A new bird starting to fly

Pork belly with crispy crackling, mash and bacon sauce.

Pork belly with crispy crackling, mash and bacon sauce.

Published Oct 14, 2023


Crane & Feathers

Where: Oceans Mall, Lagoon Drive, uMhlanga

Open: Daily noon to midnight

Call: 031 648 0780

Food writer Ingrid Shevlin discovered a new restaurant we had both missed. It was one of a handful of Durban restaurants participating in Restaurant Week, and so we made the trip to the new Oceans Mall for Sunday lunch at Crane & Feathers.

It’s in that area of the mall that spills out onto an open courtyard, and next to RocoMamas. The wind is howling and outside is unpleasant, but on a nice day it could be a great people-watching space. We’re welcomed by a beautiful hostess and soon shown a table. Our waiter I recognise from another of Durban’s top establishments. Service is friendly and polished.

Chicken dumplings in a soy-based sauce with chilli and lemon.

It’s a smart, modern restaurant although as Ingrid and I chat, we conclude it’s probably been designed by committee, where everyone’s must-have feature item is on display, creating a veritable riot of oddities. From the dark blue and black-veined mock marble tables to the clusters of flying cranes on the dark blue walls to the lit-up glass artwork of cranes flying around the sun along one wall, it certainly creates talking points.

The chairbacks look like puffer jackets, the bar stools are upholstered in a shaggy off-white fabric that looks like a ’70s flokati rug and there are giant leopard print cushions on the deep blue banquettes that are so large you can’t use them and sit at the same time. The carpet is a blue leopard skin print, and naturally the chandeliers are made from feathers, although probably ostrich. There’s a semi-private dining area surrounded by blue-patterned curtains under what looks like a safari tent canopy.

Perhaps the most disconcerting thing is the mirror tiles on the ceiling. So ladies, be warned: perhaps that super low-cut dress is not the best outfit to wear here.

Duck breast with sweet potato gnocchi, kataifi wheel and red wine jus.

The website boasts that Crane & Feathers is fusion cuisine with contemporary flair, and the small menu certainly picks that up, offering a number of Asian takes and some more unusual meat offerings. It’s augmented by an additional menu ‒ presumably a list of weekly specials, and a small sushi menu.

Ingrid groans. “Why does everyone feel they have to offer a sushi menu?” she asks. Especially as it needs specialist sushi chefs if it’s to be made properly and fresh.

Starters include spicy prawn and chorizo with hummus, tomatoes and minted yoghurt. There are Camembert croquettes and chicken livers in a creamy harissa sauce, while the salmon tataki with Asian slaw and soy orange dressing looks interesting, although at a hefty tag of R165.

Ingrid opts for a special of chicken dumplings (R125), some of the best we’ve had in a while. The dumplings have none of the usual things that mar them ‒ being either glutinous or too chewy ‒ and are packed with flavour. They come with a very good soy-based dipping sauce that has a nice spike of chilli and lemon.

Beef tongue on cauliflower purée with onion petals and pepper sauce.

My beef tongue (R110) on cauliflower purée with onion petals and pepper sauce is enjoyable. It’s topped with good crispy onions, or possibly leeks. Personally I don’t think it needed the pepper sauce, although it’s a good one, and would perhaps benefit from a German or French mustard sauce. Certainly there’s talent in the kitchen.

Mains might include Norwegian salmon, grilled prawns or fish of the day ‒ today, Cape salmon ‒ and there’s a seafood platter. Kingklip and crayfish feature. Signature dishes include beef short rib on a mushroom samp risotto, or a duo of lamb, both the loin and shoulder, with potato pavé, or oxtail and mash. There are steaks, although both the rib-eye and tomahawks are SQ.

Vegetarians can look forward to spinach tagliatelle with basil pesto and Parmesan, or vegetable risotto, or – and Ingrid and I both shudder – black peppercorn tofu with artichokes.

Crème brûlée

Ingrid chooses the duck with sweet potato gnocchi, wagyu chorizo dust, kataifi wheel (shredded pastry), squash and port jus (R275) which she enjoys. The sweet potato gnocchi is on the heavy side.

On my pork belly (R225) with vegetables and bacon sauce, I ask for the bulgar wheat to be replaced with mash. It’s an enormous portion but comes with a lovely layer of really good crackling. The meat is meltingly tender. I enjoy the bacon sauce, although again a pork jus would probably improve the dish. We both think that one broccoli floret, three slices of radish and three butternut blobs, which are cold, do not really constitute vegetables. Three small pieces of roasted beetroot help.

Dessert is basically a choice of chocolate fondant or crème brûlée, or cake of the day which is chocolate brownies, although these are still in the oven. We shares the brûlée (R105) which is lovely, although Ingrid wonders why they didn’t put the same effort into a home-made ice cream, rather than its shop-bought accompaniment.

The coffee is good, and served in the prettiest of espresso cups.

Food: 3 ½

Service: 4

Ambience: 3 ½

The Bill: R1 082.40 including a compulsory 10% service charge. There was no wine

The Independent on Saturday