Don Wilkinson is one of the most experienced and able restaurateurs this province has ever seen.
It is, invariably, a pleasure to eat at his MUNDO VIDA in Umdloti and, given the excuse of a looming restaurant guide and a sunny day, we leapt at the chance.
This is, after all, not a special occasion venue, with prices within the standard range and a relaxed vibe when sitting on the terrace, looking at the sea.
Of particular interest to the budget-conscious (which means most people) is a lunch menu at R110 for two courses, R135 for three.
Two of us went that route, with starters of Vietnamese-style chicken and beef satay served with chicken wontons and a dipping sauce, and peri-peri chicken livers in a creamy tomato sauce. Both were good, the livers cooked very gently, as requested.
Options would have been a Greek salad or focaccia, with mains including grilled calamari or prawns, which were flying out the door.
We picked sirloin steak with herb butter and peri-peri chicken. Don’s steak are always good, and this was no exception. He is equally known for the Mozambican-style chicken, but on this occasion it was a touch dry.
No fault though with the only dessert of the day, a textbook crème brûlée from the R135 menu.
On the main menu, starters include Cajun prawns on matchstick fries, mussels with white wine, garlic and parsley, prawns baked with either a roquefort, mushroom or creamy tomato sauce, and spinach and feta panzerotti.
A local says she always goes there for the carpaccio, and I find it difficult to get away from the salt and pepper calamari, which is crisp and well-seasoned, perfectly teamed with a crunchy Asian salad and “tom yum aioli”. It works.
But this time we tried vegetable tempura and a Caesar salad.
The vegetables were encased in a perfectly insubstantial batter which should be a benchmark for most restaurants attempting the genre. And the crisply fried spinach on the plate was so addictive we ordered another plate as a side dish.
The salad was topped with a poached egg, strips of Grana Padano and, a little oddly, crispy bacon. It went down well with the person who ordered it, but I think I’d rather head for the Thai-style Beach Garden salad, which is based on the crispy spinach and topped with beef, prawns and calamari.
I have really enjoyed that in the past.
In recent years Don has moved emphasis away from the seafood and game dishes that made him famous – although they are still well-represented on the menu – and turned to the east for inspiration.
And he has done so deftly, not venturing into (con)fusion, but staying true to eastern flavours.
Apart from the Beach Garden salad, dishes include Thai green curry mussels with egg noodles, chilli beef with basil, Pad Thai (prawn noodles) and stir-fried chicken with cashew nuts.
We tried the last, and it was enjoyable, with well-balanced flavours and textures, but didn’t really feature compared with our fourth order.
Don is one of the few local restaurateurs to source fresh fish, and three varieties were on offer the day we lunched.
Liking soft, white fish, I went for filleted red roman in a crumb casing, with jalapeno aioli, and it was memorable.
With hindsight, though, Mundo Vida’s great matchstick fries would have been a better accompaniment than noodles with courgettes, and that might be something to remember.
Don’s spell owning Gina’s in Sunningdale saw his expertise with pizza and pasta extended, and he still serves wood-fired focaccia, pizzas with a touch of class and pasta.
His famous steamed langoustines with a soy beurre blanc are good sellers, even at R350 a portion, as is calamari in a creamy sauce with lemon and chilli.
Among steaks, rib eye with port and truffle jus and Café de Paris butter would most excite me, and the slow-roast pork neck with mustard mash is ideal food for a cool day.
Which might constitute reason to get back to Mundo Vida soon.
Prices: Starters R42 to R75; main courses R59 to R350.
Opening hours: Monday to Sunday lunch, Monday to Saturday dinner.
Telephone: 031 568 2286.
It was sad to hear of the death this week of legendary restaurateur Enrico Ferrari of Villa d’Este fame.
Enrico had been sick for a while, but still spent much of the week cooking at Al Firenze in Glenashley – and passing on some of his expertise to another generation.
He was a larger than life character, mercurial, passionate and talented, a cook of the old school.
His death – after that of another legend, Christina Martin, earlier this year – leaves the restaurant world that much poorer.