CAFE LA PLAGE: DINING ON THRONES

Frank's prawn risotto

Frank’s prawn risotto starter

A dorado to remember

A dorado to remember

Cafe la Plage (the beach), a new restaurant in The Pearls in Umhlanga,  is making waves.  

Cafe La Plage Restaurant & Bar
Shop D1 Pearl Walk,  Pearls of Umhlanga,
McCausland Crescent,  Umhlanga,
Call 031 561 9999

Cafe la Plage is one restaurant you are unlikely to forget. Ever. For several reasons, some good and some not so good. Firstly the decor. The furniture is baroque-like with a distressed paint finish, the flooring looks like retro lino, but is in fact tiles, long metal beams line the low ceiling over the large bar area, the lighting is purple, and two gilded thrones take pride of place in the lounge area. The overall effect is startling. It’s a look I can only describe it as Housewives of Hollywood meet Housewives of Bollywood.  But it’s not quite as startling as the gold plastic thrones (toilets) in the bathrooms, which are generating serious chat on social media.
The decor looked as if it had been conceptualised by a committee of Kazakhstan designers. On the other hand, reviewers on Trip Advisor described it variously as “well-designed”, “very upmarket” and “elegant” . So, perhaps it’s a matter of taste. Borat would approve, though.
On the positive side was our food, which ranged from pleasant and just a hair’s breath away from being very good to superb. Some tweaking was needed here. Another positive is the efficient service. – and friendly vibe.

ALL I WANT FOR CHRISTMAS

kettle-1

Affordable (mostly) gifts for Christmas for the foodie in your life.

My heart has long yearned for an Alessi electric cordless kettle, but its R4 599 price tag has put it far out of my reach – and no one seems prepared to buy it for me for Christmas. Boo hoo. (The  kettle featured above is the stove kettle; the cordless kettle looks the same except it has a base.)
But there are many other kitchen gadgets that are as quirky as the bird kettle, but considerably cheaper. Happily. And they would make great Christmas gifts. I browsed through www.yuppiechef.co.za to come up up with a selection of potential gifts that won’t make a hole in your pocket. Below this are also suggestions sourced from the Live’In store in La Lucia.

A TALL STORY

Marinated chicken breast

Marinated chicken breast

Deconstructed caprese salad

Deconstructed caprese salad

It’s refreshing to see a creative chef confident and competent enough to tell stories through his food, but someone should do some editing.   

STORY
3 Lumsden Crescent, Morningside, Durban
031 827 8679

It’s rare that I’m left gobsmacked by a dish, but it happened to me at Story, a new fine dining restaurant in upper Morningside. More about that later
I hope I don’t sound like some rancid foodie who’s heard it all; who believes there are no new stories left to tell about food and restaurants. There are. The restaurant world is constantly evolving.  Think of Ferran Adria’s elBulli and molecular gastronomy. Or Noma in Copenhagen which is redefining what’s edible each time it serves “Moss and Cep” – a snack of crispy deer lichen dusted with “cep” mushrooms resting on a bed of bright green moss. Or the world’s top restaurant for 2016, Osteria Franciscan, which presents quirky dishes like “five stages of Parmigiano Reggiani”, and “eel swimming up the Po river”. They have helped make chef Massimo Bottura’s tiny venue in Modena one of Italy’s most popular eateries.
Now they have success stories to tell. But the problem with Damian Beneruso, executive chef of Story, it’s not clear what story he’s telling. And he’s no Massimo Bottura. Yet. 

CATCH IT IF YOU CAN

Interior of Catch, a new seafood restaurant in Umhlanga

Interior of Catch, a new seafood restaurant in Umhlanga

Prawn linguine, better looking than tasting

Prawn linguine, better looking than tasting

A new seafood restaurant has opened in Umhlanga and the jury is still out,  writes Ingrid Shevlin

Catch
Lighthouse Mall, 14 Chartwell Drive, Umhlanga
Call 031 561 2303

Catch is the newest restaurant on Chartwell Drive, a space already so crowded with eateries it’s a mystery how they can all be busy – or profitable. Just a few weeks back I reviewed another new restaurant, the Chefs’ Table, literally across the road from Catch. The Chefs’ Table seats well over a hundred diners and boasts exceptional cooking. Judging by the social media buzz it’s finding favour.
Others in the area are taking strain. They’ve been around the block and back and even though they serve consistently good food, are being eclipsed by the super cool ( like 14 on Chartwell)  and the shiny new, like Catch, which is  already packing them in. This is something of a mystery. Don’t get me wrong. There are many positives about Catch.
It’s a very appealing space that is a clever mix of sophisticated and industrial. The design elements are on the minimalistic side, but the ambiance is softened by the warm lighting and  a row of palms that separate the eating area from a service area. Service is efficient, the vibe is warm.
It’s the food we ordered that was puzzling. It ranged from a superb seared tuna to a prawn linguine so bland nothing could rescue it from the bottom of the taste barometer.  And believe me, I tried. 

A NATURAL CONCEPT WITH FOOD AND WELLNESS

tree 2

Crispy kale wrap with chicken, feta, cashew nuts and avocado and lemon-thyme dressing.

tree3

Breakfast wrap with smoked salmon, avocado and poached egg

At last. A health food cafe serving food that isn’t about self-mortification  

Tree Natural Cafe
Tree Natural Concept Wellness Centre & Yoga Studio
21 Lighthouse Road, Umhlanga
031 561 1169

I must admit when my friend Megan Harker suggested we lunch at the Tree Natural Cafe (weird name, or not?) I was dubious. I’ve eaten at enough health eateries – including Neal’s  Yard in London –  to know I was more than likely to end up with indigestion and a sore jaw after chewing my way though a pile of raw, grated veggies like carrot and cabbage.  And, anyway, I’m kind of over lentils and chickpeas and butternut and definitely courgettes. Worthy, rather than delicious foods.
It’s not that I’m against healthy eating. It’s how I have eaten my whole adult life. I was a vegetarian for 10 years and once, for three months, ate only raw food – which nearly did my head in. It’s just that I don’t like loads of raw food that have been assembled entirely for health rather than flavour reasons.
But Tree Natural Cafe, from now on called TNC, was a very pleasant surprise.  Someone in the kitchen understands the concept of contrasting textures and flavours and that healthy doesn’t preclude indulgence.