Chef Johannes Richter From The LivingRoom at Summerhill

A Conversation With Chef Johannes Richter From The LivingRoom at Summerhill | Durban’s Top Fine Dining Restaurant

Led by Chef Johannes Richter and his wife Johanna, The LivingRoom is one of Kwa-Zulu Natal’s best dining destinations.

Found tucked away in the residential suburb of Cowies Hill in Summerhill Estate, the restaurant was a true local “hidden gem”, at least until the end of 2022, when the passionate, tight-knit team were awarded the coveted Eat Out Woolworths Restaurant of the Year award and launched onto the national restaurant scene.

The team hold strong core values of local sourcing and zero waste, which led them to cross paths with our team here at Wild Coast Wagyu.

We are a proud supplier to this stunning establishment and jumped at the opportunity to have a Q&A with Chef Johannes himself to chat more about The LivingRoom, what sets them apart and (of course) the inside scoop on his favourite Wagyu cuts.

Read the full Q&A below.

How did Summerhill’s “The Living Room” begin?

I grew up in the house that is now Summerhill’s “The Living Room.” My parents immigrated here, and that’s when we acquired the property. There is quite a deep connection between Johanna and me, our family, and the business.

The other side of history is that growing up, I was very privileged in the sense that we could travel quite extensively, including throughout Africa and were subject to all different produce and products. My grandparents had a small holding in Hungary where they were self-sufficient and had a beautiful veg garden, an orchard and a small vineyard and made and supplied themselves with everything that they needed.

So, I’d say the most significant influences would be seeing Madagascan vanilla grow in Madagascar and the exposure to subtropical produce to that European outlook of self-sustainability.

You have a unique approach to menu development – why is nose-to-tail usage and sustainable produce so important to you?

Farmers put so much time and energy into their produce, but most is going to waste or into animal feed, for example, which just doesn’t seem like a very constructive way forward.

At The LivingRoom, we try to be as sustainable as possible by using every aspect of a carcass and highlighting that it doesn’t just consist of a rump, a sirloin and a fillet. That equal amounts of energy and resource also go into growing all the other bits and pieces. There are lovely things that you can do with those extras if you possess some skill and a bit of craft.

What else makes The Living Room unique?

There’s a couple of things.

Obviously, our approach to sustainability makes us very unique as we aren’t lobbyers in any way. We are a small family-run entity that is only accountable to ourselves and our guests; in that regard, there’s no facade there.

We can really practice what we preach and live by our ideals in our niche. We are also very proudly local and focused around Durban.

I think that there are very few restaurants that concentrate on their surroundings. Many people are looking towards Europe or Japan; however, we are looking at what is on our doorstep and trying to highlight all these lovely people, produce, and our province as best we can.

Can you tell us a little about your team?

We’ve got a very young team. Our average age is 23, and everyone’s very driven by the ideals and the passion we’ve created – it’s just authentic, and I think that that’s one of the many reasons it works.

Some would say that Durban doesn’t have an appetite for this kind of sophisticated dining experience – your thoughts?

When we started, many people were very sceptical and believed that people in Durban wouldn’t want to spend the money and didn’t have the palette or the cultural background for our kind of dining format.

But Jo and I always believed that good food and good wine don’t need much translation.

It just needs to be done correctly, and then there’ll always be people who understand and support it and would be willing to pay for it. So, we stepped into it with that idealism.

What excites you about the restaurant scene at the moment, particularly in Durban?

That’s a difficult one for me to answer because I think we’re in a difficult situation in the industry at the moment because there’s not too much new happening and a lot of stagnation.

The market is very slow, so there aren’t many people out there willing to take a risk. Everyone’s in a bit of a hustle at the moment.

Why have you chosen to feature Wild Coast Wagyu on the Living Room’s menu?

We don’t, primarily, use any products out of the ocean for sustainability reasons. And that’s why we feature very humble ingredients, which is, I think, one of our trademarks.

If there are luxury products on our doorstep, such as Wild Coast Wagyu or Willowdale Truffle, we will try to incorporate them on our menu.

The reason why we’ve chosen Wild Coast Wagyu is that we were convinced by the product and because it is located very close to Summerhill –  about 100km or 120 km away. We’re immensely proud of having such high-quality goods in our direct vicinity.

What values do you look for in a supplier?

Supply consistency is a significant factor for us which is why good communication is key. If a supplier has a consistent product, can deliver and is also cognisant of the environment-  that would meet all our expectations.

You recently won a major award, Eat Outs Top Restaurant of the Year  – how does this feel, and has this reaffirmed your approach to food?

There’s definitely been a reaffirmation of knowing what we’re doing is the way forward. I think only one approach can build a united South African culinary scene: growing more local and sustainable and trying to get smaller suppliers with as many direct contracts as possible.

On the other side, it’s also given us a lot of credibility in the industry, which we’ve worked hard to achieve. The “best restaurant” title here or there is a bit of a loose term, but people obviously view this title in a very different light.

I think the main reason we are where we are is because of our approach to seasonality and regionality and really giving our diners a sense of time and place.

What is your favourite Wagyu dish produced to date?

 A slow-cooked brisket is a killer, and a well-done Wagyu sirloin with the sauce bearnaise and some freshly cut French fries is also right up there. I also like the classical Japanese approach, thinly sliced, seared very hot, and then drawn through a bit of raw egg yolk and soy sauce.

Try Wagyu beef for yourself

So, if you’d like to taste 100% certified and locally-sourced Wagyu beef cooked to PERFECTION, we would highly recommend a visit to The LivingRoom at Summerhill Guest Estate. (Cowies Hill, Durban, 063 529 1966, summerhillkzn.com)

Alternatively, enjoy this very same restaurant-quality Wagyu beef from the comfort of your own home when you place an order with us here at Wild Coast Wagyu.

Browse our product collection online here.

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