Durban as a ‘foodie destination’ is a recent concept. The Roma revolving restaurant was about as good as it got. Recently areas like Greyville, Berea and Glenwood have mushroomed into trendy alternatives to the always buzzing Florida Road, and places to nosh have restored the city’s lunch and dinner scene.
Here are 10 of the best eateries in Durban, for a variety of reasons…
FREEDOM CAFÉ, GREYVILLE (FOR THE NOVELTY)
If fire-engine red shipping containers and ceramic sausage-dog salt and pepper holders sound like fun, then the food is sure to please you too, for this little café is both avant garde and easy on the taste buds. The zany spot where wallpaper, mirrors, African prints, modern chairs and glass create an inspiring atmosphere serves up an innovative menu with added daily specials. Whilst seafood and vegetables are the star attractions there are other delights like the mushroom tart, lamb tagine, gnocchi and chocolate brownies that are worth going back for more. Durbanites love the décor and the original options.
Photograph: Freedom Café, Greyville
SPIGA D’ORO, FLORIDA ROAD (FOR A REAL ITALIAN EXPERIENCE)
As its name suggests this is the real thing when it comes to authentic Italian food. And Durban’s eat-out crowd know it. At any given meal time the restaurant hums with appreciative foodies for whom vivere con passione wins hands-down. The menu offers a series of memorable dishes like tagliatelle pescatore, focaccia topped with marinated brinjal, cream cheese and parma ham and a Caprese salad that has exponents crowing with delight. Spilling out onto the pavement on most days, the restaurant is open late. One of Durban’s timeless eateries.
ST CLEMENTS, MUSGRAVE ROAD (FOR OUTDOOR LUNCHES)
Popular with the Berea crowd because there is a garden out back complete with a double-storey treehouse, St Clements is also loved because the converted period house gives respite from the noise of the road, whilst doubling as a nursery and clothing shop. But the eaterie in Durban also has a menu that serves up fresh and wholesome meals across breakfast, light lunches and dinner (leave space for the chocolate sponge). Best for teas, light lunches and live music on Friday evenings (but be sure to book).
Photograph: St Clements, Musgrave Road
CAFÉ 1999, VAUSE ROAD (FOR THE ‘TIT-BITS’)
Called Café ’99 by locals, this is a restaurant with a novel idea – no starters or mains but instead a menu filled with ‘tit-bits’ – small, tasty samples there to be shared. And the food is, by all accounts, worth sharing – polenta fingers in a Gorgonzola dip, pork and Danish feta samosas, prawn pasta, and desserts worth writing home about. Warning: whilst the food is awesome, it can get busy – not the place for a tête-à-tête.
FUSION CAFÉ, SILVERVAUSE CENTRE (FOR THE SURPRISE VALUE)
Two chefs combine foods in unusual ways in this extension of their cooking school, where the waiters know as much about the food as the chefs (a decided advantage, as some of the items may need explaining) – fillet cooked in a dishwasher, lamb shank cooked slowly in an electric blanket, or liquid nitrogen boiled ice-cream (at your table). Despite the fancy fare it’s an unpretentious bistro, popular with locals.
Photograph: Fusion Café, Silvervause Centre
MO’S NOODLES, FLORIDA ROAD (FOR THE NOODLES)
Mo’s has a dedicated following in Durban. Thai may no longer be quite as hip as it was six years ago, but Mo’s is still tops as far as eateries in Durban are concerned. With combos like calamari and lentil salad, sesame prawn skewers, coriander mash and peanut chicken served on coconut noodles; the Thai and Australian leanings are a winning combination. So much so that a Mo’s has opened in Umhlanga as well.
CORNER CAFÉ, GLENWOOD ROAD (FOR THE ‘FEEL GOOD’ FACTOR)
Not only do you feel right at home in amongst the mostly recycled décor but the menu is also kind to the planet with organic meals, the cappuccino machine fired by wind power, and the salads that come straight from the garden on the back stoep. The menu might be simple, but the taste is more than good (fresh pastas, fancy sandwiches, soups, salad, home bakes and coffee) and Judd is a charming host. Friday nights are tapas nights, for serious after-work chilling. You’ve got to love it…
Photograph: Mo’s Noodles, Florida Road
JOOP’S PLACE, MORNINGSIDE (FOR THE MEAT)
Rumps, fillets and rib-eyes prepared to perfection and yet the restaurant is not a steakhouse. Joop cooks your steaks himself and the meat is good enough to warrant a re-visit from loyal patrons as far afield as Europe. Quality is continuously good, the ambience Dutch and homely around a central kitchen in which the chef presides. Did we mention the fried onions on the side (they’re the real thing)…
FACTORY CAFÉ, UMBILO (FOR THE COFFEE)
This modern, grungy, open-plan warehouse-in-the-midst-of-industria coffee café, set in the historic Colombo coffee roastery for extra charm, is up there on coffee aficionados’ lists of places to find the real thing. Dare I say that it has a distinctly Cape Town feel about it? It also doubles as a music and entertainment venue. Try the aggressive chocolate blend for your caffeine fix.
Photograph: Factory Café, Umbilo
OYSTER BOX, UMHLANGA (FOR SUMPTUOUS BUFFETS AND HIGH TEAS)
Food here smacks of decadence and European opulence. Perfect for treats and special occasions. Whether it is fresh oysters in the Oyster Bar, breakfast or buffet on the Ocean Terrace or High Tea in the Palm Court the food is top class. Even the chandeliers come from the Savoy in London.
Thanks to Amanda and her family, who live in Durban for sharing their top places to eat…