SURF RIDERS CAFE
Where: 17 Erskine Terrace, South Beach, Durban
Open: Monday to Thursday 6.30am to 5pm, Friday to Sunday 6.30am to 6pm.
Call: 062 747 7037
This week, the Eat Out Restaurant awards were announced, and three Durban establishments were featured.
The Winning Restaurant was La Colombe in Constantia, and deservedly so. It’s tuna tartare is legendary. It’s where the Advocate always makes a booking whenever he’s in Cape Town.
The awards are heavily tilted towards the Western Cape, although this year’s is slightly less Cape Town centred, with places like Swellendam, Stanford, Elgin and even Bot River featuring. The Creation Wine Estate I wrote about visiting in the Hemel & Aarde Valley earlier this year, rightly featured. But on the whole Cape Town, Stellenbosch and Franschhoek make up the bulk of the listings.
Eat Out uses a star system, one, two and three, similar to Michelin.
Of the 51 restaurants awarded stars, only 12 are outside the Western Cape – one in the Eastern Cape, one in the Northern Cape, three in KZN and seven in Gauteng. Not a single three-star restaurant features outside the Western Cape. When it comes to the 17 two-star restaurants, two come from Durban and one each from Gauteng, the Eastern Cape (St Francis Bay) and the Northern Cape (Tswalu Game Reserve).
Well done to Chef’s Table in uMhlanga for winning a star. To exec chef Calvin Metior and your team, great work. I’m coming for lunch soon.
Charlie Lakin’s Meraki in Hillcrest deservedly won two stars. It was here that I had one of the best dining experiences this year, including the best dessert – a cheddar custard on a flaky cheesy biscuit with slices of poached pear. Delicious and imaginative.
His restaurant also won the service excellence award, a real feather in its cap.
The judges said: “There was a breath of fresh air about the service in this small restaurant. Yes, all the elements of excellent service were there: impeccable attention to detail, finesse, anticipating the guests’ needs. But the polished professionalism was tempered with something rather special: a gentle humility and a human connection that touched our judges.”
That quality the judges picked up on was an empathy which is so rare in waiting staff.
Last year’s winner, The LivingRoom at Summerhill in Cowies Hill, achieved a two-star rating. And won the sustainability award. One look at its vegetable garden at the back of the estate will tell you why. It lives and breathes sustainability. I remember a superb meal here in June, with the Glass Guy and his family. The pumpkin soup for the winter menu was a highlight.
While Chef Johannes and front of house Johanna Richter may feel slightly disappointed, they can hold their heads up proud for inspiring others in the province. Three Durban restaurants this year, not one. Come on, Durban, five next year. Let’s go for it.
One restaurant that might never make the top 50 but has all the right ingredients is a favourite: Surf Riders Café. Ingrid Shevlin and I popped down there on a beautiful sunny day recently to taste some of the specials on its new main-course menu.
Somehow great hot dogs in homemade chilli or cheese sauce don’t attract the fine palates of international judges. Good wood-fired pizzas with an array of interesting toppings, neither. The wine list here is remarkably good for a humble beach shack, but you’re not going to get a sommelier pontificating with a cloth over his arm: “I think, Madam, this cheeky little chenin may pick up the pineapple on your pizza”.
Nor are there starched linen table cloths. I can’t see the good judges taking to baskets lined with brown paper, either. Or sambals served in little paper cups. But that is part of the fun.
Service here is fast and friendly rather than haughty and technically proficient at every last turn. I tell Ingrid of an experience at a Joburg fine-dining restaurant. When our polished waitress discovered we were from Durban, there was this almost imperceptible raise of the eyebrows. “Oh dear, the yokels are here”, and then when some of our party didn’t want starters, a decidedly perceptible eyebrow raise. By the end of the meal those eyebrows were going in all directions. We did play along.
Not at Surf Riders where the welcome is warm from staff who remember you and invite you home.
There may be a franchise operation of Surf Riders recently opened in Ballito, but the mothership is very much original. Samantha Small Shaw is still running the kitchen and producing some very exciting food.
We start by sipping on two beautiful iced fruit drinks (R69) – peach for Ingrid, apple for me. Who doesn’t like a slush puppy?
We decided to share a few dishes, a prawn curry (R195), baby peri-peri chicken (R220) and a vegan dish of crispy courgette chips. Ingrid has a thing about peri-peri – it’s one of her ho-hum dishes, although she admits her daughter makes a decent one. This had cream in the mix, making it richer, but the flavours were great and the chicken succulent and tender. Even Ingrid had to admit it was one of the better versions she’d had.
The courgette chips were coated in a nice crisp crumb and came with a dipping bowl of avo and hummus. I enjoyed them. Ingrid would have preferred a little more salt.
But it was the prawn curry that got us really excited. This was beautiful and a generous portion of eight large prawns and topped with two king prawns in the shell. There was a papadum, home-made naan bread which was really good, sambals, raita and even the rice had been flavoured with mustard seeds and bay leaves and was light, each grain individual.
The curry wasn’t hot but had a wonderful depth of spicing. We ate ravenously, curry stains on the table, our shirts dripping down our elbows. Delicious. And we even got a finger bowl to mop up afterwards.
We finished by sharing a waffle, which was beautiful and crisp and freshly made. A plain one with cinnamon sugar for Ingrid because that’s how she likes it, and one with ice cream and chocolate sauce for me. But there are many options on the menu. I’m sure if you wanted the kitchen sink, you could have it.
The Bill: R568 (somehow the waffle got left off the bill)
Independent on Saturday