This is the first in an ongoing series in which ShrewdFood lists the five best places to find good coffee, experience a warm and inviting vibe, enjoy the best in fine or casual dining, the best breakfasts venues, places with a view and so on. This is based on personal experiences so you may disagree but, hey, that’s your prerogative.
Here we list the five venues that offer a unique energy and a warm welcome. It may not serve the best food, but its special ambiance and/or exceptional location transcends all else, making it a place where you feel immediately at home. – Ingrid Shevlin
Market, 40 Marriott Road, Morningside (031 3098581)
Market offers casual and fine dining, good food and service and a laid-back vibe. Another winner is their breakfast menu which transcends the ubiquitous bacon and eggs. Think instead of cinnamon and banana hotcakes; savoury crumpets with spinach, prosciutto, poached egg, and onion marmalade; or French toast brioche served with honey glazed bacon and passion fruit. For traditionalists, a full house breakfast is also available.
Despite the wonders of its breakfast, served all day as it happens, I love Market most because it’s not only a very pretty venue but it exudes a zen-like air of serenity, thanks to its courtyard, which is shaded by tall leopard trees, and a tinkling fountain. At night fairy lights strung from the trees add a dash of magic. Sacks of growing herbs on one wall add bright splashes of green while a bright pink flamingo welcomes diners at the entrance, along with a giant-size daschund. It’s the perfect place to chill by yourself or with friends. It is also one of the few Durban restaurants with a clientele that truly reflects our rainbow nation. Just this week, I sat in the courtyard warmed by shards of sun coming through the trees while the water fountain bubbled gently at my side. Although metres away from a busy road I felt enclosed in a private world. As I sipped my excellent cappuccino I felt all was well with the world.
Old Town Italy, 39 Meridian Drive, Umhlanga
(031 566 5008)
This recreation of an authentic traditional Italian market has everything you need to keep your inner-foodie satisfied. There’s a butchery, a deli, an artisan bakery, wine shop, a cheese shop, a fresh produce section, a pizza oven, and a wine and beer shop. And when you tire of shopping for deli items, you can sit in the cafe area and sip an Italian beer, or glass of wine, or savour an authentic pasta or flatbread sandwich. And do try their excellent coffee. And for the sweet of tooth there is real Italian ice-cream served in cones or little paper pots. Yum.
Old Town is busy and buzzy and everyone is friendly and welcoming. You feel as if everyone know’s your name, even if they don’t. It’s the perfect place to share a meal with friends.
Colombo Tea & Coffee at 369 Magwaza Maphalala St, Umbilo (031 205 3283)
For the handful who don’t know Colombo is first and foremost a roastery which roasts beans for the local market. They also import loose leaf tea. A sideline is their cafe, The Factory Cafe, which serves their own coffee blends and teas. Their limited menu includes the world’s best savoury muffins. So, their coffee is ferociously good. Naturally. They have also pretty much led the field with top quality baristas who have won awards left, right and centre. So now you know they serve great coffee. But it’s the vibe and ambiance that lingers in this embodiment of industrial chic. The Factory Cafe is on the first floor of the original Colombo coffee and tea factory. So the area is spacious with plenty of windows. Seating options are at long refractory tables, on couches or at more conventional four-seater tables. The coffee roastery is tucked away to one side ensuring the enticing aroma of roasting beans is a constant presence. Seriously cool people go to the Factory Cafe. Some have dreadlocks. Some seem to be doing business on their laptops. But essentially it’s a young people’s place but if you are older, they are very kind to you. There is live music on Saturdays. The only downside is that the space is so large air-conditioning is not practical, meaning it’s hot in summer. Luckily the vibe is so chilled nobody seems to notice. And there are fans. The whirring kind.
Coffee Tree, 2 Daventry Gardens, Daventry Place, Cor Cato Road, Glenwood (083 7945 5875)
Coffee Tree is barely more than a hole-in-the-wall coffee shop. Perched on a small hill beneath a block of flats it looks over Alan Paton Road and a tiny green lung of a park. Like its food, it has an organic feel with bare brick walls and rustic table and chairs. It serves a very simple menu of vegetarian and gluten free foods and a full range of coffee options. A little terrace and tables across the road offer more seating and a chance to be warmed by the winter sun. There is something incredibly serene about Coffee Tree. This may because it’s located in a resolutely residential area and well away from the hustle and bustle of heavy traffic and other commercial enterprises. But it may also have something to do with a laidback and friendly vibe. If you want to contemplate the meaning of life over good coffee, without feeling rushed, the Coffee Tree is for you.
Oyster Box, 2 Lighthouse Rd, Umhlanga (031 514 5000)
It’s hard not to feel at peace with the world when sitting on the terrace of the famed five-star Oyster Box Hotel. Immediately below is a sparkling blue pool while an endless sea beckons on the horizon. The view is interrupted only by the legendary Umhlanga Lighthouse, which is no longer in service but is still a beacon to ships which dot the horizon waiting to berth at Durban harbour. If you are really lucky dancing dolphins will enchant. Of course you could just sit on the beach below and enjoy it all for free, but slick and discreet service at the Oyster Box and a welcoming vibe will make you feel like a VIP even if you aren’t. And you could just have a drink or coffee or afternoon tea and scones. It’s on the pricey side but classy costs. Oh, and sushi is available during lunch time until early evening. Imagine sipping a glass of wine while enjoying a Californian roll with the ocean spread before you. What’s not to like.
RocoMamas, 21, Kensington Village, Mackeurtan Ave, Durban North (031 563 0925)
It is a little against my better judgement to include RocoMamas in this list of five which has now become six. And that’s ‘cos it’s head-poundingly noisy and nearly blew my head off when I was there. But the son-in-law insisted. It does have a great vibe. And lots of people liked it on Facebook – over 5 500 fans at the last count, which included the son-in-law. The staff are incredibly friendly, helpful and efficient. There was a strong sense of happy energy in the air when we were there, which left me feeling the staff love their work. RocoMamas, which has now just opened another joint in Gateway, primarily focuses on burger, ribs and chicken wings which it serves with a variety of sauces and in a number of combinations. I would, personally, not order the chicken burgers again as they are the kind that have been shredded and reconstituted in patties. More like chicken cakes then burgers, but the rest is pretty good as are the craft beers. In keeping with the name the music is rock and very LOUD! But I can’t fault the vibe. – August 5, 2015