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.
TO THE FOOD
Cafe la Plage describes itself as a “fresh, cosmopolitan and French infused restaurant and bar that serves signature dishes, cocktails and music mixes.” The menu is interesting and contemporary. There are four salads plus a starter section, which ranges from octopus ceviche with slaw of apple, shaved fennel and radish in a lemongrass vinaigrette, to a goats cheese beignet with prosciutto, beetroot and a crumbed, poached hen’s egg. There are five open sandwich options and three burgers, one, lamb, one beef and one chicken.
The are four red-meat mains – fillet mignon to tomahawk ribeye – plus king prawns at R220 and line fish of the day. A speciality section includes deboned oxtail; duck confit; a seared salmon with braised fennel and a cucumber cream topped with caviar at R220; and butter-poached crayfish with truffle mayonnaise, shaved truffle and caviar for R420. Also a “ragout of chicken breast” in a sherry cream sauce.
If you’re vegetarian, butternut risotto is your only option sadly.
I started with a wild mushroom ravioli, R120, in a truffle ricotta and shiitake consommé. Enjoyed the consommé, loved the wild mushroom selection and would have enjoyed the ravioli if it hadn’t been so al dente. The dish reminded me of one I had tried at Harvey’s in the days of Andrew Draper. As it turned out, the head chef at Cafe La Plage once worked at Harvey’s. This is a inspired dish when all the elements are prepared correctly.
My dining companion was Frank Chemaly, food writer for the Mercury. He started with a seared tuna Nicoise salad, R90. Nice enough, but it lacked real vroom – as well as the pickled quail’s egg that was promised on the menu. For his main he opted for a starter; a butter-poached prawn and avocado risotto with tomato jelly and lime aioli, R120. The prawns were large, plump and perfectly cooked, and the risotto – about two heaped tablespoons – disappointed Frank. He thought it was a little sweet, but I quite liked my sample taste. Not a generously portioned dish.
My main dish was ambrosial. Grilled dorado served with vegetables and a lemon beurre noisette. Perfectly cooked, succulent fish and lovely vegetables. Often simple is the best. Cost was R160. Will always remember that dorado.
For dessert we shared a cardamom creme brûlée with homemade rooibos ice-cream, R8o. Nice, but far too sweet.
TO SUM UP
Cafe La Plage is a welcoming restaurant run by people who care about what they are doing – and your wellbeing. There is live music on some nights and a terrace with a direct view of the sea. The food is on the expensive side. There is a comprehensive selection of champagnes, wines, spirits and beers, none of which is particularly cheap.
The gold plastic toilets were imported, I understand, from the Middle East. They will long be a talking point. – Ingrid Shevlin, January 2017