A few days after Mezz & Co had opened in the Village Square (where Coco’s used to be), a colleague and I had been working late and were getting quite hungry when we decided on the spur of the moment to try out this new restaurant.
It was very full and very busy – their first weekend of trading – and we were lucky to get a table. Mezz & Co had clearly hit the ground running and the staff members were rushing about trying to keep up. I’m sure the situation in the kitchen must have been a tad stressful, but from where we were sitting it all looked rather jovial, with the atmosphere one of happy chaos. A certain gentleman in an apron was also going from table to table, clearing plates and assisting the waiting staff.
After we’d finished our meal, the gentleman in question was clearing our table and enquiring after our meal (I had the Sicilian calamari salad which, by the way, was delicious) when I suddenly became suspicious and asked if he was perhaps the owner. “Yes, I am,” he beamed, introducing himself as Jiri Kobos, and even finding the time for a quick conversation.
I was already impressed by the fact that Jiri was so hands-on when, on our way out, I bumped into Chef Connel Massyn and learnt that he was in charge in the kitchen. That was great news to me, as I’ve always enjoyed Connel’s food and certainly missed him after he left Eat, where he’d worked for a number of years with the owner, Sheena Bruce, before she sold the restaurant to focus on their charcuterie under the label, Praise the Lard.
Based in Caledon, this boutique charcuterie provided Connel with the opportunity to immerse himself in the study of smoking and curing, and mastering the art of producing exceptional bacons, hams, cured meats and sausages. Now he’s back in Hermanus and has shifted his focus from charcuterie and the French bistro-style dishes he was known for at Eat, to the versatile world of Mediterranean cuisine.
Jiri says many people are under the impression that Mezz & Co is a Greek restaurant (maybe because of the predominantly blue and white colour scheme) but in fact their menu encompasses the whole Mediterranean region, from the Iberian Peninsula to Turkey, and from Morocco to Lebanon. It is a diverse and colourful cuisine that ranges from nibbles such as marinated olives, breads and dips, mezze, salads and ciabatta burgers, to more substantial dishes such as Greek gyros, Moroccan lamb, lula kebabs, chicken souvlaki, fresh line fish and Mediterranean fish cakes.
Although Jiri is a real global citizen, having lived in 16 different countries over the past 36 years, he says he is here to stay. Born in Czechoslovakia, Jiri moved to Germany with his family when he was 11 years old. He trained in the hospitality industry and made his way to South Africa in 1982 to work at the Wild Coast Holiday Inn, which had just been taken over by Sun International. It was here that he met his wife, Caren, then a university student from Durban who had a holiday job in the hotel’s casino.
The couple married in 1986 and started globe-trotting shortly after the wedding – to China, Hong Kong, Malaysia, Indonesia, Singapore, the USA, Azerbaijan, India and Russia, to name but a few. During this time Jiri worked for well-known hotel groups, such as Shangri-la Hotels & Resorts and Hyatt Hotels Corporation. He also conceptualised, managed and operated restaurants and entertainment venues such as night clubs, country clubs and golf clubs all over the world. He says when his daughter (who was born in Jakarta and is now 23 and living in London) started school, the teacher asked every child in the class where they were from and, a little perplexed, she asked her parents, “What should I say?”
During all these years abroad, Jiri says they kept their home base in Balito and returned every year to visit Caren’s family. “We always knew we’d come back to South Africa one day,” he says. When they did return three years ago, however, they once again did not sit still for very long. “We sold our house, loaded the car and drove down the coast with the vague idea that we’d like to settle somewhere on the Garden Route.”
Once they got to Hermanus, though, they found what they had been looking for. “We both thought it was a charming town,” he says, “not too big and not too small. And its proximity to Cape Town and the airport was an added bonus.” Caren now works for Hermanus Property Sales, while Jiri has spent the past two and a half years commuting to Azerbaijan, where he was involved in developing and managing another hotel. He returned in March with the announcement that he was now retiring to Hermanus and not going anywhere.
“But of course, I soon got bored!” he laughs. When he saw that Coco’s was for sale, he investigated and saw that the excellent premises on the waterfront lent themselves to the concept of a Mediterranean Eatery and Bar. “The fresh produce I needed was already available and all I needed was a chef. I advertised the position and that’s how Connel came into the picture.” There is clearly a good vibe between these two men and they admit that they had a lot of fun trying out different dishes while developing the menu. It certainly looks like a winning combination to me.
Mezz & Co offers weekly specials such as a Croatian dish of cevapcici and djuvec rice with a glass of red wine from 8 – 11 Oct and a Spanish paella with a glass of sangria from 12 – 19 Oct, both for R100 pp. The extensive wine list focuses on local wines from Walker Bay and the bar also serves a variety of cocktails, gins, beers and other liquors. Opening hours: Tuesday to Saturday 11:00 – 01:00; Sundays 11:00 – 17:00; Public Holidays 11:00 – 01:00 and closed on Mondays.