order, because not everyone knows how to make it properly. I do though.” There is currently a Mushroom and Parmesan Risotto or a Spicy Mussel Risotto on offer.
Other things (all made from scratch by Eugene) on the menu include his homemade Kombucha and extremely popular homemade ice creams, with flavours like papaya, cinnamon, peppermint crisp, fudge and espresso. “I always try to find different flavours and do things that others haven’t,” he says.
The eatery is small, with just a single table (that can seat five) a couch and armchair (for three more) and a table for two outside. There are also five picnic blankets, if you’d like to find a spot on the lawn outside. He doesn’t take bookings.
Eugene encourages people to order their food to go as well. “You can get a really great meal, packaged in an eco-friendly container, to take home and enjoy with a glass of wine in the comfort of your own home.
“It’s hard work, but there is something incredibly special about doing everything yourself. From waking up in the morning and picking the fruit, to washing the dishes and closing up at the end of the day … it’s very rewarding.”
Details: Contact Eugene and order your food to go: 083 799 5254 or visit Mfino at Claremont Farm in Sheffield Beach, open Tuesday to Saturday from 10am to 5pm, @mfino_by_eugene
Text: Leah Shone Photographs: Chris Allan Photo