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Saturday, August 20, 2022

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After the storms, a feast of offerings

Chicken livers and spicy calamari tentacles from the Bush Tavern.

Chicken livers and spicy calamari tentacles from the Bush Tavern.

Published Jul 2, 2022

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The beaches have been cleaned, the roads fixed (some parts need to be tarred), and the mud cleaned up. The giant landslides that scarred the resort town are being filled. eMdloti is quickly picking itself up after the devastating double whammy of storms that wreaked havoc with its infrastructure and many livelihoods.

And its restaurants are open and ready to welcome customers, old and new.

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With the winter holiday season upon us, the Glass Guy and I thought we’d restaurant-hop between eMdloti’s many fine establishments and take in the wonderful views of the sea. Something a little different this week.

There’s an old adage in Durban that the better the view, the worse the food. But this has never applied to eMdloti. In fact, the one thing we found from our afternoon was that the food was universally better than average. Every restaurant surprised us in some way with its food quality and menu offerings.

The other good thing is that the service was not just efficient and adequate but friendly and welcoming. It might have differed widely in style ‒ from the casual “hey, bro” at the Bush Tavern which is the local pub, to the polished excellence of the upmarket Bel Punto. It was our waitress who suggested we try the tipsy lemonade rather than another gin and tonic. Staff wanted you to enjoy your meal to the fullest.

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(Oscar don’t have to use all the pictures, but try keep one from each spot - thanks) Carrot Cake at Caffe Java.
Spinach and feta phyllo pie with a salad with heirloom tomatoes at Caffe Java.

We started at Caffe ((CORR)) Java (open daily 7am to 5pm), a comfy coffee shop with our waitress proudly telling us their breakfast was available all day. It’s a substantial collection of ways with eggs but also includes the likes of raisin bread French toast with banana and bacon, and items as light as avo on toast. Lunch offers a sarmies ‒ open, closed and toasties ‒ or wraps or salads. There’s also classic fish and chips with mushy peas, some curries, pizzas and burgers.

The Glass Guy had seen this mile-high, triple-decker carrot cake (R65) under a glass dome on the central display and wanted that. It was a good choice, deliciously moist, not overly sweet and with a generous touch of spice. I was more than happy to finish it for dinner later that evening. I spotted mini phyllo spinach pies (R75) also proudly on display. This was another treat, with a slight hint of chilli lifting it and a lovely crisp phyllo casing. It also came with a very pretty salad that included heirloom tomatoes and red onion rings.

Sushi platter at Mundo Vida. Picture: Supplied

We enjoyed our coffees served on a little board with a hole cut out for the cup and the biscuit, which was a homely little sugar-coated cookie that reminded one of grandma’s baking. My cappuccino (R35), which was perhaps more of a latte than a true cappuccino, was enjoyable.

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Next stop was the Bush Tavern (open daily from 11am to 11pm), where out waiter soon had the gin and tonics at the ready while we sat out on the deck taking in a little sun.

Brinjals stuffed with feta and olives, and a tipsy lemondate at Tasca.

Here, the vast pub menu takes in classics like bangers and mash; steak, egg and chips; fish and chips or chicken schnitzels. There’s a selection of very reasonably priced home-made burgers, some pizzas and a selection of steaks and a chicken peri-peri flattie.

We decided to try their home-made peri-peri on the chicken livers (R59) which were served with two little brioche-style bread rolls. These were nicely cooked, the peri-peri hot but authentic with plenty of garlic. We happily mopped up all the juices. We also enjoyed the calamari tentacles (R77). The menu advised us to go for the spicy option. It was mostly pepper but it lifted the nice crisp bitefulls dunked in a good tartar sauce.

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We popped next door to Mundo Vida (open Sunday and Monday noon to 5pm, Wednesday to Saturday noon to 10pm). This has always been one of my favourites in Durban. The classic moules meuniere in white wine, garlic, butter and parsley is always worth trying. As is the calamari for that Singapore dipping sauce.

A small (23cm) Vespa pizza with olives, anchovies and capers.

I invariably end up enjoying the fresh line fish or a piece of Norwegian salmon, cooked a variety of ways, while a full selection of steaks and grills completes the picture. The duck in sour cherry jus is memorable.

The restaurant also offers a good value lunch special (except Sundays) with a three-course meal at R225 and some excellent wine specials.

Prawn soup with a crispy Portuguese roll.

With a new sushi chef, we tried a couple of items off the sushi menu, although a range of platters make for fun starter options for a table to share. The prawn rainbow roll (R70) and salmon roses (R120) were about all we could manage. Both were top notch and beautifully presented.

Seared tuna salad with green beans, cherry tomatoes, red onion and soft boiled egg at SandBar.

Tasca (open daily 10am to 10pm) is a pizza bar that spills out onto a terrace with wonderful views of the sea. It also offers a few homely Italian pastas and a range of specials, on this day a paella for two which sounded marvellous, but we were nearly full. It was here where our waitress recommended the tipsy lemonade (R65), a home-made lemonade with gin and bitters and fruit and finely crushed ice that gave it a decidedly dangerous slush puppy feel. You wouldn’t want to smash too many of those.

I enjoyed the big bowl of prawn soup (R89), cooked in the Italian style with tomatoes and garlic and served with a light, crisp Portuguese roll. The Glass Guy’s brinjal parcels (R75) stuffed with feta and olives and dusted generously with Parmesan were delicious, but incredibly rich. He had more than half the portion for dinner stuffed into a pita.

Cherries flamed in brandy and tiramisu at Bel Punto.

And we had to try a pizza. Here pizzas come in three sizes: large, medium and small. Our baby Vespa (R98) topped with the classic anchovies, capers and olives was one of the better pizzas I’d had in a while. The base is super thin and beautifully crisp. For those wanting more of a pizza adventure there are options like Camembert, artichokes and sundried tomatoes, or Parma ham and figs. The prawn and prosciutto pasta looked good.

As we finished the tipsys, we watched the many trucks coming past with sand and filler to deal with the massive landslide that is just around the corner. Work is fast coming to completion. Looking at this massive gash in the landscape you realise how frightening those two storms were.

Veal limone at Bel Punto.

Next door to Tasca is the Sandbar (open noon to 10pm daily), but by now we couldn’t eat another thing. We recalled a recent meal there where a simple tuna salad had exceeded all expectations. This was a piece of seared tuna, sliced on a bed of interesting leaves with boiled eggs, olives and green beans with a home-made dressing, giving it a real Nicoise feeling. Besides an array of exciting cocktails, the Sandbar is known for its delightfully messy gourmet burgers and its pork loin ribs.

After walking off the food for a bit, could we squeeze in dessert, without having that Monty Python, after-dinner mint feeling? Yes, we decided, and stopped at Bel Punto (open daily noon to 10pm).

This upmarket bistro has always offered authentic Italian food with flair, specialising in seafood. In fact the day before the first floods, I had had a memorable meal there with a wonderfully rich Italian seafood soup, and a simple plate of veal limone served with buttered linguine. Sometimes simple is the best.

But I’d never had dessert here, only a decent double espresso (R35). The Glass Guy enjoyed a good, light tiramisu (R99) served with a good hint of booze and coffee (although his is even boozier) while I relished the poached cherries flamed in brandy and served with vanilla ice-cream (R149).

We practically rolled out to the car and up the hill afterwards.

Obviously we couldn’t sample all the village’s restaurants. The Pizza Nostra, the casual offshoot from Bel Punto is worth a visit as is The Beach Shack and a coffee shop called Foam. eMdloti has some fine spots, and now more than ever, the village needs our support.

The Independent on Saturday

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