Restaurant Review #14: The Village Table, The Pearls, Umhlanga

A Birthday and Party to remember

So I know it’s been a long time since I’ve posted anything. It’s been a really tough year and sadly my blogging and my insatiable appetite took a backseat to the chaos that has been my life for the last few months. But I’m back and I’m feeling really positive about the present and the future. I owe this to the people in my life who I really wouldn’t have been able to get through it without. To my Durban friends, Tatiana, Roman, Karen, Andre, Lee-ann, Kristin, Kevin and the latest addition to the list Alexa. To my Joburg friends, Samuels, Square and Ruth. To my London friend, Lauren and last but not least my family, my sister Wendy, my brother Ray, my little nephews Ben and Leo, and of course my mom, and my step-dad. I truly do not know if I would have had the strength to conquer this year without all of your ongoing and regular support in all shapes and forms. I have so much love for you all. OK, that’s most of the soppy stuff over and done with.

OK, maybe just a little bit more because I really do just feel like these people deserve their moment in the sun. My birthday was probably one of the most daunting days this year, and one which I expected to be one of the loneliest and saddest. I actually just wanted to get it over and done with and pretend like it was just another day at work. But my fave’s had other plans in mind. I had an entire room singing happy birthday to me while carrying the most amazing death by chocolate cake adorned with lit candles, a beautiful bouquet of flowers, Lindt chocolates, too many heartfelt hugs to count and the kindest, sweetest, re-assuring words I could ever ask for. It literally brought tears to my eyes, especially since at my work, you usually have to bring your own cake. On top of that I got a totally unexpected delivery from my family in Edinburgh and ended off the day with a gift of a larger than life hand-made wooden wall heart. Thank you Wen, Kristin, Alexa and Kevin for making me feel so loved and adored, and turning the potentially worst day into one that sent me to sleep smiling from ear to ear.

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So I think all of that gave me the confidence boost and the promise of hope that I needed to get back into my blogging and truly enjoying food again.

And what better place to pick up on that adoration for food, than at The Village Table in The Pearls Mall in Umhlanga. I’d been dying to find an occasion (as soon after payday as possible) and the right weather to appreciate everything this little restaurant had to offer after all the incredible photos I’d seen and things I’d heard. Overlooking the sea in Umhlanga Rocks, The Village Table seemed to be the perfect place for sundowners and a delicious meal on a hot Durban summer day, and even though we didn’t quite get that weather on my birthday, the rain did at least stop for us. Thanks Mother Nature!

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Walking into the restaurant, dressed to the nines, we were greeted with a warm welcome from one of the waiters. I was speechless, just staring up at the mesmerizing golden lanterns, glass orb lighting, exposed wooden beam ceiling, gorgeous botanical wall murals, beautiful black & white mosaic tiles and palm leaves here, there and everywhere. Island-style dining at it’s most elegant. I get goosebumps when restaurant decor is this well thought through and you feel like the interior designer has transported you to a different city, or even a whole different country altogether. I definitely didn’t feel like I was in Kansas anymore, I mean Durban.

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We started the party at 4PM, perfect timing for some build up cocktails and trying out some new drinks selected from their uber classy and extensive bar. They have a wide range of cocktails to choose from, and a variety of very pretty gins and flavoured tonics on offer for gin-o-clock (so basically all day, er’day). We kicked it off in full style with a bottle of Krone Champagne because even though you never really need a reason to pop open some bubbly, you only turn 34 once right? (I really am getting old..eeek!). Surrounded by amazing people. such thoughtful gifts including a golden bottle of Borgo Bello Prosecco (too gorgeous to ever open), decadent Woolies choccies, a much needed Sorbet mani & pedi voucher, and the most stunning decor, I couldn’t have asked for more on my special day.
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After lots of clinking and photo ops, we dove into the cocktail menu. The Pina Colada was colourful and refreshing, but I think it could have had a touch more rum in it. Tatiana, trying her hardest to refuse alcohol, just couldn’t say no to a Berry G&T which she said was a little too sweet for her, but she did love the garnish of berries and mint leaves which really complimented the drink. Now that our stomachs were sufficiently lined with alcohol (wait, is that in the right order? Oh well.) we were ready to dine!

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I just couldn’t decide between the main meals, and there were far too many starters that looked enticing so I decided to do what I often do and order a starter or 2 as a main so I get to taste more than 1 dish. I avoided being greedy, and ordered 1 to begin with, the Seafood Extravaganza. If I was still hungry after, I would order the fried halloumi. Cheese and I have a longstanding love affair going on (It’s complicated). Even though the Seafood Extravaganza wasn’t exactly what I thought it would be based on the menu description, I was actually pleasantly surprised. It was a huge portion firstly which is always a good start with me. It was a beautiful mix of fresh prawns, calamari and chorizo bits in a rich tomato, garlic and peri-peri soup, with a side of toasted ciabatta bread. So freaking delicious. I couldn’t get enough. We had to order more bread for the table so I could lap up every last bit of that sauce. Needless to say I was stuffed after that and everybody insisting on force feeding me a little bit of their meals. Thanks for the food baby guys. 😉 I have to mention that the prawns were cooked to perfection. I’m always a bit reluctant when it comes to prawns in soups or sauces at restaurants as the continued heat between leaving the pot or pan and arriving at the table can totally overcook prawns and ruin the whole dish. So well done on that Village Table! Just more bread all around next time please.

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Also on our selected menu was the Sweet Potato patties with Hummus starter, The Girl from Bronze Bay Chicken, The Fillet Mignon with Pepper sauce & fries, a creamy prawn pasta and the pièce de résistance, the Flaming Chorizo! Oh my goodness, this was so exciting! The Chorizo arrives at the table on this cute porcelain pig, which is then set alight right in front of your face by the waitress. For a few seconds, everyone just gets lost in this fiery spectacle and that unmistakable smell of smoked pork being licked by scorching flames. It was quite a fun experience. Alexa said that I absolutely must mention to Chorizo lovers that this chorizo is definitely more Mozambiquan style than Spanish style so has less of a cured flavour, but is still really tasty! Tatiana said her starter of Sweet Potato patties with Hummus was super delicious and reminded her of Venezuelan Arepas which are kind of like pitas made by cooking dried corn, mashing it, and then drying it into a flour to make the dough. Mmm..I’d like to try those!

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Alexa and Tatiana ordered The Girl from Bronze Bay because they always get lured in by interesting dish names. The chicken was flavourful and tender and again, I was amazed as I usually steer clear of ordering chicken at restaurants. I’ve never been wowed by chicken when out and also, why order something at a restaurant that you eat at home allll the time? Now I understand. The girls loved it as well as the fresh, healthy vegetable side pairing. I had a taste of Roman’s steak which was so thick, and so succulent with a nice peppery bite! Roman said it was without a doubt one of the best fillets he had ever had. Kevin’s creamy prawn pasta wasn’t my favourite I have to say. It was overly buttery and rich and sadly in this case, the prawns were overcooked by the heat of the sauce. Sorry guys.

Our waitress was lovely and all the waiters had a good sense of humour, even when I threatened to take their rustic wooden foot stands home with me because they were just too fabulous for words.

I chased my meal down with a pink G&T, after tasting Kevin’s and just falling in love with it. He selected the Ginologist spiced gin ( https://ginologist.co.za/ ) with the Fitch & Leedes Pink Tonic. The sparkling rose and cucumber tonic was the perfect accompaniment for the gin. I made a slight change and ordered the Ginologist citrus gin which was absolutely delicious with the same pink tonic.

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I did not want to see a dessert menu for at least a month after everything I had just eaten, but I got roped into sharing the chocolate rissoles between us 3 girls. Unfortunately I don’t have the best feedback to report though as we had to send the first batch back because the pastry was undercooked in the centre and even the second batch wasn’t the best. I think the cook may have been afraid to burn them and instead didn’t cook them enough. Perhaps a lower oil temperature next time guys. The rest of the dessert menu was very stock standard but I think that The Village Table has the potential to become a real Girls Night out kind of place. In which case the cocktails and desserts need to be flawless and unique. Maybe some salted caramel popcorn cheesecake or Lindt chocolate lava cakes? Perhaps a pastry chef on the weekends? Just a suggestion.

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All in all, we had a fabulous time, and I will certainly be back to try out some more dishes (and maybe the seafood extravaganza a few more times too), sample some more G&Ts and show off another little cocktail dress.

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A huge thank you to Tatiana @lekkerness for taking so many of the photos 🙂

 

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Restaurant Review #13: Greedy Buddha

Greedy Buddha is one of those restaurants that Craig & I fell in love with right from the very beginning. They opened their doors in Broadway on a verandah a few years ago, which wasn’t the greatest location if you were looking for some relief from the Durban heat, but they won us over with their beautiful, unique flavours and their excellent service. Shortly after, they then upgraded their premises to a fancier one in Umhlanga. I can’t say that I’m not relieved that they now have an indoor airconned area for those scorching summer days. For the cooler days, they still have their verandah/ balcony seating option. Except now, you’ll be dining under the stars….

So what’s so special about them? Greedy Buddha just get Asian fusion flavor, presentation, consistency and service. Let me elaborate.

Every time you go, you’re guaranteed to be welcomed by the open arms and the booming voice of Kondo. He will be your host and go-to-guy for the evening and believe me when I say you can always count on him to bring you the best dishes or to suggest the best combinations. His memory is outstanding, having recognized us from the second time we dined at Greedy Buddha and every single time since then. He, along with his fellow waiters are attentive, but not clingy, and fast, but not too fast, giving you just enough time to digest your food before the next course. They are super professional, courteous and clued up on the menu. Somehow, in addition to that, their kitchen staff always produce exact replicas of the dish we had the last time, not a microherb out of place. So that covers the service & the consistency.

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Me & Kondo

When it comes to flavor & presentation, all I can say is that the Head Chef obviously has a very sophisticated palate, a very particular eye and a vast knowledge of worldly ingredients, because everything the kitchen throw together – every texture, every taste, every colour, every angle, every plate type, makes for the perfect end product, a dish that’ll have you savouring each mouthful with your eyes closed and a satisfied sigh.

What’s more, whether it’s pay day or the pockets are feeling a bit light, you have time to kill, or need a quick bite before a movie at Gateway, Greedy Buddha has something for you.

If you have some time on your hands, and it’s a special occasion (like pay day), I’d suggest you go for the Full Journey Tapas tasting menu. That way, you will get to test a little bit of everything. Believe me, this will make things a whole lot easier for you, because it’s really hard to choose just 1 or 2 tapas from their incredible selection. But make sure you go hungry because their servings are large.

Alternatively if you’re looking for a good deal or “fast food”, choose a soup and one of their tapas just to wet your appetite for the next time you go. Oh yes – there will definitely be a next time. They also have Tapas lunch specials on offer if you’re looking for an inexpensive mid-day snackeroo.

If you do decide on a dinner date, be sure to book a table out on the balcony underneath the beautifully strung up fairy lights to complete your magical experience.

When it comes to drinks, the guys will be happy to know that Greedy Buddha have an extensive range of craft beers and the ladies will be blown away by their wide array of wines. On our last visit, Craig tried the Skeleton Coast Indian Pale Ale for the first time, and I had the house Cab Sav. Both very yum.

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Skeleton Coast Indian Pale Ale & The house Cabernet Sauvignon

In addition to tapas, Greedy Buddha now also have a main meal menu where they, much to our delight, have bumped up some of their best tapas to a main meal size. They have also introduced some new mains dishes for those who aren’t huge fans of tasting platters or tapas.

They now have everything from soups to pot stickers, to vegetarian dishes, salads and meaty dishes with tasty twists. And if you have someone in the group that just wants some good old Chinese noodles, they’ve got that covered too.

The dishes we have tried and loved so far have been the Szechwan Chili Halloumi Bites, The Ducking Fantastic Wrap shredded right at your table by your friendly waitress, Crispy Chicken Bites, Tempura Baby Calamari, Sesame Crusted Prawn & Calamari Toasts, Twice Cooked Pork Spare Ribs. But the ones we would really recommend you try are: Crispy Roasted Pork Belly with Smoked Potato Puree, Red Cabbage Compot and Teriyaki Glaze, Tempura 7- spice Prawn Tails with Coconut Pea Puree & Mango Salsa, and the Salmon Sashimi Plate with Citrus Cured Salmon Sashimi, Avo Puree, Wasabi Mayo, Pickled Ginger & Coriander Pesto. Just well thought out dishes with surprising combinations of flavours, that are delectably satisfying every single time.

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The Ducking Fantastic Wrap
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Tempura Baby Calamari with a sweet chilli dip
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Crispy Roasted Pork Belly with Smoked Potato Puree, Red Cabbage Compot and Teriyaki Glaze
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Tempura 7- spice Prawn Tails with Coconut Pea Puree & Mango Salsa
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Salmon Sashimi Plate with Citrus Cured Salmon Sashimi, Avo Puree, Wasabi Mayo, Pickled Ginger & Coriander Pesto

If you’re someone who values knowing where your meat is coming from, you’ll be happy to know that Greedy Buddha only use top quality, fresh, never frozen, free-range meat wherever possible. Their duck & baby chickens are free-range and sourced from the Midlands and their beef is from Northern KZN, dry aged and grass fed. Their lamb is from the Karoo, free-range and AAA-grade. So if my review wasn’t a good enough reason to get you booking a table right at this very moment, then I’m sure that will!

 

Restaurant Review #12: Bellevue Café, Kloof

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I’ve been hearing great things about this café for years, but what really peaked my interest was that it shares the same owners with Lupa Osteria, one of my absolute favourite restaurants in Durban. Probably what took me so long to go and try it out was the fact that it was all the way up in Kloof and I’m never in that area for any other reason, so it was never top of mind when thinking of places to go for breakfast or lunch. But we eventually made it one stinking hot humid day a few weeks ago, after a trip to the Hillcrest pet shops (again – yes, I know). We had to use our GPS as it isn’t a restaurant that you’ll just notice off the side of the highway, but instead it’s nestled snuggly between Fat Tuesday (said to be Kloof’s best kept secret showcasing local artists, designers & photographer’s pieces) and the Delcairn Shopping Centre, at 5 Bellevue Rd, Kloof. There is ample shaded parking inside as well as on the street if that gets too packed. When we arrived, we were unaware of the parking inside, so we parked down the road outside, under the watchful eye of a very friendly car guard.

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We were greeted by a lovely garden setting under plenty of umbrellas and high trees. Just what we needed for such a scorching day. There were a few tables uncovered for those children of the sun, and a few more inside the restaurant if you haven’t yet acclimatized to the occasional rain forest, which is Durban. The garden is surrounded by bushes and flowers and really makes you feel like you are at a relaxed luncheon in a friend’s back garden, but here is your forewarning that as beautiful and serene as it is, if you have a tendency to attract mosquitoes, then do yourself a favour and take a peaceful sleep stick or alternatively some anti-itch cream for your ankles. Those buggers love the cover just as much as you will.

While watching vintage cars and yellow beetles with surfboards drive by, we admired the inside area, which has much the same look as Lupa (see my review of Lupa) and checked out the Drinks Chalkboard which displayed various craft beers, assorted wines and much to my delight, the Dragon fiery ginger beer I discovered at Union Square (see my Union Square review). This was next to the Specials Chalkboard, which changes just before every meal. They were just starting to rub off breakfast and add the lunch specials, so in the meantime we perused the menu and enjoyed the fresh air. I’m going to be honest and say the food selection, even though extensive, won’t be everybody’s cup of tea, especially if you’re a “burger, pizza & wings only” kinda person. But it’s definitely my kind of place. Unusual and new and unique flavours combine to produce a beautiful variety of breakfasts, salads, sandwiches, pastas & classic dishes with a twist, that both look & taste the part.

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I don’t usually like to mention anything bad about restaurants, because I think that every place has their slow or understaffed days, but there was only one thing that annoyed us a little bit. The service was really slow and the Artisan Bread was not very impressive. We had about 5 different people serve us and we had to ask 2 people at a time for drinks, a wine list, food menus, a spoon and more bread. The artisan bread was toasted and very thinly sliced. Not very impressive when all you want to do is lap up your creamy bacon chicken liver sauce with some fresh, door stop bread. Our friend’s, Megan and Marc who frequent Bellevue, and also happened to be there at the time, said that both the service and the bread were usually much much better. So don’t let this stop you from visiting them.

Other than that, it was a very pleasant experience ambience-wise, and the food, the most important part of course, was top notch. Craig ordered the Chicken livers peri-peri with bacon in a light cream sauce with toasted artisan bread and although he enjoyed them, said that he preferred the one’s from Harvey’s because he was given the option to have them medium rare (see my review of Harvey’s), but I stole a taster of the livers and the sauce to compare for myself, and I loved it! Creamy, meaty and just a touch of heat & bacon-y goodness.

I never order salads at restaurants because the gourmet ones are always too expensive when compared to a main meal OR the ingredients don’t sound complimentary enough, and adding the necessary extras (in my opinion) would mean breaking the bank anyway. But I was willing to pay R95 for a salad when this is what it contained: Roasted quinoa with grilled chorizo, spice dusted chicken, fennel, orange segments, cous cous, caramelised apple and toasted almonds.

Now, I’ve never had quinoa before and I was dying to see what all the fuss was about. So I asked Craig what it was like and he said it was similar to budgie seed. Um..yum? Not quite the picture I had in my mind. But all those people who love it so much couldn’t all possibly be wrong right? It was awesome! With everything else in the salad being so soft and juicy, the crunch that the roasted quinoa and the toasted almonds brought to the dish was exactly what it needed. Everything was just SO good: The generous portion of soft gently spiced chicken strips that must have been marinated overnight, the salty and rich chorizo, the sweet and citrusy orange segments, the caramelized and slightly cinnamon spiced apple with a tangy kick from the fennel mayo dressing. A really delicious and perfectly guilt-free dish. It was a huge portion too so I ended up taking half home for Monday’s lunch. That’s one way to make the first day back at work a little bit brighter!

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Worth a trip guys – breakfast, lunch or early dinners, but perhaps take along some extra time and a little bit of patience if they happen to be having a slow day. Believe me, the food and atmosphere will make up for it.

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Restaurant Review #9, 10 & 11: Beluga, The Olive Garden & Pintxada

Holiday Restaurant Review: Instalment #6, 7 & 8: Beluga, The Olive Garden & Pintxada

These 3 restaurants were the last that filled our bellies during the Christmas holidays. I wanted to share them with you because all three are so different from the other, but all equally worth a visit for delicious food and a good time.

First up is Beluga.

Holiday Restaurant Review: Instalment #6: Beluga, Umhlanga

My big sister and brother in law from Edinburgh, sadly couldn’t join us in Durban this year for all the festivities (and gluttonous eating) around Christmas time, so instead they treated us to a fine dining evening out at Beluga, as our Christmas gift. How lucky were we!? It all made sense then, thinking back to a few weeks before when Wendy asked me where I would go for the best sushi in Durban, because a “friend” was asking. Thanks guys!

My first experience at Beluga was in Cape Town. I think I was about 19 or 20 and it was probably one of the smartest restaurants I had EVER been to. I was totally underdressed and self-conscious like only a young adult can be, but Beluga was one of those restaurants that just totally opened my tiny eyes, and blew my inexperienced mind about just how incredibly tasty food can get. So this was how the wealthy ate! I’ve had after work cocktails there, half price sushi before 7PM and even been to parties there, and I was never disappointed by the consistent sophistication and class in their food & service.

Beluga in Durban is no different. They take pride in the presentation of their dishes and are creative in their complexity of flavours. What’s really cool about Beluga, is that although they offer top shelf dining, they haven’t forgotten about the little people. Why should only the high rollers be able to afford eating at Beluga? With half price sushi & their set tasting menus that only cost R190 for a 3-course dinner, everyone can get a taste of la good life. But for goodness sakes, please don’t go in slops. It may be affordable now, but you still need to LOOK the part.

I can recommend the following for incredible flavour combinations and beautiful presentation: the duck liver Crème Brule with apple preserve; creamed tuna tartare; the tuna crunch; the deconstructed lamb with panko crust, pomme puree, lamb reduction, tomato chutney & caramelized onions; the malva pudding with creme anglaise, peach salsa and peppermint semi freddo; and the white chocolate beignets with vanilla bean ice-cream & butterscotch sauce. O.M.G.

 

Holiday Restaurant Review: Instalment #7: The Olive Garden, Assagay

Whenever my husband and I head up to Hillcrest to check out what the local pet stores have on offer, we always say that next time we should really build in time to have lunch at one of the many quaint little coffee shops and restaurants just off Kassier Rd.

So one very sunny day during the holidays, we decided what better weather to spend in Hillcrest sitting in a garden enjoying tea & scones with the parents. But as we always tend to forget, as you crawl up Field’s Hill, the weather always changes, and dramatically too. The dark clouds started looming over us, the humidity dropped, the sun all but vanished, and the breeze got a whole lot chillier. Should have brought that hoody I never need when I have it, but always need when I don’t. Kind of like my “short girl syndrome”, this is like my “always colder than everyone else syndrome”. We tried out Duck n Deck first, which is now called Willow Creek Animal Farm, and although it was really sweet seeing alpacas and baby goats that trot straight up to you for treats, it wasn’t really what we were looking for. More of a children-friendly vibe with very simple seating & meal options.

We moved onto The Olive Garden, a rustic, family owned and run, Mediterranean restaurant right in the middle of Dieters Nursery. Even though we didn’t get to sit right outside in the sun on the balcony, we managed to nab a table half inside, with a really nice view of the nursery. It was a bit nippy, but the welcoming and relaxing atmosphere, coupled with good company and some laughs warmed us up sufficiently. And then when even that couldn’t blanket us, we took a walk in the scattered streaks of sun and visited the beautiful Bonsai enclosure nestled in between all the succulents and the other nursery plants. The couple that have been looking after these Bonsais for years were full of helpful information and tips for when we next get a Bonsai, and it was so inspiring and admirable to see what incredibly good care they have taken of all those exquisitely twisted and pruned Bonsai. Worth a visit.

So, back to the Olive Garden. The waitress was great but warned us that although the food was always good, that good food also takes time. So we should just relax and enjoy the afternoon. Which is what we did. They have such an extensive menu which I think is what most families or big tables will love because they have everything from light meals like wraps to Sunday Roasts, and more expensive modern items found on their specials board. They also have huge platters on offer paired with wines at very reasonable prices. If I could, I would make a trip there once a month on Sunday just to try everything once and have a lovely chilled glass of Sauvignon Blanc in summer and a warm, comforting glass of cabernet sauvignon in winter.

I ordered the Mussels in a creamy white wine sauce on linguine generously covered in Parmesan shavings. The waitress said “good choice” and she didn’t say that to anyone else so I was really excited to see and taste it. I’m not often impressed with mussel dishes at restaurants: not sufficiently de-bearded or scrubbed, tastes like sea water, grainy on your teeth, overcooked, too few or too small, and this was anything but. I can still taste it, and my mouth starts watering just thinking about it. At this very moment I’m putting a suggestion reminder on my phone to make a mussel pot next week. Firstly the mussels were massive. Bigger than any I had ever had or seen before and they were cooked to absolute perfection, meaty and tasty. They were swimming in this sauce that was so creamy and delicious that even though I finished the mussels, I couldn’t NOT take the sauce and left over linguine home. It was just as good for lunch the next day when I threw in some Cabanossi chunks. Oh yes. I did that. Pork in a seafood sauce. Slurp!

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Holiday Restaurant Review: Instalment #7: Pintxada, Umhlanga

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One of my most recommended restaurants is Little Havana, in Grenada Square. They aren’t cheap, but they’re also not over the top expensive, and the food is incredible. But that’s more of a dinner place for me.

Thankfully, for lunch, just downstairs from Little Havana, they have opened up a sister restaurant called Pintxada, pronounced *pinchada*. Not to be confused with a piñata, pronounced *pinyada*. They won’t be impressed if you walk in blindfolded and start smashing a baseball bat against everything to see what treats fall out. The name comes from the Northern Spanish word Pintxo, which is a small snack typically eaten in bars i.e. tapas. In addition to that, they also showcase award winning wines, Jack Black on tap, super refreshing sparkling wine spritzers and a rotisserie. If you want to know how to pronounce that, you can check with Suzelle at the following link https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5Wq6H3gIdDQ Think smart Camps Bay bar meets relaxed Durban style.

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On New Years day when most people were still too hung over from the night before, some made their way down to Chartwell Drive in search of somewhere celebratory to chow and cool down. That was us. Remo’s closed. Vovo Telo closed. Pintxada open! We had heard good things and hey, if it’s related to Little Havana, we knew we would be impressed! It was packed when we arrived and we feared having to wait in the scorching sun for a table as most people looked like they were setting up camp for the afternoon and the better part of the evening. The hostess greeted us while we took in the delightful smells and sights of a chef cutting up freshly roasted rotisserie chicken right at the entrance. That’s one way to draw the crowds in! We were escorted to the bar slash tapas area where we got to watch all the dishes being plated and leaving the kitchen, and where we could scrutinize the various types of olives and artichokes and cured meats on show. We ordered two cocktails with berry-like flavours mixed with a white wine spritzer while we perused the menu, the specials board and waited for a table outside.

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Once we were seated outside in the sun, with thankfully just enough shade, we enjoyed our drinks and ordered the following (excuse the lack of precise dish names as I cannot for the life of me find any menus online): Home cured Salmon with cucumber dill & mustard R65 off the specials board; cajun grilled calamari & fried chorizo with pickling onions, tomatoes & a delicious hot sauce; and crispy pork belly. Wow! I’ve never had such a delicious combination of Tapas before. That dill and cucumber mustardy mayo was the perfect tangy accompaniment for the very lightly cured and ‘fresh as they come’ salmon chunks and slices. Followed by the richness and intense flavour of the calamari & chorizo dish, and the perfect crunchiness of that pork belly crackling (spot the free chip we scored in the pics), this was just what we were looking for.

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So grab some mates, book a big table under an umbrella outside for lunch, order some beers, wines and cocktails and order 1 of every Pintxo you can get your hands on. Then pass them around and spread the Spanish love. Buen Provecho!

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Restaurant review # 6, 7 & 8: Lupa, Union Square & Pirates Arms

HOLIDAY RESTAURANT REVIEW: Instalment 3, 4 & 5: Lupa, Union Square & Pirates Arms:

My previous two posts have been centred around the restaurants that my family & I ate at during the Christmas holiday. Today’s post will be a collaboration of instalment 3, 4 & 5 reviewing Lupa, a modern Italian chain restaurant; Union Square, a new addition to the ever-growing collection of Broadway restaurants; and Pirates Arms at Wilson’s Wharf, known for their famous monster-size hake & chips. If you haven’t been to any of these places yet, have a read, and I’m sure you’ll be making a trip to at least one very very soon.

HOLIDAY RESTAURANT REVIEW: Instalment 3: Lupa Osteria, Broadway

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When my husband and I first discovered Lupa in Hillcrest we were absolutely blown away. Walking into a restaurant that has a huge hunk of cured pork, locked into a meat slicer, on display and ready to be freshly shaved for every order of the parma ham & rocket pizza, makes for an excellent first impression. While you don’t have to dress up for a meal there, you kind of want to because the service is so professional, the food is bordering on fine dining, and the décor is so modern rustic. My first meal there was a starter of crispy risotto balls, which when cut into, oozed mozzarella, sage and Italian sausage. Craig’s first starter was probably one of the best meatball dishes we’ve ever had. We loved it, and we were convinced we wouldn’t find a better restaurant than this in Durban. We were just so sad that it was so far away from home, so having dinner and drinks there was not an option. Thankfully not too long after that, a branch opened in Westville where I had one of my most entertaining office parties. Soon after another that, another branch opened their doors in Broadway which I had the pleasure of experiencing for the first time, with all my favourite gals, on my Hen’s night. Now all we need to do is cheaply uber to Kensington if we are planning on having a few glasses of wine or a craft beer from their wide selection of both.

When my mom and step-dad arrived for the Christmas holiday, I really battled to get a booking anywhere in Durban for Christmas Eve. I called 8 of my favourite restaurants and all were either closed for dinner or in most cases, were closed until 6 January. What!!?? Insane! All the Vaalies come to Durban for the holidays, with their pockets overflowing with cash, and all the good restaurants shut down?! How is that a good financial move? Anyway, their choice I guess. But Lupa was open! I booked online, and the Manager called me back less than an hour later to confirm my booking. Now that’s what I like! We had such a lovely candle-lit evening surrounded by Christmas decorations; large, loud families & high spirits, and the food was all fabulous as usual. I’m not going to go into too much detail about each dish that we ate because I can safely tell you that there is not one dish on Lupa’s menu that isn’t delicious. I also can’t post too many amazing photos due to the lighting, but let me assure you that presentation is also very important to them. What I CAN tell you is that you we have personally tried (and you should too) the following: Roman style crumbed & fried stalk-intact artichokes; the wood roasted snails with gorgonzola sauce & toasted ciabatta; the pretzel dusted calamari and the Italian nachos (don’t expect traditional nachos, but expect something equally as tasty with similar ingredients). My main meal favourite is the Veal Escalopes with lemon, white wine & cream sauce with a side of creamy Parmesan fettucine To die for! So much so that I’m happy to order a different starter everytime I go, but no other dish competes for mains.

HOLIDAY RESTAURANT REVIEW: Instalment 4: Union Square, Broadway

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Just across the road from Lupa, is Union Square. Very different cuisine, but equally as tasty. No aircon guys, and set outside on a verandah, so be prepared to brave the humidity if you go during summer. Never fear though because at Union Square you will be swiftly seated, welcomed and cooled right down with an ice-cold beer, glass of wine or cider. Then once you’ve acclimatised sufficiently, you can order your rack of ribs, burger, chicken wings (or a salad if you really must). It reminded me a lot of Rocomamas, because they too are a ribs, burger and wings joint, and they also use the same ordering concept where each guest is given a menu which must be filled in and given back to the waiter. You complete your name first (which I like filling in as L-Dog, cos I like hearing the waiter confusedly ask for L-Dog when my food arrives) and then add any special requests or messages to the Chef. I like to try and make the kitchen staff smile with me message. Haha. Yes – life’s little pleasures. Then you tick off what dishes you want, what toppings you want, what marinades you want, what sides you want and you can even build your own burger. I’m not a massive burger fan, but any place that has a lamb burger on their menu gets my vote! Or a pulled pork Bun….oooooo…. And when they add fine little details like smokey mayo or Harissa mayo (a hot Moroccan mayo) instead of just regular mayo, and caramelised onions instead of just plain fried onions, well that’s what will set them apart. I started with a Fiery Dragon Ginger Beer, which was beautifully fizzy, frosty and fabulous with a kick of not only ginger, but just a touch of alcohol too ;).

My eyes were darting from the ribs to the wings, from the wings to the ribs, and then finally I decided to just order the combo deal. The waiter recommended the BBQ marinated ribs so I went for that, plus the per-peri wings. Wow! Such tender, juicy, meaty and flavourful ribs & wings. I won’t mention names, but so SO much better than another ribs, wings & burger joint I know. Craig decided to take advantage of the option to assemble your own perfect burger combination. He constructed a gorgeous monstrosity of Smashed beef patty, jalapenos, pineapple, rocket & gorgonzola sauce. He loved it! And he isn’t the easiest to please when it comes to burgers. He also ordered a side of the honey mustard wings. Super saucy and full of flavour!

Go there for an early lunch to make sure you get a table, because you can’t book, and plan to stay a while, breathe in the fresh air, have an icy drink, catch up with some mates, order the ribs and wings combo so you don’t feel like you’re missing out, then get your mate to order a burger so you can distract him and get a bite of that too. The complex has parking so this is one place you won’t need to uber to (if you have a designated driver or having less than two that is) Arrive alive!

HOLIDAY RESTAURANT REVIEW: Instalment 5: Pirates Arms, Wilson’s Wharf

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I’ve decided that we don’t go to Wilson’s Wharf often enough, and that’s purely because I’ve discovered that they truly have the best fish and chips in Durban. At Pirates Arms of course. OK, so a forewarning that this restaurant is definitely not a Lupa and is not even a Union Square when it comes to being fancy or being hipster, or when it comes to décor, or special treatment. It’s an old harbour restaurant with walls adorned with various weapons that pirates would have been paired with back in the day, with a bathroom that still has a 2c entry slot on the door and a very strange and scarily dusty man with his slightly deformed drumming monkey in the one corner. But don’t be alarmed. Just ask for a table outside on the balcony overlooking the harbour, then order a long island ice tea (like my mom did) and sit back and enjoy the sounds of seagulls squawking and people laughing , the fresh, salty smell of the sea mixed with that amazing batter, fish & vinegar aroma, the sites of low turning to high tide and crabs climbing the walls, and the feel of the sun’s warm caress on your back (but wear a bit of sunscreen and don’t get burnt like we did). Don’t bother with starters and don’t worry to look at anything else on the main’s menu. Just jump straight into the large hake & chips or rice that they are so famous for, and you will understand why everyone keeps going back. Crispy crunchy yummy batter and the freshest hugest piece of hake you’ll ever be served. I ordered the regular, but it was so huge that I had to take half home, so that should give you an indication of how big the large order is. If you don’t want take aways, maybe order the petite hake. And that’s only R45! It’s a steal! The service was a bit slow, but relaxed and friendly, so don’t go there expecting to get a list of what’s not available on the menu and details of what type of oil they fry the fish in. Just chill and enjoy the fish. Again, pop in for an early lunch so you get a good spot outside, or do what we did and sit inside until an outside table is available. And don’t worry about parking. I think they actually started extending into the sea to fit more cars in, so you’re good.

 

 

Restaurant review #4: El Toro

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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.

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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:

http://www.yuppiechef.com/sxollie.htm?id=16241&name=SXOLLIE-Golden-Delicious-Cider

http://www.takealot.com/boston-breweries-whale-tale-ale-16-x-440ml/PLID41631533

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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!

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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)!

Restaurant review #3: Surf Riders Food Shack

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A few weeks ago, my friend Minette & I were trying to decide where next to have our quarterly couples dinner. These decisions are getting tougher and tougher because we’ve both already eaten at most of the affordable restaurants in Durban, and we were in the mood for something fresh & summery! Minette suggested breakfast instead of dinner which I was very keen on. She then asked me if I had ever been to Surf Riders on South Beach? At first I was like, “oh dear, is this like one of those tiny little food shacks on the beachfront where you order your meal, and end up sitting on the pavement because they don’t have enough seating?” She then added that it’s right next to Addington Hospital. Now the last time I drove passed Addington Hospital, I remember thinking it would be a great setting for a horror movie, so that didn’t make me feel anymore confident in the place. Would we be clutching our purses, constantly watching our backs or jumping & shrieking at any sudden noise? But she raved about it and I thought, you know what, I know Minette’s taste in food, and even if the place isn’t 100% kosher, I know that the food will be finger licking! Besides, safety in numbers right?

Craig and I planned to meet Minette & Devin there, so we drove along the promenade from South Coast Casino taking in all the sights and sounds of both the usual beach goers and the taxi-loads of people arriving from all over South Africa for the holiday season. For the first time, I really felt like it was Christmas. The other thing that really stood out for me was how clean the area was and how safe it appeared to be. I obviously had a very skewed view of what that side of the beachfront was like and I’m happy to say that my opinion has now changed. Don’t get me wrong though. I won’t be skipping along there on my own with my iPhone hanging out my pocket and cash jingling in my pockets like a carefree tourist, but I cannot wait to explore it further. And what a perfect strip to take my mom and step-dad to during the festive period for morning jogs.

We only had Addington Hospital as a landmark so we just drove along looking for signs. When we got to Addington Hospital, I could not believe the transformation. I was absolutely blown away by the work that has been done on it, and it definitely lifted my spirits a bit more about where we were going. We then passed a yellow shack on the beachfront, which I thought could be Surf Riders, which turned out to actually be Afro’s Chicken – another place Minette says that we HAVE to try. Next time, Min! Eventually we got to a much larger place that had a little Surf Riders sign hanging off the side of the building like a huge Billabong tag hanging off the side of a pair of board shorts. It looked awesome! I was so wrong. I was about to feel like a surfer girl chowing down on a delicious wholesome meal after an early morning filled with some “cooking” waves. Devin’s word, not mine. 😉

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So as we approach, I realise that what I thought was a double story restaurant is actually a Surf Shop atop the Surf Riders Food Shack restaurant. How awesome! It’s like a one stop shop, “chop” and dop for anyone interested in surfing, skating, bodyboarding, SUP (that’s short for stand up paddling – thanks for educating me Min!) or simply swimming and tanning, followed by some good company, food and drinks. They even offer a hire service for bicycles, go karts, stand up paddleboards, surfboards, bodyboards and skateboards. We had originally planned to rent bikes after breakfast, but since it was over 32°c in the shade at 9AM already, and the sweat was making it impossible to keep our shades on, we decided to take a rain check. Thank goodness for a slight breeze that occasionally blew through the restaurant.

We asked for a table outside in the sun but with the most amount of shade possible. Our waitress was able to manoeuvre one of those huge industrial umbrellas so that we could share the shade with the table next to us, but even that wasn’t enough and we eventually had to move to a more sheltered bench next to the wall. But of course, the sun moves, and when Minette was practically on Devin’s lap trying to escape the scorching rays, he decided to move the Umbrella around to give us more cover. Minutes later, that slight breeze I mentioned picks the umbrella up out of it’s weighted base almost smacking Devin in the face, and flings it into the middle of the restaurant luckily getting caught quite quickly by an extremely fast and surprisingly calm customer. Yikes! How that all happened with nobody getting hurt, no screams and no drinks being spilt, I have no idea, but turns out that the Durban beach air just rusts the screws that usually keep those umbrellas firmly planted to the ground. Hectic bru! The waiters were very sweet and apologetic.

But then it gets even more exciting. Devin and the waitress proceed to try and screw the umbrella back into the base by holding it diagonally and spinning it around and around at high speed, totally oblivious to Minette right behind them screeching “Devin! Devin!” over and over again while cowering up against the wall trying her damnedest to escape near death by circular saw. I probably should have been trying to help her, but in my defence, from my angle she was not in any danger and besides, this was probably the funniest scene I had witnessed in person in who knows how long! I called it my “Breakfast & a show”. For about 5 minutes after that both Devin and Minette were just pale-faced and in shock while I was absolutely wrecked and crying with laughter. This is one of the reasons I LOVE meeting up with Minette. Never a dull moment, and you always leave with a lighter heart and filled with laughter.

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But anyway, back to the food because this is supposed to be a restaurant review after all..

To start, Minette recommended the beetroot juice, which she warned me was VERY beetroot-y, but I ordered it anyway because I felt like something different. It was amazing! But if you aren’t a huge (and I mean huge) fan of beetroot, and having purple lips and teeth, then I wouldn’t recommend it. Minette describes it as having a distinctively earthy taste, and when you drink it, you feel like you are giving your body all the nutrients that it needs for the day. I would have to agree with her. After eating way too much Domino’s the night before, my body was definitely starting to feel happier with every sip.

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Devin had an orange & granadilla slush, and Craig had Sam’s Crazy Detox (with granadilla {they ran out of orange juice}, Celery & Mint) to help him with the never-ending hang over from the Gorillamas (Gorilla Xmas) Party & Colly’s surprise birthday party the weekend before.

Sadly, I can’t report that Craig made a miraculous full recovery after the detox juice, but he did really enjoy it. His exact words were “super tasty”. Devin seemed to really enjoy his too, looking very chuffed that he chose the iciest drink between us. No wonder he was looking the least parched.

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So I mentioned that Craig & I had indulged in Domino’s the previous night, all because if you register online, you get 50% off your first pizza ordered online, and we thought YOLO – Why not buy some more stuff with the money we saved. My body was hating me. I was obviously playing a game of how much dough can I fit inside me by consuming most of a cheesy jalapeño and bacon bread, followed by the chocolate decadence dessert (which is basically chocolate chunks baked into yes, you guessed it, another bread). Needless to say, I was not very hungry when it came time to order breakfast, but those cheese fries that have a warning on the menu of being extremely addictive, were hard to refuse. So I ordered some of that.

Now, I usually despise when restaurants drown chips in spices and sauces before you have a chance to decide if they really need a little something extra or not, but this was SO good! Imagine “slap” chips doused in cheese sauce surrounded by crispy crunchy golden wedges sprinkled with a sweet & salty emulsion of pizza topping & Japanese 5 spice – type flavours. Mmmm!

It was served wrapped in wax paper and in a little cardboard box, which was just SO cool. There’s something about eating chips this way instead of out of a bowl that is just so quaint and beachbum-like. I’ll go as far as to say Best chips in Durban!

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Minette and Devin have definitely become locals and both have their favourite, which was the same dish – the Breakfast Works. This is a sesame bun filled with two poached eggs & chorizo gravy baked in a pizza oven & topped with hollandaise sauce. You also have an option to supasize the flavour with some streaky smoked bacon or a portion of fries. This dish was so beautifully presented that you’d think we were having breakfast at a 5 star restaurant. You know when random placement of sliced radishes and watercress is not quite so random? And apparently it tastes just as good as it looks. I had a little taste of the chorizo gravy that I was so intrigued by and it was lovely. Kind of like a slightly spicy Napolitano sauce with chorizo bits cooked into it instead of mince. Minette recommends adding your extra poached egg to the top of your bun and breaking the yolk, letting it and the chorizo relish soak into the bun. She cautioned that it IS a rich dish but is a perfect portion size to give you a punchy start to a big day ahead.

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Craig ordered the Deluxe Dog, which is a crisp bacon-wrapped sausage topped with slow-cooked onions, piccalilli & the house cheese sauce. You are given the option to add chilli to spice things up if you dare. Craig passed on the extra heat, probably because he displayed enough Dutch Courage at the end of year parties. I’m a little bit embarrassed to say that I had to Google what Piccalilli was. I knew it was a relish, possibly onions that were sweetened and possibly pickled, and I was surprisingly close. Piccalilli is in fact an English relish, which can consist of a wide variety of chopped pickled vegetables & spices. Craig loved the combination of the salty crispy bacon (even though he obviously wouldn’t have said no to a few more pieces) and the sweet and sour piccalilli & gherkins, piled on top of the almost foot long sausage.

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Well, we were stuffed and left soon after to start our day with full bellies and a smile on our faces.

I will definitely be meeting them there again soon, perhaps next time for the Rider’s homemade ice-cream with caramel fudge sauce or biscuit-crunch, or maybe even a whey protein smoothie if I happen to still be stuffed from who knows..KFC the night before?

Thanks so much to Minette, Craig & Devin for their delightful company and for their contributions to the food reviews 🙂

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Restaurant review #2: Harvey’s

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I think for many people in Durban, Harvey’s is perceived as one of those ‘out of reach’ restaurants, one of those ‘don’t even think about it, it’s too expensive’ restaurants, and possibly one of those ‘God, can you imagine how pretentious it must be?’ restaurants. And hey, I’ll be the first one to put up my hand and say, that Harvey’s is one of the few restaurants left in Durban that I hadn’t already been to for most of those reasons. Don’t get me wrong, I don’t mind expensive restaurants, especially for special occasions, but for the above reasons, Harvey’s never seemed to be top of mind when we were deciding where to go out for dinner. I also don’t have a problem with getting glammed up every once in a while for fine dining, but I’ve been to pricey places where the best dressed feel out of place and the waiter (even though he earns so much less than you) is looking down his nose at you. But then I thought to myself, “Lauren, really, this is Durban, you’ve been dressed to the nines in a smart restaurant twice before in Durban and you sat next to customers dressed in their neon tracksuits and running shoes. So how snooty could Harvey’s really be?” And having spent an evening in a 2 Michelin Star restaurant in Rome (don’t worry, that story will come soon), and paid those prices, Harvey’s couldn’t possibly make our pockets feel lighter than that. Beside the point, my birthday was coming up and what a perfect excuse to get the hubby to take me there to see if our suspicions were well founded.

I checked out the menu online, as I always do before going out for dinner. Gotta be prepared. The first thing I get drawn in by is this beautifully styled photo of what looks like a prawn salad, then what looks like a dragon roll, then some kind of tuna steak and vegetable tartar. Oh my gosh! I’m hooked! Next I notice how many different menus they have. Eeeek! Exciting! So many choices! They have the a la carte menu, the café menu and the set menus each consisting of their own types of nibbles, gourmet burgers, canapé style dishes, pastas and incredibly complex and modern main meals. In January 2016, they are even introducing a Gourmet Tasting Menu. Totally going back for that!

As if they hadn’t already won me over, I see Fresh West Coast Oysters at the top of the starters list. How did they know??!! I had just been telling Craig that the smell of Tabasco on my fried egg was making me crave oysters like crazy. So off we went.

Obviously I had to get dolled up because it was my birthday, and because it was Harvey’s and because, hell, I’m thirty two now – how much longer am I gonna be able to wear outfits like this and still be able to semi-pull it off?

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We arrived and with totally anticipated professionalism we were greeted at the door and asked if we would like to have a drink at the bar first. Hell yes! Two very cool barman welcomed us in and suggested a few of their favourite cocktails, but we decided instead to try a Gin called Hendrick’s Gin that we had been wanting to buy a bottle of for quite some time now. Double Gin & tonic for two please. Go big or go home! (Psst..if you like gin, hey even if you don’t and you’re keen to try something new – Hendrick’s Gin is described as having a lovely but peculiar flavour, infused with rose and cucumber and made in a remote Scottish distillery – It’s good. Really good. Not convinced? Check out their quirky website http://www.hendricksgin.com)

I always find I’m a little bit nervous at new restaurants, a mix of anticipation, and excitement and fear of the unknown, who knows? But I think only people who love food and dining as much as me can really understand that feeling. The gin & tonic helped. We sat and chatted for a bit and admired Harry’s (Yes, not Harvey’s) Cocktail Bar. The whole one side is stacked up with black shelves filled with old books and trinkets and mirrors and skulls which is apparently a glimpse into the mind and a taste of the interests of the Owner, Andrew Draper. Sometimes very dark, but very cool and mysterious maybe? For the summer evenings, they have an outdoor area as well which I would imagine comes standard with one of those scary looking bouncers guarding the velvet rope. Fancy!

We were then escorted to our dinner table through the main dining area, which again was adorned by dark shelves up to the ceiling filled with antiques and huge mirrors and kitch-collectables. Above us hung the hugest crystal chandelier I have ever seen, which combined with the overall lighting and décor, really made me feel like we had been invited to a dinner party in the 1920s or 30s. How awesome!

The next thing I noticed, and yes I know this is weird, was when I sat down, I felt like I was just the right height above the table. Only short people will understand this, but how often do you go to a restaurant and sit down and feel like the table is just that little bit too high and your arms are permanently in unnatural positions trying to coordinate knife and fork movements, while subsequently trying to avoid knocking your elbows against the top of the table? Kind of making you look like you are doing a slow-mo chicken dance. No? No idea what I’m talking about? OK, well it’s just me then. But my point is that it’s the little things like that – putting thought into table to seat height and customer comfort – that can take your overall dining enjoyment from average to great.

Our waitress was super friendly and chilled and a breathe of fresh air really. She could tell us what her favourites were and explain any detail of a dish to you. I always need to know how my Duck breast is going to be cooked, so these kinds of waiters are my fave. So fussy. I know, right?!

We had a huge wine list to choose from, and having spotted our bewilderment, our waitress asked if we would like to step into the Wine Cellar to select a wine. Why not? It wasn’t a massive wine cellar/ fridge but it was still quite a huge selection, and it’s pretty cool being able to walk into a room and select something based on appearance and label, and not have your choice skewed by the price. It reminds me of a restaurant in Cape Town called the Famous Butchers Club. If you wanted steak as your main meal, you were ushered to the butcher’s block and fridges to select a piece of meat based on maturity and appearance and then you requested an exact grammage. The butcher could provide you with the exact weight without even needing to place it on the scale (But of course they did, just to show you how good they were) Having a say in everything and have many choices makes you feel very important doesn’t it? And in a world where we can often be made to feel insignificant and like just another employee number, I really don’t mind paying a little bit extra in a restaurant to be treated as a VIP.

After going for an old faithful, Hartenberg Merlot, we returned to our seats and ordered 4 West Coast Oysters, served with a red wine and shallot vinaigrette; chicken livers in a garlic & thyme butter on a parmesan polenta crouton with roasted garlic puree and napped with a port and chilli jus; and grilled garlic prawns served with avo, lime & basil panna cotta and a light tomato jelly salsa. Ya, that was only the starters!

The oysters were lovely! Just what I was needed. No grainy bits and the perfect fresh but slightly salty taste of the ocean. The chefs even go to the effort of detaching the oyster from the shell for you, but leaving it in the shell, ready to just slide down your throat! All that salty, squishy oyster needed was a squeeze of sour lemon, a few drops of hot Tabasco, and a little bit of that acidic, crunchy shallot vinaigrette.

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Craig loves chicken livers but usually they come in some hot sauce, which to him is the perfect accompaniment. So he was a bit hesitant about ordering a dish that had no hot sauce and instead, some unusual flavours. But I convinced him to take a chance. It’s Harvey’s right? It’s gotta be good! He didn’t regret it. And neither did I (from the little taste I got). The flavour combinations of the iron-rich, meaty, pink centred liver, the garlic & thyme butter and the port & chili jus was just delicious! And don’t even get me started on that Parmesan polenta crouton. Crunchy yumminess! And flavour! Mmmm..mmm.. This dish really hero’d the liver where other dishes have such intense flavour in their sauce that you can barely taste the actual liver. The liver is also usually cooked right through. These livers were A grade quality, cooked to perfection, and very lightly complimented by the other flavours on the plate. Craig said that the chilli could have maybe had a bit more of a bite, but otherwise it was amazing.

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My starter was recommended by the waitress, but I definitely had my eye on it before she even mentioned it was her favourite. I’m so intrigued by dishes that incorporate a dessert element into a starter, or looks like breakfast, but is actually a dessert. Panna cotta & jelly as a starter? Yes, please! The only thing holding me back was the prawns. Often prawns are overcooked and tasteless in restaurant dishes, either because it sat too long waiting for the waiter to collect it, or the sauce was too hot so the prawns continued cooking on the way to the table, or the chef just wasn’t skilled or experienced enough to cook them right. Not at Harvey’s! But wait. There’s more. This dish was not only tasty, it was beautifully presented too. It looked like a seafood salad extravaganza with zesty tomato jelly salsa complimented perfectly by a sweet soft avo, lime & basil panna cotta hiding underneath.

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The starters were pretty big portions combined with the oysters, which those who are big on value for money will really appreciate. I hardly had space for mains, but the food was so good, I HAD to carry on. And how long would it be until we went back to Harvey’s? Make space tummy!

For mains, Craig had the Seared Venison Fillet in teriyaki and encrusted in sesame seeds. This was served on a potato & beetroot rosti with a soy & ginger reduction and crowned with wasabi and sake butter. The Venison of the day was Eland, which we had never had before. Yay – new stuff! He was advised not to order the meat any more well done than medium rare because the game meat had no fat whatsoever, so could easily dry out. When I asked Craig what he thought of his main meal, he said “One word – phenomenal” He was so happy that the waitress steered him towards rare because it was perfectly juicy and he would have been bummed with it cooked any other way. He said that this dish is one of the few that he will tell people about for years to come, and would make him go back to Harvey’s. The only thing he said he didn’t like was the excess of sesame seeds in the crust and that two potato and beetroot rostis smothered in wasabi & sake butter was waaay too few for his liking. He could have eaten a whole plate of those!

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I HAD to order the duck. I would not forgive myself otherwise. I’m a huge duck fan. But I also have mastered the art of making a perfectly crispy seared duck breast at home, so my standards are very high. I’ve also had very average duck leg confit in restaurants before so here goes. The dish was a Slow Cured Duck Confit and Roasted Duck Breast with a lime & basil aioli on a spiced pepper & raspberry puree, garlic wilted greens and confit baby onions. Stunning. In presentation and taste. Masterchef said smears were so last season. Not in my books. The leg meat just fell off the bone and the duck breast was just how I like it, crispy on the outside and slightly pink still on the inside. Gorgeous! The only thing I felt like I needed to balance out the flavours is a little bit more sweetness. I’m used to having my duck with hoisin sauce or orange sauce so I’d maybe up the raspberry intensity. I only managed to eat half of my meal because I was so stuffed from starters. No worries. There’s always lunch tomorrow. And it was good. All. Over. Again.

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You can never be too stuffed for dessert though right? Especially when you see what they have on offer. They have the warm winter comfort options of Chelsea Bread & Butter Pudding infused with apricots and bitter orange marmalade served with spicy cinnamon ice-cream and Crème Brulee with a decadent crème fraiche, ginger & rhubarb ice-cream. Then they have the cool summer refreshments of homemade sorbet and their signature chocolate mousse ice creams. It was hard. But we chose. And it got even more exciting when the waitress told me that I didn’t have to choose between the 3 chocolate mousse ice-cream flavours. I could have them all. Happy Birthday me! And then they even brought it to me on a plate rimmed with happy birthday written in chocolate sauce (the waitress overheard Craig telling me the wine was my choice because it was my birthday – so thoughtful of them!).

The chocolate mousse ice-cream flavours were roasted white chocolate & lavender, milk chocolate with pralinettes & dried pear, and dark chocolate with nutmeg and ginger. O. M. G. I have never tasted anything quite like it. I can’t even explain what the mid-way mark between ice cream and chocolate mousse feels like rolling onto your tongue and melting in your mouth or the complexity of those sweet and savoury flavours. You actually just have to get yourself to Harvey’s to test this for yourself. You owe it to your mouth. Seriously. I don’t think I’ve ever sent such high praises to pastry chefs the way I did that night, because they really outdid themselves.

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When Craig asked what the sorbet flavours of the day were, the waitress cautioned us that the texture of their sorbet is quite different to what we are used to, but that the one scoop would be prickly pear, freshly picked from one of the waiter’s gardens and was guaranteed to be tasty. The other flavours were lime and passion fruit. Wow! Refreshing beyond words. The sour flavours, icy temperatures and gooey textures accompanied by the sweetness of the strawberry bits and the palate cleansing bursts of the mint were just incredible.

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I couldn’t have asked for a better end to the evening, nor a better way to spend my birthday dinner. Thank you Harvey’s for making us feel so special, and for all the creativity that your pour into your food. From only one night and 7 of their dishes, we understood why they have won Best Restaurant in Natal International Wine & Food Society for 13 years and the SA Top 10 American Express award for excellence for 15 consecutive years. Don’t trust me? Trust that!

Harvey’s does not over-promise and under-deliver. They do the exact opposite when you think of the all the possible misconceptions of a fine dining restaurant. If you have some extra cash to spend, and it’s a special occasion, spend it here. Their atmosphere is so relaxed and welcoming and waiters are not too stuck up to treat you like a guest of honour, but at the same time as one of the family. Their plating up demonstrates that they are more than just great cooks, that they are artists too. They treat each dish with the respect and passion you would award a painting you plan on giving the person you admire the most in the world or whose opinion you hold in the highest regard. Keep it up Harvey’s. We will definitely be back, that’s for sure.

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The Bill / The end

Restaurant review #1: The Green Parrot

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One of my absolute favourite restaurants in Durban is the Wok Box, and during one of our many dining experiences there, we noticed a new restaurant opening next door. New restaurants always excite my husband, Craig and I, because for a long time we felt like we had no choice but to keep booking at the same old restaurants every time we needed a night off. The industry just didn’t seem to be booming. But it is now. Especially in Mackeurtan Avenue. Good news for Foodies!

It’s called the Green Parrot. Same owners and same kitchen as the Wok Box. Now we’re really interested! What kind of food do they cook? Will they have the same high standards as Wok Box? Will it satisfy an insatiable appetite? They serve Japanese. But not your average Japanese, let me assure you. I’ve never seen the word charcoal appear on any other Japanese restaurant menu. Next restaurant on the “must attend” list – Green Parrot.

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So, last Friday night was one of those nights when you’re wondering why you agreed to go out for dinner because you just cannot get out of work mode and feel exhausted before the sun has even set. But after taking our seats for the first time at the Green Parrot, and being welcomed by our very friendly waitress, Thando, we soon relaxed into some bamboo steamed sake. I was really happy we didn’t settle for “Take Out Friday”. And the night only got better.

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We followed the sake with some La Capra Merlot. My favourite! Let the weekend begin!

We kicked off our meal with some pot stickers: Minced pork with water chestnut, Asian mushroom and coriander root, in an open wonton wrapper, then lightly fried and served with Kikkoman soy sauce. We supplemented this with shredded crispy duck, seasoned with pickled plum and chilli oil and wrapped in egg wonton wrappers, served with BBQ hoisin sauce. These came with a side of sweet pickled cabbage and carrot slaw. That stuff is addictive! Both dishes had deliciously intense flavours, too complex to even identify one of the ingredients. This medley of sweet, sour, hot, but not too hot, was perfectly complimented by the texture of either a crispy, golden dumpling wrapper or a chewy, slightly charred pastry. A Mouth-watering start!

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For mains, the Green Parrot has an extensive menu consisting of teriyaki this and charcoal grilled that. All sounded amazing. But they also have a specials board, which made it even more difficult to make a choice. I had pretty much made my mind up to get one of two dishes off the Specials menu, and Craig was keen on one of those too, so we agreed that he would order the Crispy Pork Belly, and I would order the Tuna & Calamari dish, and we would be kind enough to give each other a few tastes. I was a bit sceptical about my dish as I had never seen seared tuna and calamari combined on a menu before, (plus I make a mean seared tuna so it’s hard to beat that) but boy, was I happy I took a leap of faith.

I asked for my seared tuna to be very pink, and even though it arrived engulfed by a bed of squid and calamari, in danger of overcooking, it was surprisingly charred just the way I like it. Charcoal seared, Japanese five spice tuna, with crispy baby squid tentacles and calamari tubes, atop skinny egg noodles exceeded my expectations! It had just the right amount of flavour to still allow you to taste the freshness and gamey-ness (I know that’s not a word) of the tuna. It was hot, but not the overbearing hot, that addictive kind of hot. The plain but tasty noodles, and more of that coleslaw, balanced the bang of flavour from the five spices so perfectly, soothing my tongue with each mouthful. And for those who love getting their money’s worth, the portion was big enough for me to take some home for lunch the next day – lucky me!

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Craig’s dish was also delicious. Crispy pork belly pieces dipped in tempura batter and deep-fried, drizzled with chilli caramel sauce, and tossed in stir-fry veggies with a side of yup, that yummy coleslaw. I don’t know how they managed to keep the pork belly so crispy in that chilli caramel juicy goodness, but whatever they’re doing, they’re doing it right. Nothing worse than looking forward to crackling and getting soggy or leathery fat instead. (First world problems, right?)

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I was super stuffed but Craig was keen to order the chocolate lava cake that we tried last time we were at Wok Box. Thankfully you can order from both restaurants irrespective of where you sit. Bonus! But sadly they were sold out so we settled for a Mississippi mud pie. I shouldn’t actually use it’s name and the word “settled” in the same sentence because man, was it decadent! A top layer of double cream and a bottom layer of dense, moist dark chocolate cake, sandwiched a gorgeous layer of chocolate mousse come dark chocolate dessert. Mmmm..mmm..mm.

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We didn’t want to leave we were enjoying ourselves so much, but since we were the last customers in the restaurant and the staff were probably itching to get home and watch the RWC semi-finals, we got the bill and quickly got some photos with the mastermind behind our incredible dishes, Chef Vinay and the friendly staff, Thando and Gift. What a lovely bunch of people and what unique, delicious dishes! I can’t wait to go back!

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You can check out the Green Parrot at https://www.facebook.com/Green-Parrot-1608663312681510/ Enjoy!