On a quest to be the best!

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The last time we heard from Hendrik Pretorius was in mid-2020 when he was wowing Lisbon’s foodies with his cakes and desserts that were being served at Simpli Restaurant in the Portuguese capital.

Rated 5-stars on Trip Advisor, Simpli’s customers not only raved about the freshly roasted coffee but gave special mention of the pastries that Pretorius made on the premises several times a day.

Flash forward to 2024 and Pretorius, at the tender age of 30, has opened his own eatery in Lisbon called Quest, and is once again impressing his patrons with his menu, which now includes a range of breakfast and brunch options, along with his sought-after cakes and cookies.

Pretorius grew up in Heidelberg in Gauteng but later moved to Pretoria where he studied for a Diploma in Food Preparation & Cooking at Capsicum Culinary Studio.

“I chose Capsicum because they offer a programme in culinary arts that is accredited internationally by City & Guilds, which helps you enter the international marketplace. They also have great partnerships with the likes of the Swiss Education Group, TAFE Western Sydney Institute and the South African Chefs Association,” he says.

Following his graduation in 2016, Pretorius applied through an agency to work in Dubai and was offered a position in the pastry section of a newly opened Japanese concept restaurant called Kyo Café and Lounge. Thereafter followed stints in the pastry kitchens of the Renaissance Hotel and in the Morimoto Restaurant before he was offered the job of pastry chef at Simpli in Lisbon.

Pretorius says he learnt a great deal during the years he was at Simpli – how to make Portuguese sourdough bread and the renowned traditional Portuguese tarts pastel de nata – but he also introduced the locals, as well as the tourists, to South African favourites such as malva pudding (from a recipe given to him by his grandmother), melktert and vetkoek.

But back to Quest and the genial chef’s new menu.

The last time we read about you, you were working at Simpli in Lisbon. You’ve now opened your own place. Tell us how that came about and your journey over the last two years.

I had an amazing time at Simpli and learned a lot, but I decided to leave them in mid-2022 to follow my lifelong dream of opening my own place. It took a while to find the right location, but in August last year I finally found the best spot and, together with my partners, immediately started renovations. After much slog and grind, we opened our doors in November 2023. As anyone who has ever opened a restaurant will tell you, it is not an easy journey, but I learned a great deal along the way. It has been a fascinating experience stepping into the business side of things rather than just concentrating on the cooking and baking.

What were some of the highs and lows?

Opening our doors and welcoming customers on the first day was definitely a high and we had to pinch ourselves to make sure it was really happening! The low was the length of time it took to get Quest off the ground and all the red tape, bureaucracy and challenges that went along with it. But, as I kept reminding myself, it was part of the journey and helped build character. Bottom line is I enjoyed every part of the process.

Tell us about Quest

Quest is a breakfast and brunch café and is all about great food, specialty coffee and decadent desserts. The breakfast menu features popular dishes such as Eggs Benedict (salmon, bacon or mushroom options), Shakshuka, Scrambled Eggs with Parmesan Cheese or a Full English with Boerewors. Toasted treats and sandwiches include the Avo Toast Superstar (smashed avocado, sliced zucchini, fresh fennel on sourdough with a side of chakalaka), Salmon Bagel (poppy seed bagel with smoked salmon, cream cheese, pickled parsley and rocket, drizzled with a zesty orange dressing) and the Chickenlaka Toastie with chicken breast, crunchy zucchini, homemade tomato sauce and anchovy caper aioli and chakalaka).

For brunch, diners can choose from Shepherd’s Pie – a dish my family eats, and something not commonly served in Portugal – a Vegan Shroomoussaka or a Quiche of the Day, while quinoa and chicken dominate the salad options.

Then of course – there’s my specialty – the dessert menu, which I think gives our guests a luxurious experience and a touch of fine dining to round off their meal. It includes a Matcha Fondant (Valhrona dark chocolate, filled with a rich matcha ganache and served with raspberry sorbet, chocolate streusel, meringue, berries and edible flowers), my aforementioned grandmother’s Malva Pudding as well as Crème Brulee, Tres Leches (sponge cake soaked in three kinds of milk, layered and topped with Valhrona white chocolate namelake cream) and Raspberry Tartlet, which has quickly become a favourite amongst our customers.

Our drinks menu includes a variety of specialty coffees as well as a Red Cappuccino, which is made with rooibos and a Gianduia Latte, the inspiration for which comes from a recent trip to Milan.

Tell us about the rest of the Quest team

I am proud to say that the rest of the team is made up three South Africans. There’s Durban-born Musa Magwaza who is a co-founder and looks after the coffee side of things in the restaurant. Musa was a barista in Durban and worked at Starbucks before moving to Dubai to work for a company called Espresso Lab. Then we have Sowetan-born King Biyela who is also a Quest co-founder. King is also a barista and worked for Vida Café and Starbucks in Seattle in the US. Both were drawn to Lisbon while exploring the international coffee scene and both always dreamed of one day opening their own restaurant. Finally, there’s Sydwell Seeletso, who hails from Rustenberg and works with me in the kitchen creating all the fabulous food on the menu. As expats, we all met here in Lisbon, became friends and started talking about opening our own place.

Any update on your book The Sweet Side of Life?

The book has been written and edited but publishing has been delayed due to the opening of Quest. Hopefully I’ll be able to release it to the world soon.

Finally, for those not able to travel to Lisbon to sample your sought after Malva Pudding, could you share your recipe with us?

Sure – here you go.

Ouma’s Malva Pudding

Ingredients
1 egg
1 cup sugar
1½ tsp vinegar
1 tsp apricot jam
1 tsp baking soda.
¼ tsp salt
1 cup milk
1 cup cake flour

Method
Preheat oven to 180°C. Butter a suitable dish – I use a 40 x 28 x 7cm Pyrex dish. In a medium-sized bowl, beat together the egg and sugar until you have a thick consistency. Add the apricot jam and mix, then add the vinegar and mix. Add the rest of the ingredients except the milk and mix thoroughly. Add the milk and mix until well combined. Pour the mixture into the dish and bake for 25 -35 minutes or until golden brown.

Sauce Ingredients
½ cup sugar
½ cup boiling water
½ cup milk
¼ cup butter
1 tsp vanilla essence.

Method
Place all the ingredients into a saucepan and bring to boil until everything is dissolved.
Remove from the heat. Pour the sauce over the malva pudding and return the malva pudding to a warm oven for 5 minutes.
Serve with custard or ice cream

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