Beef carpaccio with artichokes.
Beef carpaccio with artichokes.

The opulence of yesteryear

By Frank Chemaly Time of article published Oct 9, 2021

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Oyster Box Grill

Where: Oyster Box Hotel, 2 Lighthouse Rd, uMhlanga

Open: Daily for dinner

Call: 031 514 5000

WITH things starting to open up again, and many patrons finding their confidence to get out and about, restaurants are reinvigorating old menus and offering a range of new dishes.

I was invited to the Oyster Box Hotel to taste their new Grill Room menu.

The Grill Room really does fine dining well. While formal and opulent, it’s still a comfortable and inviting room. It has that sense of drama for special occasions. Service is excellent. Coats are taken as we arrive, chairs are pulled out, napkins unfolded. There’s the silver cutlery and monogrammed plates. Even crumbs are scooped off the table, with a little brush, between courses.

Our sommelier charms us with his stories of some of the wines. Waiters bring out pretty little platters of four different breads, with three different butters. It’s like stepping into the opulence of yesteryear.

The menu too, while including many grill room staples, has a modern feel – offering an array of flavours and textures.

CRISPY crayfish starter on a mango and papaya salsa.

While starters like a Caesar salad and classic seafood cocktail will always be there, there’s plenty that’s new on the menu. I liked the look of the scallops, something seen so rarely in Durban. These were served on a carrot and sweet potato purée, with a pea and pea shoot salad, and a dashi consommé. Another newbie is the green asparagus with arugula couscous (that’s rocket to us ordinary folk), avocado, herb pesto, mint, and black coral tuile.

But I was persuaded to try the crispy crayfish (R290). This was crayfish topped with a crispy kataifi (shredded phyllo) pastry, on a mango and papaya salsa, with mint and basil, and lemon and lime pearls. This was a beautiful dish. I can see why the party at the next table had recommended it.

My friend tried the truffled beef carpaccio (R195) with artichokes, Parmesan pine nuts, black truffle oil and brioche Melba. While the dish certainly didn’t need the Melba ‒ the combination of good carpaccio and artichokes was inspired. The little blobs of artichoke purée adding also to the dish.

A DELIGHTFUL mango and raspberry sorbet as a palate cleanser.

Between courses, a little desert island palate cleanser arrives at the table, a charming ball of two sorbets ‒ mango and raspberry – served on crushed ice, complete with a palm tree made from cucumber and mint leaves. It’s a delightful touch.

Traditional mains like Chateaubriand and steak Diane remain on the menu, as does the confit of duck, done in plum sauce. Beef also features a Wagyu steak that gets the green peppercorn treatment or a version of steak, egg and chips, with cured egg yolks and Hollandaise sauce. There’s also a very posh surf and turf, that takes in crayfish rather than the more usual prawns.

SALMON in a taragon beurre noisette with cream cheese bake.
A SELECTION of vegetables.
Slow cooked pork with pork pie and red wine jus.

My friend opted for the salmon (R340) with tarragon beurre noisette (brown butter sauce), green apple salad, cream cheese bake, burnt tahini, and coconut sauce. Now coconut is not something I would normally associate with salmon, but fortunately this didn’t overpower what was a beautiful piece of fish – although I would leave it out entirely. The cream cheese bake was more of a souffle, which my friend really enjoyed.

The slow cooked pork (R290) was perhaps the only dish that didn’t really crackle, in that the crackling was chewy rather than crackling, and the pork perhaps didn’t quite have that unctious “fall-apart“ quality that one would expect with slow cooking. Billed as having a rum chilli and orange glaze, I would have liked more of those flavours to come through, but it was served with a delightful little pork pie and a very good red wine reduction. The vegetables, that came with mains, were impressive and cooked to a perfectly squeaky crunch, adding a freshness to the rich dishes before us.

BEA’s cheesecake, with strawberry coulis and jellies.
THE chocolate pot ‒ a death by chocolate on steroids.

Dessert was going to be a challenge ‒ but we would not be defeated. My friend went for one of the menu classics ‒ Bea’s famous cheesecake (R125). This was a good, light-baked cheesecake, topped with a very good strawberry coulis and a little strawberry jelly. Crepes Suzette will always be on the menu here, now served with a honeycomb ice-cream. There’s a vegan chocolate brownie, and crème brûlée. I was tempted by the pear crostata ‒ a rustic pear pastry dusted with demerara sugar and served with a fig ice-cream and custard.

Instead, I was persuaded by the chocolate pot (R155) ‒ a sort of extreme death by chocolate if you will. This utterly defeated me. The chocolate pot was marshmallow and caramel and chocolate mousse, all layered inside a chocolate casing. There was a piece of very dark and moist chocolate cake, a chocolate ganache slice, a little cone of dark chocolate, and some chocolate nut clusters, together with cookies and cream ice-cream. The actual chocolate pot was too sweet for me, although I enjoyed the cake with the cookies and cream ice-cream.

We finished off with excellent espresso, served with little bite-sized strawberry macarons.

Food: 3 ½

Service: 4 ½

Ambience: 4 ½

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