Living it up at the Living Room

Guava salad, topped with guava jelly, bitter green sorbet and a vinaigrette of acacia honey.

Guava salad, topped with guava jelly, bitter green sorbet and a vinaigrette of acacia honey.

Published Jun 23, 2024


The Living Room

Where: Summerhill Guest Estate, 9 Belvedale Road, Cowies Hill

Open: Tuesday to Saturday dinner

Call: 063 529 1966

The Joburg gang was coming down for the long weekend. We’d booked months in advance. We’d have a swanky dinner at the Living Room and one of Durban’s finest. And then they cancelled. The Advocate, Trevor and I decided we’d treat ourselves anyway. There was no way we were going to pass up on Johannes Richter’s creations.

It’s a comfortable and intimate room, painted a deep teal, with the fire going for winter warmth. A musician plays guitar and sings sotto voce, enhancing the ambience. It’s quite a skill that, not intruding in a small room, but adding the special warmth of live music to the occasion. We’re welcomed warmly by Johanna Richter at front of house, and I soon have a lovely unwooded chardonnay in my hand.

Msobi macarons filled with chicken liver mousse, purple sweet potato soup and a dehydrated sweet potato and msobi flower.
Mussels in peri-peri with Jerusalem artichokes and a beautiful mussel veloute.

We opt for the seven-course tasting menu (R1 250 a head). There is a five-course option (R950) which is the route we usually go, and in retrospect this may have been preferable. You don’t get the sense that there is a constant flurry of plates and cutlery and food arriving at the table.

We can see the menu, or we can have a surprise. I’m happy for the surprise, but I ask for a clue.

There’s something with guavas, and something with madumbe, and sweet potatoes, pumpkin, and banana and Jerusalem artichokes, Johanna tells us. Chef has his work cut out for him, because, besides the artichokes, little here is high up on my personal food chain. I wait with anticipation.

Trout sashimi with pickled cabbage, potato and onion pearls and pear in a kimchi ghee.

The amuse was a lovely crisp sweet potato bhaji, a nice nod to Durban’s culinary traditions.

It was followed by a course, dubbed second snacks, which paid homage to the purple sweet potato paired with msobo berries which the kitchen team had foraged. This was a delicious msobo macaron filled with chicken liver mousse and sweet potato chutney, a very intense dehydrated sweet potato “flower” glazed with msobo and shoyu, and a lovely purple sweet potato soup. It was served with a bread course of good sourdough with a lime and coriander salt.

Guavas were the main feature in the veg course, which was inspired by chef’s childhood memories of guava roll. A plate arrived with little guava rolls nestled in among some greens. These were filled with a savoury salad of green salted guava and bitter greens but to me, it tasted of, well, guava roll. Trevor and I both paired it with some of the green leaves it was nestled in, until our waiter politely told us we were not supposed to eat them. It tasted better with the forbidden greens.

Masala braised chicken, pickled carrot salad, carrot purée and butter chicken sauce.
The carrot with carrot pickle and crispy curry leaves that accompanied the “butter chicken”.

It was paired with another guava salad covered in a guava jelly, with acacia honey gel and autumn flowers (edible this time) and topped with a sorbet of bitter greens and a vinaigrette of fermented acacia honey. For someone who is never going to be a fan of the humble guava, it was an enjoyable dish.

Next up was a take on mussels and Jerusalem artichokes. This was the stand-out dish of the evening. On the side in a bed of raw Jerusalem artichokes was a rosti topped with mussel tartare and smokey mayo. Our waiter pointed out which was the rosti, which almost looked like an artichoke, among the raw artichokes in case we attacked those too. The main dish had mussels tarted up with peri-peri in a powerful mussel veloute flavoured with lime leaves and lime leaf oil. Beautiful cooking.

Leg of kudu medallion with madumbe purée and a jus flavoured with guavadillas.

Next up was a dish of trout, kimchi and pear. I shudder. With apologies to our Korean readers, I know it’s something of a national dish and everyone’s granny or aunt has a recipe that is the best, but kimchi is a flavour at the bottom of my list, the very bottom. I’ve tried it many times, and am now sure it’s a flavour I’m unlikely to ever acquire.

Here the trout was done sashimi style with pickled cabbage, potato, onion and pear in a sauce of kimchi and ghee. It was remarkably pleasant, the sauce mild. You got the kimchi spicing, but without that awful ferment. I’d dodged a bullet. It came with an impossibly pretty cabbage samoosa stuffed with pickled trout. Now came that full kimchi hit. I suppose you can’t win them all.

Gateau of pumpkin, coconut and dates with cottage cheese and crispy pumpkin topping.

Chef’s take on “butter chicken” came next ‒ an inspired dish. The chicken had been marinated in masala spices, and paired with a variety of ways with carrot, from fermented in lime to a buttery carrot purée, with his interpretation of butter chicken sauce poured over it at the table. It teamed up with a little bite-sized morsel of carrot cooked in carrot juice, topped with carrot sambal and crunchy curry leaves. Beautiful.

Petit fours of lemon jelly in dark chocolate and lemon meringue tart.

An enjoyable dish of duck with bananas featured next. Duck breast was paired with a green banana fritter and coated in a tamarind flavoured jus. The side featured nice crisp green banana chips over a somewhat odd mix of duck brawn with banana salsa. Even odder was one wasn’t sure how to eat it. I think the crisps were supposed to mop up the other ingredients but they were served in a deep dish with the crisps breaking up as you tried to scoop them up.

The main course was inspired by flavours of Zululand and featured a lovely medallion of kudu leg with a rich jus flavoured with guavadilla. It was paired with a little madumbe croquette. As good as the madumbe croquette was, by this time I think I might have preferred a few French fries on the plate

A strong-flavoured palate cleanser of amathungulu and galangal sorbet preceded dessert. This was a good gateau made from pumpkin, topped with cottage cheese, crispy pumpkin and dates. It was almost like a little slice of carrot cake with the dates adding an intense sweetness. There was coconut ice-cream and reduced pumpkin juice. The side was a pumpkin granita with slices of raw coconut.

We finished off with a good espresso and what chef called “our lemon tree”. These were delightful petit fours: a lemon jelly coated in dark chocolate, and a bite-size lemon meringue tart.

Food: 4

Service: 4

Ambience: 4

The bill: R4 110 for three.

Independent on Saturday