When asked the inevitable question – Can you recommend a good seafood restaurant? – by out-of-towners, Durbanites might skirt the issue, instead referring to restaurants that offer great seafood dishes. So it was with happiness and a sense of relief to welcome Jack Salmon Fish House to the city, says Tracy Gielink.
It opened quietly in a small but popular suburban shopping centre in Glenashley in May, but word has spread fast. Owners Jason Roberts and Steve Christodoulou identified a gap in the market and promptly set about creating what can already be considered the best seafood restaurant in Durban. Steve is a seasoned restaurateur, having started the Bangkok Wok chain, among others, and Jason was a managing owner at Java Café in Umhlanga.
“I studied to be a civil engineer for four years and before my exams I was thinking what I would call my restaurant and what would be on the menu,” says the 27-year-old. “Steve was one of my clients for three years at Java. He said, ‘I’m starting a fish and chip shop’ … and it’s the furthest thing from that!” he laughs.
As they developed the décor, so plans for a casual fish takeaway and simple sit-down area morphed into what has been labelled as a semi-fine dining establishment. A baby salmon is called a Jack Salmon, so this is a fitting name given that it’s Jason and Steve’s first restaurant together. They were fortunate in securing the services of highly regarded Australian seafood chef, John Porcelli, who, after being based in the Midlands for many years, has decided to return to his home country.
“He’s 82 and would like to leave his legacy, especially in South Africa,” explains Jason. “Chef John showed us the ropes with seafood. It’s been four months and quite intensive training and he’s incredible!”
One of John’s signature dishes, calamari tubes are stuffed with prawns, skewered with capsicum, seasoned with peri peri and char-grilled. Other starters include beautiful local mussels steamed with white wine and Napoli cream sauce with a touch of chilli, and snapper chowder served with ciabatta.
Jack Salmon’s two iconic fish dishes are salmon poached in a prawn seafood sauce and tuna done with a fresh lime, coriander, mint and chilli dressing. The gourmet fish and chips option is fresh kingklip done in a beer batter, while delicious fish cakes also incorporate prawns and are served with a lemon, pineapple and sweet chilli dipping sauce. Kabeljou is lightly coated in curry powder with a yoghurt, mint, cucumber and banana salsa, or seasoned with parmesan and crumbed then topped with roasted tomatoes, olives and capers. The kabeljou is farmed in East London and other fish is supplied by nearby fish shop Bartho’s. Jason collects twice a day to ensure freshness and buys loins so steaks can be cut to order.
The menu will be tweaked every two months and John is currently working to create a light lunchtime menu that will launch in the next few weeks. Jason is planning to implement a captain’s table, which will offer its very own specials, and is also hoping to extend the outside deck and add a built-in braai on which to cook fish whole.
The wine list is a well-considered list of local wines that is cognisant of the seafood pairings and has reasonable mark-ups.
“We have taken the sea and the kitchen and put this in between,” Jason says indicating to the airy interior. It revolves around a crisp white palette that is fresh rather than stark, and a wall papered with a sepia photograph of a boat on a beach is the only nod towards the marine theme. The main attraction is the sweeping view of the Indian Ocean framed by stacking doors that open up the front of the restaurant. “We walked up the stairs and saw the view and said we’ll take it,” says Jason talking about their search for the right premises. “We hadn’t even gone inside and didn’t have a name; we didn’t have a menu and had no staff members.”
Jason is omni-present and, despite his easy charm and ready smile, is relentless in ensuring that his young team of service staff is attentive, knowledgeable and offering the same standard delivered by the food.
By Tracy Gielink