Lee Currie meets the couple behind Assagay’s Old Quarry Smokehouse.
Your senses are soothed by the tranquil, verdant grounds, and your taste buds tantalised by the delicious aroma of food cooked in a wood fire oven – whether it be pizza or smoked ribs. This is Old Quarry Smokehouse in Assagay, the culmination of a long-held dream of Katey and Warren Vermaak.
In February 2019 their plans to open a Trattoria in Botha’s Hill went awry, draining much of their savings. Back to the drawing board, they continued to cook for the retail food industry as well as running their events company On Scene. Then Covid-19 rattled the world. “The pandemic effectively buried our company since most of our income was generated by functions and markets,” remembers Warren. This left them, as with so many other Covid casualties, seriously cash strapped. Fortunately, the couple and their two small children were able to relocate to Katey’s parents’ home where they moved into a unique stone cottage on their property in Assagay.
While this may not have been part of their original plan, the beautiful grounds – over two hectares of it – landscaped by Katey’s mother Penny, who owns a garden design business, turned out to be the perfect place to establish their much-awaited restaurant. They opened in November last year, despite last-minute lockdown restrictions, which limited them to takeaways until they were able to offer a seated option – with a difference. “We decided to operate as a private food club where booking is essential. We have limited parking and are weather dependant, so we need to know how to plan for and effectively serve our patrons. We don’t turntables like a conventional restaurant, so that those that book tend to stay for the whole afternoon. The spacious grounds also make it very Covid-friendly and there’s a play area for children – with a jungle gym. Our catchphrase ‘grazing adults and free-range children’ is becoming a topic of conversation with our patrons,” smiles Katey.
“I had the idea for pizza ovens that I could merge with an American smokehouse with an Argentinian live fire cooking area. We certainly didn’t have enough cash for a pizza oven, so I decided to convert steel drums into ovens,” explains Warren. “We used the top row of fire bricks from an Argentinian Parilla grill that I had bought earlier for the pizzeria, and the ovens were erected, burned in and worked better than expected at a fraction of the cost. Our newly redesigned drum ovens are now being made to order.”
The food has the depth of flavour that only expertise and top quality products can provide. The pizzas are memorable, hard-won through constant practice getting the crust perfectly crispy. The toppings; think pulled smoked pork or beef, bacon jam, caramelised onion… Meat options include ribs, tomahawk steak, Mozambican Chicken – enhanced with mouth-watering, homemade sauces. Some stunning salads and desserts are also on the menu. Warren says he likes to set his creativity free by offering different specials. Private cheffing and bespoke catering for small functions is also part of their dining options. “We attribute our success firstly to God, and secondly to the quality of our food and service.”
“Last year December our pizza chef Zamsile Pretty joined us, with a 10-year background of experience in pizzerias, teaching me a great deal too. I am a firm believer in mentorship, driven to enable the next generation to surpass us,” says Warren.
Warren organises regular ‘Smokehouse Sessions’ featuring live music. Collaborations are also a feature. “We recently had the privilege of working with the phenomenal Chef Andrew Draper, when he graced us with his presence that left us all dizzy in the whirlwind of fun – and inspired to do greater things!”
The smokehouse has an enthusiastic following on social media where fans are kept up-to-date and tempted with mouth-watering images of the dishes on offer. “Of late we have had a steady increase in guests from the north and south of KZN, where we’re perceived as a ‘Mini Midlands’ – close enough to get that country feel, but not too far to drive,” says Warren. “We are in discussion with other local businesses to establish our own Meander.” *
FOR MORE INFO:
For bookings contact Katey on 082 770 0318 or firstname.lastname@example.org; Facebook and Instagram @oldquarrysmokehouse
Tags: Assagay smokehouse, Dining, eating out, Old Quarry Smokehouse, restaurant, smokehouse, Smoking Hot Down at the Quarry