Reception area at Vasco’s Restaurant with a reception desk modelled on a Zulu pot

All you can eat seafood at Vasco’s Restaurant, which is prepared to your personal pleasure

Ingredients to build your own perfect salad

Vasco’s Restaurant
Hilton Hotel
12-14 Walnut Road, Durban
Call 031-336-8100

The Hilton hotel has relaunched its buffet restaurant and invites diners to go on an adventure with both local and international flavours writes Ingrid Shevlin

Portuguese explorer Vasco da Gama may have had only the briefest contact with Durban, but it was enough to inspire Vasco’s, the new restaurant at the Hilton Hotel in Durban.
According to a local tourist internet site, the explorer took one look at the dense Mangrove swamps surrounding Durban’s bay, named the bay “Terra do Natal”, (Christmas Country) and promptly left, having already established a good enough port at Maputo.
But I suppose you could say the restaurant’s food is designed to be as adventurous as the explorer himself and to celebrate the wonderful fusion of Durban’s cultures as well as the best of South African and international contemporary cooking.
Basically, Vasco’s is a buffet restaurant that includes an on-the-spot tandoori oven and a live cooking station. There’s also a limited al a carte menu.
The theme of the all-you-can-eat buffet changes nightly. On Friday, the night we were there as guests of the Hilton hotel, it was seafood. On Saturdays it’s curries while the terrace sometimes hosts braai evenings.
Most people love buffets because it’s easy eating – you can choose with your eyes – it’s a relatively cheap way to eat, you have access to many different dishes and flavours and there is no limit to how much you can eat.
I personally prefer to eat al a carte because I find the range of choice at buffets somewhat daunting and because the food sometimes hangs around a bit, curling at the edges. .


The dramatic moment our chateau briand is flamed in brandy

The dramatic moment our chateau briand is flamed in brandy

Chateau briand: enough steak to feed a rugby team

Chateau briand: enough steak to feed a rugby team

32 Floor, John Ross House, Central Durban
Call 031 368 2275

We promised food writer Frank Chemaly an adventure and pretty much ended up with a disaster. Terrible service and lacklustre food. I think the Roma Revolving should be euthanised. Frank hopes he never has to return, but he does offer (below) his version of the classic Avocado Ritz in the spirit of something good can come of something bad. Here he offers his view of our experience. Below is mine….. 

Was promised an adventure. We were going to dinner on Saturday night. Don’t know where, do know when. “Pick you up at 6.30” read the SMS said. Sounds like fun. And so our chariot arrived and started heading for town. Hmm. Cargo Hold? No. Buds on the Bay – no. Julios on the Bay? Big no. That’s not an adventure. That’s masochism. Royal Natal. No, that was
plan B. The Ace Butchery? We all laugh.


Deconstructed baklava

Deconstructed baklava. Or perhaps reconstructed. Whatever, nothing like the traditional baklava you know and love

54 Adelaide Tambo Drive, Durban North
Call 031 007 0375

Nikos offers hearty, tasty food that is perfect to share. Great place for a celebration, writes Ingrid Shevlin

Nikos is a fun and vibey place to eat. It  was pumping the day we lunched there – and that was four days after its opening. Diners poured in and out in an endless stream and staff rushed around madly like headless chickens. But there was an order to it all and our food came out the kitchen surprisingly quickly. Too quickly in the case of our mains, which arrived while we were still eating our starters
But no matter. The food is so mix-and-match that all the flavours blended together seamlessly. For instance, I topped my chicken souvlaki with dollops of htipiti dip and loved it.
I was lunching with friend Meleney Cunniff, the daughter and the granddaughter. Lovely Lilly may only be six months old, but she is already a seasoned diner, even if she does bring her own food. In this case pureed butternut, carrots, sweet potato and chicken.
Eating out with a baby can be challenging and Nikos is a little too crammed and frenetic to make it a comfortable place to take babies or toddlers and all their paraphernalia. Remember that. But we coped, thanks to our waitress, Bridget, who was outstandingly efficient and patient.
But Nikos is not without its peculiarities – and it’s far from being fine dining.
Serving food in enamel dishes, for instance, is charming. Up to a point. And if you are going to offer tea, get some teapots.


Smoked salman trout on deep fried rosti.

Smoked salman trout on deep fried rosti.

Cattle Baron
Umhlanga Pearls
7 Mc Causland Cres, Umhlanga.
Call 031 561 9011

I fear for the future of chef-owned restaurants. With the the high cost of running a restaurant is it only franchise operations that can survive? And are they serving the cause of fine food? 

There are around 23 Cattle Baron franchise restaurants in South Africa. Most of them in the Cape. Their first in KwaZulu Natal, has just opened in the Pearls in Umhlanga.
How depressing.
Depressing because Umhlanga is becoming wall-to-wall franchise restaurants and it seems there is less and less room for the individually-owned eatery. Probably due to exorbitant rents and running costs. How can a one-man operation compete against the might of the Spur Corporation, Famous Brands, and Taste Holdings, all major players in the restaurant industry.
Depressing because the whole concept of franchises is to keep costs down and profits high and the only way to do this is to compromise on food. It’s strict portion control, pre-coooking and cooking by numbers. Little inspiration here.
Depressing because the last three mediocre meals I ordered recently have been in franchise restaurants.
But Cattle Baron is the one that convinced me. If you eat at a steakhouse, eat steak. That’s common sense. The seafood, chicken and vegetarian options are concessions to those who, unwillingly, find themselves at steakhouses. Like a work colleague’s farewell or a friend’s birthday celebration.


Heirloom tomatoes

Heirloom tomatoes

A Black Crim (Crimea) tomato. Steve rtes this the tastiest slicing tomato there is.

A Black Crim (Crimea) tomato. Steve rates this the tastiest slicing tomato there is

By day STEVE HASKINS  is a businessman. After hours he fulfils his passion for growing heirloom tomatoes on an allotment in Assagay. Here he explains his love of  good coffee, food and the appeal of heirloom tomatoes. Once tasted… never forgotten.

I arrived in South Africa from Europe in the mid 70’s after having fled rightwing warmongering America. Ironic to end up in South Africa you say. Well, there is one thing worse than fascist fanatics waging never ending war, and that is a European winter. The allure of the “endless summer” brought me to South Africa in spite of the perils and politics of the time. Having arrived in Johannesburg in June it was like summer compared to what I had been through in Europe. Then, after arriving in Durban in July and going for a dip in the 23C water, I decided I was going to stay and try to survive. Avocados were R1 a dozen! I will try to survive.
One of my early experiences in Durban was to go to a well-known Italian restaurant on West Street called Aldos. I had spent a year in Italy and it was there I first experienced fine dining and true coffee. Being American I had been exposed to what was referred to as “Joe” – percolator coffee served in mugs in an endless cycle of refills. It was black and watery and it was all we knew.
In Italy I first experienced traditional Italian cooking and real coffee made in a simple stainless steel espresso pot. Chalk and cheese. The bars and cafes had pressurised espresso machines, but for home the simple espresso pot was the norm.
So going out to an “authentic” family Italian restaurant in Durban I naturally was looking forward to real Italian coffee, but was  shocked to be served the standard of the time, a Frisco-type coffee substitute. Disappointed, I politely called over the owner, one of Aldo’s son’s and asked him why they didn’t serve proper Italian coffee. His reply was, “we did at first but the South Africans complained and turned up their noses. So we gave them what they wanted.”
So now 40 years later South Africans have changed their tastes and few choose the chicory that was then the prefered norm.
So what does this have to do with heirloom tomatoes you ask? Well, it’s about going back to a food’s origins and discovering authentic flavours.