Sunday, August 25, 2013

Friday Nights: Sevruga, Gateway

Sevruga is part of the Caviar group of restaurants, which includes two venues in Capetown, and now two in Durban. Adverts for the restaurants appear regularly in TASTE magazine, and the Eat Out guide, and invariably feature long haired, blonde models whose enjoyment of the food appears to border on the indecent. The food-porn theme continues on their website, which is currently down, and amusingly offers the Freudian excuse that they are 'currently too busy servicing our guests'. Being of the opinion that good food photography does not require a side of high heels and come-hither glances, I was initially wary of visiting the new Sevruga restaurant at Gateway, worrying that they had chosen glamour over substance.

Happily, however, we had received several 50% off promotional vouchers at the Taste of Durban festival, so determined to take full advantage before they expired, we visited the restaurant twice in a month, once as a couple and once with friends.

The restaurant is located on the Eastern side of the mall, overlooking the Wavehouse and is an impressively large 300 seater. Front of house we were greeted (as expected?) by two bored looking model types, dressed for a night on the town, who ushered us to our table in their matching micro dresses before mincing back to their positions.

The initial service experience was frustrating, as we were descended upon by at least four different servers, each of whom offered us 'a bottle of water for the table', attempted to drape napkins over our laps and generally fell over one other. Once the help had settled down, however, and our eyes had a chance to adjust to the deep gloom of the restaurant interior, we were able to begin enjoying the experience, and page through the extensive menu, which features wonderful and exotic sounding 'regular' dishes (risotto balls with truffle aioli, deboned lamb ribs, marinated springbok) as well as a lengthy dim sum and sushi section.

We had come for the sushi, so the regular section of the menu will have to wait for a later review. To begin, we ordered a portion of Har Gau (translucent dim sum) filled with duck, honey and ginger. Service was prompt (our final waitress on our initial visit was lovely) and presentation was beautiful, with the three generously sized dumplings nestled in still steaming bamboo, and shaped in a way that I had not seen before, with a pretty tri-lobed finish. I would have enjoyed a more pronounced ginger flavour, but they were definitely delicious, with a wonderful soft mouth feel.

Next came a round of crispy, deep fried wontons, filled this time with beef, coriander and ginger. Again they arrived promptly, beautifully presented, hot and tasty.

An interesting offer on the menu was the bowl of Edamame beans. I had heard that these were a popular dish in Japan and China, but didn't realise until they arrived at the table that they are in fact simply immature soybeans, served steamed in their pods and eaten with salt. The characteristically hairy and rather drab looking pods, when broken open yielded up a surprisingly beautiful harvest of plump, shiny, jade-green beans. These offered a good test of my chopstick wielding abilities as I initially ate them one by one after manoeuvring them through a ponzu bath, before abandoning pretenses and popping them directly into my mouth.

The Tom Yum soup, which I tried on our second visit, was wonderfully fiery, with a dangerous red sheen across the bowl, and a good hot and sour balance. Since enjoying Tom Yum in Bangkok, I have been on the lookout for a South African experience which can compare to what we tasted there. This one was one of the better that I've tasted - perhaps too much emphasis on the chili, but I enjoyed eating it immensely.

Having visited the dim sum pages, we moved on to the sushi, and ordered a selection of California rolls, sashimi, something called a 'samurai roll' and the 'tuna crunch' which involved tuna tempura rolled with cream cheese before being tempura battered a second time (purists, look away).

When we visited as a couple, all of the dishes which we ordered were presented on a single plate, which was a nice effect. Generally all of the sushi we ordered on both visits was well constructed, fresh and tasty, although I felt that too much mayonnaise was in use, something which I feel detracts from the fresh, Asian flavours of really good sushi.

On our first visit we bypassed the deserts and ended instead with an apple martini lolly - there are several variants of these alcoholic ices, and they are served in a retro ice lolly shape. Good fun, and a great palate cleanser.

When we did try the deserts, they were out of the chocolate fondant that we had wanted to order, and so I had to fall back on the crème brûlée. It was a pretty good effort, with vanilla seeds spotted through the silky smooth custard, but I still felt a bit disappointed. I think that perhaps crème brûlée has been overdone to the point that only making them at home still holds much appeal - rather stick to the lollies.

With its sophisticated interior, extensive, well executed menu and great wine list, Sevruga is a welcome addition to the Durban restaurant landscape. If they can tone the service down to an unobtrusive level (without venturing into the neglect we experienced on our second visit) and perhaps sort out a few issues with availability there will be very little on which to fault them. Fun for a date night, or an evening out with friends, I rate it worthy of a third helping.

Tuesday, August 13, 2013

Lazy Sundays: Café Fish

If you're in Durban and you want to eat out on the water, you can't find a much better location than Café Fish. Situated on a pier that juts from the city into the ocean at the Durban Yacht Basin, one can easily take in the pleasure boats of the Point Yacht Club to one side and the tall red cranes and multi-hued container boats of the Harbour to the other. The venue makes the most of its position, with high floor to ceiling windows that spill light across the widely spaced tables, simply decorated in nautical blue and white.

Apparently if you are there at the right time you can watch the seafood being offloaded from a boat right at the kitchen door. I was happy to settle for watching it being offloaded from the arms of the waitress onto the table. Lunch had arrived, in the form of a traditional beer battered fish and chips and grilled peri-peri prawns.

Given the name of Café Fish, the eponymous dish needed to be good - and it was. The beer battered fish and chips were good value, with two large fillets of moist and flaky fish surrounded by a batter that managed to be simultaneously pillowy-soft and deep-fried crisp. The tartar sauce was generously spiked with roughly chopped pickles, the chips were hot and fresh and the whole dish went down very well drenched in lemon juice.

The grilled peri-peri prawns lived up to their simple name and arrived with the benefit of a large wire basket to gather the shells, which were picked completely clean before being discarded. The peri-peri sauce could have been a little hotter, but it was well balanced with garlic and lemon.

The menu looks as though it would benefit from a thorough exploration, with the Vietnamese style calamari  (chilli, mint, garlic, pineapple and peanuts) and the cajun linefish in particular catching my eye. Sadly, the pudding menu looked rather dull in comparison (unless you enjoy Banoffie Pie), so we opted to finish with coffee, which was good enough, but took a while to arrive.

Café Olé!

Monday, August 5, 2013

Hole in the Wall: Kebabish

Nothing says 'Durban' quite like a really authentic Indian curry. I don't mean those dull stews that masquerade as curry in most restaurants - anything that's been toned down for Western tastes, or is offered to you in 'mild'. Definitely not one of those meals for one from Woolies. I'm talking about a genuine, ghee-drenched, spice-studded, handed-down-for-generations, whole-chillies-floating-in-the-sauce kind of curry. This kind of no-nonsense curry tends to avoid fancy restaurants in the best parts of town, but can generally be discovered in places like Phoenix, Chatsworth or Overport, invariably out of dodgy looking takeaways down hard to find streets. This is the kind of curry found in places like Kebabish.

Kebabish is a small sit-down restaurant and bustling takeaway on the corner of Sparks and Felix Dlamini (Brickfield) Road in Overport. It sits alongside what appears to be a junkyard, complete with cars on bricks and a mean looking junkyard dog that barks at you as you walk past the chain-link fence. It isn't pretty, but the smells which carry across the street tell you that you've come to the right place.

On the forecourt of the building which houses Kebabish there is a hot, open charcoal grill that was manned on the Saturday afternoon we visited by two hard working staff. One man, sweating profusely, was bending over the hot fire and alternating between fanning the coals with a paper plate and turning enormous sizzling skewers of chicken and mutton. The other walked back and forth between the kitchen and the grill, arriving with buckets piled high with spicy, raw meat and leaving soon after, weighed down under platters of smoky, charred and dripping delights.

At the counter, which faces the street, six or seven people were passing orders to a large man with an even larger beard who shouted into a hidden kitchen and glowered at people who dithered over their choices. Driven into a mild panic by my failed first attempt at ordering ('no chicken seekh kebab curry!') and his generally soup-nazi behavior I settled on chicken tikka masala and a chicken korma with garlic naan, and was told to 'give me half an hour, ok?'

After the promised half an hour, a large plastic bag was pushed into my greedy hands with a smile (he smiles!) and we carried our treasure home, the car's interior filling with wonderful smells on the way. Impatiently unwrapping the parcel, we pulled out the fragrant naan, thick and misshapen, touched with spots of dark scorched bread, and the two curries. The tikka, dark red, and topped with vermilion oil (I tipped off the excess), and the korma, creamy and sultry in its thick sauce. Two small ziploc bags filled with cool, green raita, and a side salad were thrown in too.

Of the two dishes, the chicken tikka was the better - filled with chunks of chicken taken off the grill and fiery hot. The korma was calmer and richer, the sauce delicious, although the chicken pieces on the bone were not what I would have chosen. The naan was as good as it looked, bready and garlicky, alternatively soft and crunchy by turn.

I'm told by a friend who swears by the quarter chicken tikka that that dish is the best thing on the menu - but I'm not going to take his word for it, I'm definitely going back for more!

Kebabish gets a fourish out of five - for the flavour, and the experience.