Durbanites have every reason to be smug. Not only does their city average around 320 days of sunshine a year (winter, what winter?), the local food scene is evolving rapidly thanks to the eclectic – and notoriously fickle – creative mix of people who choose to call it home. Visitors are advised to arrive ravenous and relish the spoils.
1. Mutton vindaloo at Palki
Locals love this comfy, owner-run restaurant on the Berea for its menu of authentic dishes from north and south India, with a dash of Indo-Chinese. The legendary melt-in-the-mouth mutton vindaloo served with rotis will turn you into a regular. Prepare for a sensual experience: the visual wow-factor, the mouthwatering aromas, then that spicy, addictive flavour.
2. CHICKEN CAFREAL AT BERTOUA
Big meat, big seafood, the sophisticated lounge atmosphere and premium whisky selection are among the reasons people flock to this Musgrave Road bar-cum-eatery, where you’re welcome to eat and drink until 2 am. Perfect late-night sustenance is the succulent chicken cafreal: half a corn-fed, deboned bird marinated in garlic, herbs, coconut milk, lime and chilli and flame grilled, served with sweet potato mash.
3. A wholesome breakfast at Sprigs
Sprigs is a destination unto itself for many Durban foodies who will make the great trek “up the hill” to Kloof to shop in Clare and Fiona Ras’s bountiful deli. The creative breakfast menu constantly evolves, so get ready to be surprised. How about soaked quinoa oats served with fresh peaches, raspberries and home-made buckwheat granola? Or start your day with two poached eggs on toast with smoked salmon, pesto, cream cheese and roasted cherry tomatoes. Yes, please!
4. The Angelo pasta at Old Town Italy
Quality is the buzzword at this super-popular, high-end Umhlanga Ridge deli-restaurant-bakery. Everything that can be is sourced from Italy and the fresh ingredients are mostly local, artisanal and organic. Try the signature creamy Angelo pasta (spaghetti with bacon, baby marrow, spring onion, garlic and Grana Padano). But be warned, you’ll find it impossible to resist pastry chef Venessa Smith’s version of the New York cronut – what she calls a conut – injected with vanilla custard and topped with chocolate ganache over caramel and crowned with Bar One bites.
5. THE VALRHONA CHOCOLATE BALL AT THE GRILL JICHANA
This stylish Elangeni hotel beachfront restaurant is renowned for its volcanic rock grill and dishes such as ostrich and Midlands duck. But the major drawcard, according to executive chef Shaun Munro, is the Valrhona chocolate ball containing white, dark and milk chocolate mousse – perfect for sharing. When the waiter pours over the hot Valrhona chocolate sauce at the table, the firm, chilled exterior melts and all five chocolate elements blend into a luscious, memorable dessert.
6. The corn taco de pollo at Four15
Inspired by the ambience and flavours of San Francisco’s Mission District, this newbie on the MacKeurtan Avenue food strip has all the burrito, quesadilla and fajita dishes you’re likely to find there – and more. The colourful interior and attention to detail are as much a magnet as the food. The fun bar area draws the crowds with cocktails and craft beers, while the salsa wagon will entice. When you’re sipping your margarita, bite into a hard-shell corn taco de pollo (grilled chicken). Salud!
7. Seared Norwegian salmon at Mundo Vida
Ocean views, seasonal specials, locally sourced ingredients, freshly caught fish, langoustines from Mozambique – and a scenic coastal drive to Umdloti to whet the appetite. This is refined casual dining at its best. People come from near and far for chef Duke Garratty’s famous seared fresh Norwegian salmon with its almond crust, served with sweet potato mash and Tenderstem broccoli, drizzled with a soya beurre blanc sauce.
8. DUCK LEG CONFIT AT 9TH AVENUE BISTRO
This fine-dining bistro’s location in the Avonmore Centre in Morningside may lack allure but that’s more than made up for by the combined talents of British hunter-gatherer chef Charlie Lakin (The Great British Menu seasons 7 and 8) and Graham Neilson in the kitchen. The incredible organic duck leg confit comes with a pine-needle sauce, pickled wild plums, acorn brioche and, for decoration, roast carrot and acorn purée.
9. ARTISANAL BREAD AT GLENWOOD BAKERY
The “signature” here is the stoneground loaves baked by Adam Robinson (who, in his former life as a chef-restaurateur in England, was called “one of the most engaging exponents of modern British cookery” by The New York Times). He conjures up six breads every day, from sourdough to lavash and bagels. The free-range (Hope Meats) chicken and pancetta sandwich with house-made aïoli served on ciabatta is delicious – order it with a cup of their excellent coffee.
10. CRISPY PORK BELLY (AND A COCKTAIL) AT THE GREEDY BUDDHA
The new cocktail bar at this vibey Asian-fusion eatery might overlook Gateway shopping mall, but it feels like a restful oasis. The crispy pork belly with a smokey potato purée has just the right crunch on the outside and is melt-in-the-mouth perfection on the inside. Try it with a Tom Yum Siam cocktail (litchi purée, Malibu, vodka and a hint of chilli). Or, if you’re feeling virtuous, the Arizona sunset version (with orange juice and grenadine) is a refreshing mocktail alternative.
Photographs: Clinton Friedman | Text: Wanda Hennig