Established in 1976, this icon has moved a few times but has been at its current Umhlanga Rocks location since 1999. I can only imagine it stood out more proudly at that time – now the vertical growth of the neighbourhood lends the restaurant a kind of “hidden corner” feeling, while the strip spawns more and more of the usual cheerfully rowdy drinks-and-basic-grub outlets that South Africa is rapidly filled with.
I’ve eaten here a number of times over the last decade-plus, and it’s always wonderful to be able to return to a restaurant over and over and find it mostly unchanged, since in so doing they curate our memories and are polite about our mortality – for if these stay, and stay the same, so, it seems, do we… at least a part of us.
At this dinner my table faced the many previous awards on the wall and it was impossible not to be reminded of its illustrious past. Indeed, this evening had also started very well, with excellent service at the door and a very attentive follow-up at the table. But the start would prove to be the highlight.
The restaurant was well-supported this night, some tables of two clearly here for a romantic evening – a role that Ile Maurice fills well, what with the rose on the table, the French music, the colonial Mauritian touches and especially the crêpes Suzette that are flambéed in front of you. Most of the other tables were international. My frustrations began when the wine list offered very few interesting wines by the glass, and not one chenin blanc – which are on the list under a heading “Chenin blanc and Gewurztraminer” as if these varieties have anything to do with one another, except for not being sauvignon blanc, which seems to be mainly what is consumed in Kwa-Zulu Natal.
On asking after the specials, musselcracker was offered as the linefish. I suggested to the waiter that this was not legal, and he went off to check with the chef, who came to explain the texture of the fish to me. “Yes, I love musselcracker,” I replied, “but I’m worried that it’s not legal to sell it in a restaurant.” She then said it’s the white musselcracker and not the black and that they had all the paperwork to prove legality. Unfortunately the restaurant is mistaken, for white musselcracker can indeed be caught by recreational fisherman with special permits, but cannot be sold commercially (see SASSI’s website).
My dismay deepened when the breadbasket contained airy, dry “baguette” from a supermarket, and my crab soup (one of the specialities of the house) was dead ordinary, the crab flesh cooked to dissolution and the whole over-peppered and unbalanced. I overheard other tables loving the musselcracker, and although the rest of the menu is filled with seafood options (and it is wonderful to find a seafood-oriented restaurant at the sea), I was already put off this track and instead ordered the rack of lamb.
This was very well cooked, thankfully, and just when I thought they had pulled a course off, I checked the side of vegetables which was scorching hot and mushy, as if microwaved. One last chance in the form of the crème brûlée which again was very nearly there: it had a good texture but was cold inside… and all the while I witness three table-side Suzettes, the pancakes landing on the patron’s plates manhandled and mangled, a fitting metaphor for a once-elegant dining option.
9 McCausland Crescent, Umhlanga Rocks, Kwa-Zulu Natal
031 561 7606