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Durban, on South Africa’s east coast, is known for its laid-back vibe, warm waters and liberal use of spice. While gourmands will say this isn’t the capital of fine dining, you can expect to find great value and quality ingredients in abundance. It’s the perfect place to indulge in the unique Durban Indian curry, with its roots in the food of the indentured Indians who arrived from 1860 to work on the sugar cane plantations.
You can’t leave without trying a bunny chow – a hollowed-out quarter or half loaf of bread filled to the brim with spicy curry. Italian food, influenced by the produce and seafood on the KwaZulu-Natal coast, Mozambican-Portuguese, Mauritian and indigenous – Durban has it all!
HHere are my restaurant picks:
Breakfast and brunch
Morning walks on Durban’s beachfront promenade are the weekend activity du jour. Join the runners, biking families, skateboarders and generally smiley young kids. Get to Surf Riders on South Beach for breakfast or brunch – they do good eggs and freshly pressed juices, but be sure to get there before 10am as they don’t take bookings over the weekend, or be prepared to wait for a table. The view’s not bad though, in case you have to wait it out on the beach for a bit.
While you’re at the beachfront, look out for the vendors selling juicy pineapples sprinkled with chilli powder and salt – something you won’t find elsewhere in a hurry.
Other favourite cafes include Parc in Glenwood for hearty all-day breakfasts, including vegan superfood bowls, decadent cakes and milkshakes. Try old-favourite Freedom Café in Berea, a quiet reprieve under the trees, which under new management now serves halaal food.
After you’ve worked up a sweat surfing, or perhaps just lazing on the caramel-sand beach in humid surrounds, you may be ready for a KZN-style pasta or pizza. The Italian food scene has always been popular here. La Casa Nostra in Umdloti is known for its creative antipasti - try the calamari, mussels, melanzane Parmigiana, thin-crust pizzas and fresh pastas, and keep room for the feathery tiramisu.
Al Firenze in La Lucia is a classy neighbourhood gem, known for its fantastic Sunday lunch vibe. Baked artichokes, sautéed wild mushrooms, langoustine tails with spaghetti and even a “Natal” pizza with ham, prawns, banana and chilli are on offer.
For many locals Roma Revolving Restaurant on top of John Ross House with its 360-degree panoramic views over Durban’s CBD and the bay is a nostalgic choice. It’s retro, and replete with waiters who may remember what the surrounds looked like in ’73 when Roma opened. A recent refurbishment takes the kitsch Michelangelo-esque design, carpeted walls and leather seats into the future. It’s extremely popular over dinner, especially over weekends and for birthdays. Try Ossobucco, saltimbocca, veal picatta Natalia or veal casserole, and keep room for the dessert trolley. And get a drink first at Gino’s Sky Bar upstairs.
Old Town Italy in Umhlanga is unmissable - a large stylish deli and bistro, in the style of Jamie’s Italian, for casual bites with plenty of upmarket Italian goodies and ready-made foods to take home.
You can’t miss the Durban curry when in the city and from mild to poker-hot, you’ll find something to suit your spice-tolerance level. For a bunny chow, head over to ever-popular Hollywood Bets in Springfield Park. Yes, it’s a betting house, but has a dedicated sitdown canteen-style restaurant on the deck and a take-away Bunny Bar. Here, the mutton curry and broad bean curry bunnies are the winning picks.
Cane Cutters in Glenwood does an excellent bunny chow. But don’t miss a chance to try the KZN-style sheep trotters and sugar beans, lamb chops in spicy chutney and the breyanis. You may have to wait in line – it’s that popular.
For a posh sit-down curry, the generous curry buffet at The Oyster Box Hotel in Umhlanga is legendary. Apart from a few items, most are mild. Book well in advance.
Mali’s Indian in Morningside is a more casual affair and popular with chefs and locals – its drawcards are consistency and a wide variety of dishes from North and South India.
For splurge meals that showcase a combination of a chef’s skill and delicious local produce, book a table at 9th Avenue Bistro in Morningside. Celebrate here with a tasting menu.
The Chef’s Table in Umhlanga is possibly the toughest table to snag, serving rotating tasting menus, with à la carte options too. Consider the veggie tasting menu with stuffed zucchini flowers, roasted heirloom tomatoes and confit aubergine.
Ile Maurice combines a taste of the northerly neighbouring island with local, sustainable east coast seafood. The mix of grand French and Mauritian Creole flavours makes it special – try the barracuda vindaye or king prawns in Mauritian curry sauce.
Stake the steak
And if it’s a great steak you’re after, the KZN Midlands produces some of the best grass-fed beef in the country. Treat yourself at Butcher Boys Grill (Morningside and Umhlanga) to the finest steaks at reasonable prices. Non-meat eaters are catered for too.
AAbout the author
Ishay Govender-Ypma is an ex-lawyer, freelance journalist, cookbook and guidebook author. Her work appears in local and international publications such as National Geographic, Saveur, The National UAE, Food & Wine and Literary Hub. Find out more about her and her work at www.ishaygovender.com