Happy New Year everyone! How blessed have we been in Durban this holiday season? So many hot & clear sky days! And in December nog al! What perfect weather for going out & chilling on a deck with a brewski and some tapas?! And that’s exactly what we did.
I don’t usually waste precious time on new years resolutions but on the 1st of Jan 2016, I felt unusually motivated to put pen to paper. And now it’s posted on Instagram & Facebook so I’ll be held accountable right? Eeek! No pressure! My first resolution was to blog more. So in the spirit of sticking to resolutions, I’ve decided to write a few jam-packed crash course rundown reviews of all the restaurants that I had the pleasure of eating at during this holiday season. A much enjoyable visit from Joburg-based mumsy and step-dad saw us trekking all the way from Morningside to Ballito, Vetch’s Pier (aka Vetchies) to Umhlanga, and Durban North to Valley of a Thousand Hills. And the most exciting part of that, for all of us, was stopping to sample the local chow.
I’ll be posting reviews for El Toro, a hipster Mexican restaurant in Mackeurten Avenue; Mi Casa (my home) for the stand out salads of the Summer; Lupa, a beautiful Italian chain restaurant in Durban North; Union Square, a saucy burger slash ribs slash chicken wings joint where Greedy Buddha used to be; The Pirate’s Arms, a salty seadog hangout at Durban harbour; Beluga, a schnazzy dining spot in Umhlanga; The Olive Garden, a quaint old school restaurant nestled in a nursery in Assagay; and last but not least, Pintxada, the uber cool Tapas Bar in Chartwell Drive.
Let’s start with the beginning of the holiday (jut before the parentals arrive):
HOLIDAY RESTAURANT REVIEW: Instalment # 1: El Toro
Think oversized, funky, retro, hot pink, feather lamp shades hanging above a fully kitted out Tequila bar, screed floors, tattooed tables, bright beaded curtains, sugar skulls, high exposed wooden beam ceilings, and rosary beads hanging around the neck of a gold plated bull skull.
This place is super cool, but it’s open to the elements, so don’t go there for an airconned experience shielded from secondary smoke. Rather just embrace the summer humidity and wear something sexy but airy. And in typical Mackeurten avenue style, parking is limited, so rather take an uber at night, especially if the Tequilas are going to be down downed. Apart from that, the menu is so extensive and full of unique, weird and wonderful flavour combinations, that like us, you’ll battle to decide what to order. You’ll have to plan to go back again OR order a few plates and share amongst yourselves. To get the decision juices flowing, we ordered a Sxollie golden delicious cider & a Whale Tale Ale (a first for both of us, but loved all the same) both served with icy frosted glasses. Ladies – Alarm bells! This cider goes down as easy as apple juice, and guys – if you’re a craft beer lover, and hints of toffee and caramel sounds right up your alley, then here’s another one to add to the bucket list. Check them out here:
After much deliberation, we started with Jalapeno Poppers & the Salmon & Yellowfin Tuna Ceviche. The Jalapeno poppers were the best I’ve ever had. Big on flavour, but equally big on heat, so if you don’t have a mighty tongue and a strong stomach, just stick to one. The cracker for me though, was the batter! Usually at restaurants, the batter is a terrible oily crumb and sadly, feels like an afterthought. El Toro has created the puffiest & crispiest beer batter, which I could easily have eaten all on it’s own. The sizzling jalapenos have a cool cream cheese centre which, ag shame, tries it’s hardest to put out the fire in your mouth. Close but no cigar. The only thing that kind of compensated for the burn was the guacamole dip. Ask for extra – You’re gonna need it.
The cured tuna loin & smoked Norwegian salmon, tossed in warm citrus marinade was served on a bed of rocket and whole kalamata & green olives. This was served with a side of charcoal bread. A lovely refreshing starter, but I would ask the waiter for more coriander and to only add the squeeze of lemon when the dish arrives at the table, otherwise your fish will cook very quickly from the acidity. The overall flavour was lacking something though, like a sweet dressing, or crispy onions, or a sweet buttermilk bread to balance out the sourness and acidity of the lemon. The charcoal bread looked really interesting (kind of like squid ink pasta does), but tasted like any toasted homemade whole-wheat bread would.
For mains, we had the pulled lamb tostada and the pulled pork taco. The lamb was tender and beautifully marinated, wrapped up in a bundle with lime sour cream yoghurt, their speciality “gwak” and jalapeno salsa – a phenomenal tortilla. The only thing I would lose is the mixed lettuce. A little bit of rocket and you’re all set.
The smoked paprika pulled pork taco with red chipotle, roast peppers & shredded greens was full of flavour & texture. The chipotle & red pepper sauce drizzled over the pork had a tasty kick but wasn’t too spicy. The taco was crunchy not soggy, and the pulled pork was soft but not mushy, fall off the bone & not stringy. Thankfully El Toro does a PROPER pulled pork (which many Durban restaurants don’t seem to be able to achieve). Again, the tacos need less lettuce as a filler, but other than that – Delicioso!
We were way too stuffed to get dessert but when we DO go back, I’ll be sampling the drunken bananas or the chilli brownie or hell, I may just order one of the savoury dishes that incorporates white chocolate aubergine ganoush. Yuuu…uuum!
Don’t forget to check back in for the rest of my holiday restaurant review instalments. Next up – Mi Casa – for 4 summer salad recipes that’ll change your life (and help you work off some of that holiday weight)!