9th Avenue Waterside
Where: 2 Maritime Place, Durban Harbour
Call: 031 940 4628
Open: Tuesday to Saturday 11am-11pm, Sunday 11am-5pm.
The wind was blustery, the cloud coming in low over the bay, a storm brewing. Yet despite the elements it was still a pleasure sitting in 9th Avenue Waterside taking in the views. The city, despite its dilapidated buildings and collapsing infrastructure and many problems, still looks beautiful from here. Even inviting. Even the “howling gale” didn’t intrude. It’s one of Durban’s prime settings.
I had been invited to sample chef Theo Chiloane’s new menu. The man with a deep bass voice and a ready smile, Chef Theo hails from Mpumalanga, working in many of the country’s top game lodges, before he came to Durban and 9th Avenue a year ago.
And obviously the seaside has inspired him, with the new menu offering a much more substantial range of seafood and fish, and much lighter fresher fare, fitting for its wharfside setting. While customer favourites have been retained, the very meat heavy menu I remembered has had a very welcome overhaul, with plenty of interest from the ocean. Vegetarians too are well catered for.
Our first dish was scallops served with a pea puree, smoked tomato and trout roe (R195). I normally avoid scallops on Durban menus. Too often they’re rubbery and tasteless, or worse, the taste of the freezer. But not in chef Theo’s capable hands. They were delicious, succulent and melt in the mouth. I had worried about the pea puree adding too earthy a touch, but these were not peas that had been sitting in the store cupboard and boiled for hours, but young fresh peas adding a spring freshness. A splash of beurre blanc and olive oil added a lightness you wouldn’t get from a St Jacques style cream sauce. A great dish for a sunny Durban afternoon. (Please note, we were eating tasting menu sized portions.)
Another new item I would definitely have again was a burrata done with a variety of renditions of tomatoes (R135). You could call this cheese and tomato on toast but that would be doing the chef a disservice. There were preserved heirloom tomatoes, lightly roasted, semi dried tomatoes, to add bite, and an excellent tomato granita adding cool crunch to that silky smooth baked cheese. A few slices of nectarine added sweetness, and a good dollop of basil pesto brought all the different tomato flavours together.
Other new items on the new menu I still must try are mussels in a curry leaf sauce with tomato and rooibos, and mushroom tortellini with smoked butter, chive creme fraiche, Parmesan and truffles. It sounds simple, but luxuriously decadent. For those wanting a lighter lunch there’s a prawn and paw paw salad, and a Caesar salad with “KZN style anchovies”.
Next up was a 9th Avenue classic, crispy squid with a spicy Romesco sauce (R155) to which chef Theo added black garlic and cauliflower. An enjoyable dish, the black garlic adding a nice touch of sweetness to it.
Mains still include the likes of rack of lamb, or trio of duck, or Norwegian salmon now served in an Asian inspired coconut and lemongrass sauce with pickled ginger, bok choy, almond and seaweed crumble and fresh grapefruit. There’s seafood pasta with squid ink spaghetti and tomato bisque. It all screams for another visit soon.
Chef Theo next presented us with a taste of his wild mushroom risotto (R195) with Shitake mushroom ragout, porcini mushroom mousse, truffle crema and pickled shimeji mushrooms. It was a deeply flavourful take on mushrooms in all their forms. It had a little crispy Parmesan pastry type thing to mop it up with.
Beef fillet (R255) was next, a perfectly cooked piece of prime fillet with pomme Paulo, onion textures, pickled shimeji, mushroom puree, chive crème fraiche, and a very good beef and garlic jus. Pomme Paulo is described as eating potato gratin, potato chips, French fries, and pomme Anna at the same time. It’s thin slices of potato pressed together with an inordinate amount of fat but it is utterly delicious, crispy on the outside and soft in the centre. This should almost have its own menu item. The pescatarians among us enjoyed linefish in a light saffron sauce, another winner.
For dessert Chef Theo presented a plate which offered a taste of the selection of desserts off the menu. A lovely cheesecake, a good berry sorbet, a bite size beignet and a truly magnificent creation with chocolate. I forget what chef called it. It looked like a chocolate log. It wasn’t quite a mousse, or a ganache, or a torte but just a little chocolate finger that used four different types of chocolate. Delicious. So be warned, save some room or find your second stomach.
Food: 4 ½
Independent on Saturday