Great cocktails, although a beef about the pork
The Chefs' Table
Where: Protea Mall, 1 Chartwell Drive, uMhlanga
Open: Monday to Saturday noon to 2.30pm, 5.30pm to 10.30pm
Call: 031 001 0200 (correct)
A cheffy friend was up from Cape Town, here to visit his mom and hook up with old mates, and so we both wanted to enjoy a meal at the Chefs’ Table.
I hadn't been since lockdown, apart from a superb takeout lunch they did for Father’s Day this year, and he, a veteran of the Test Kitchen and La Petite Colombe, wanted to see what Durban had to offer.
It was also a chance to taste the food of new head chef Matthew Armbruster who took over the kitchen just before lockdown started.
I’ve always liked the restaurant.
It’s stylish, and smart, yet quirky and unconventional and still feels remarkably casual for a fine dining experience.
Service too is impeccable.
On arrival we asked our waitress to choose for us one of their signature gin cocktails. Her choice was spot on. I got one with strawberries and basil, my friend with cucumber and ginger. Both went down way too well.
It’s a fine dining menu – with prices to match.
Starts could include fresh oysters with plum gazpacho, pickled red onion and parsley, or a canneloni of confit duck, shiitake mushrooms, apple, and celery in an umami broth.
There’s a prawn risotto with pancetta, confit tomato and parsley and for those terrified by a fancy menu, a more conventional crispy squid with a mint and lemongrass yoghurt dipping sauce.
Vegetarians might enjoy the sweetcorn agnolotti – a folded ravioli – with basil, mange tout and Parmasan brodo – a broth. Vegetarian options are unfortunately limited to two starters and two mains. And I would baulk a little at paying R185 for a dish of baby gem squash, spinach farfalle, smoked camembert, artichoke and ginger.
We opted to try the other vegetarian starter of woodfired heirloom carrot with home-made pasta, tartare, crisp and carrot consommé (R85).
This was enjoyable without being exceptional, and lacked any real punch in the broth. Had it been served with a spoon we might have got a better taste of it. It certainly looked pretty.
The other starter was venison loin (R110) with mielie pap, onion, quail egg, beef crisp. There were two treatments of onion, one pickled and overly sharp, and the other caramelised down to a mushy sweetness. Neither was needed. But the loin was perfectly pink and beautifully cooked, the jus had lovely depth of flavour and the quail egg completed it.
It was probably the pick of dishes that evening.
Main courses could include line fish with baby carrot, pearl couscous, compressed cucumber, cashews and coriander, or Karoo lamb with cauliflower, gooseberries, fagottini – a pasta where the four corners are folded together to form a parcel – and smoked beetroot, or even half a baby chicken with confit heirloom tomato, capers, marinated squid and baby gem.
Steaks and prawns too are available for the less adventurous.
I wanted to try the duck duo (R265) which was grilled duck breast, a croquette of confit duck, sweet potato mash, sweet potato crisps, charred plum and leeks with a duck jus.
The duck breast was perhaps more medium than medium rare but it was enjoyable and worked well with the sweet potato mash, and the plums. The enormous croquette was, however, dry and very heavy, making it a big plate of food.
My friend tried the duo of pork (R235) which was pork belly with crackling and pork shoulder served with Granny Smith apples, baby bok choy and a mustard sauce.
This was the evening’s big disappointment. The belly was a dry slab that had little flavour, and while the rolled shoulder fared better, we debated how the belly, which is famed for all it’s lovely tasty fats, could end up as a solid slab of protein. The apples too were under cooked, but it was saved by the bok choy and mustard sauce.
The choice of four desserts included a selection of local cheeses, a strawberry and coconut cake creation with basil and meringue and something titled gems of KwaZulu-Natal which consisted of bananas, macadamia nuts and burnt sugar cane.
We opted to share the Variations of Chocolate (R115) which was a dark chocolate torte, topped with white chocolate balls, caramelised naartjies and caramelised milk ice cream. There was something slightly sour, almost salty, at the back of the chocolate torte, but we enjoyed the ice cream.
We finished with excellent coffees and a little tray of chocolate truffles, marshmallow and bite size meringues.
Ambience: 3 ½
The Independent on Saturday