Earning his nickname “Big Easy” as much for his effortless golf swing as his big heart and philanthropic efforts, South African iconic golfer Ernie Els is synonymous with all-round excellence. Having traversed the globe, Els has developed a sound understanding of what he wants in a restaurant and the Durban outlet is one of only two in South Africa.
Big Easy Winebar & Grill Durban by Ernie Els is unequivocally South African in its meaty dominance; the sheer scale of cuts and types presented and the hearty incorporation of local spice and flavour. Meat aficionados relish in starters like Cape Malay shrimp samoosas with spiced coconut chutney; Big Easy spice-rubbed lamb ribs with braai sauce; lamb three ways – masala-spiced lamb boerie with tomato relish, lamb shoulder fritters with apricot chutney and lamb burger with cumin raita – or the richly satisfying smoked pork shank croquette with pickled red cabbage and apple and curried duck fat mayonnaise where the taste buds are anticipating just one more morsel long after the plates have been cleared.
Grill orders are a butcher block’s smorgasbord of premium-grade rump, sirloin and fillet steaks, pork and lamb ribs, lamb cutlets and chicken either as a peri-peri baby or a spice-rubbed breast. Sauces and flavoured butters are sold separately.
The Ernie’s Favourites reflects Els’s own style – Durban lamb shank curry bunny chow where the temptation not to consume the dish in the traditional fashion is only superseded by the potential glares from fellow diners; the Big Easy burger presented with all the trimmings of a rib-sticking cheese burger and the two-person braai platter loaded with South African favourites and accompanied by two sauces, pap or fries.
However, it was the plate that speaks to Durban flavours that steals the heart. The butter Midlands duck is slow-roasted to intensify this dish’s rich fattiness and served with cashew nut butter curry sauce and traditional sambals, rice and roti. When moments in life are for sheer pleasure, this is the dish representing nirvana.
Vegetarian dishes are limited to the starter platter; cherry tomato bruschetta with parmesan cheese; various scrumptious salads (including the Big Easy Caesar salad with an Els-family recipe dressing) or the main course spicy chakalaka and sundried tomato maize rice risotto with grilled zucchini and parmesan cheese.
Weekly specials include burger and brew (Mondays); three-for-two titbits (Tuesdays cocktail hour); 600g sirloin on-bone with sides and sauces (Wednesdays) and Big Easy wine tasting and titbit pairing (Thursdays). The power lunch special offers two courses for R175 per or three for R205 and includes a glass of wine, beer or a cold drink.
The venue also commits to seasonal specials and new dining experiences throughout the year. In September the venue hosted a series of food and wine pairing events with Jordan wine estate including presentations by the winemaker.
Stellenbosch-based Ernie Els Wines focuses on premium cabernet sauvignon and cabernet-based blends. The Signature and Proprietor’s ranges are the pinnacle of winemaking achievements, while the Big Easy wines were created to emulate Els’s personality.
Unsurprisingly, the restaurant carries an extensive collection of these wines. Devotees can taste the entire 10-wine collection, while connoisseurs may be tempted by aged vintages of the Ernie Els Signature and Proprietor’s blend – Signature 2008 and 2010 and Proprietor 2012.
An extensive collection of selected quality wines broaden the wine choices, offering a platform to both emerging and more established names. The extensive wine list is divided into cultivars with wineries listed alphabetically and their region clearly stated. There is a good selection available by the glass.
Given the venue, mark-ups are not unreasonable and champagne houses Dom Perignon, Moët & Chandon and Veuve Cliquot add further credence. An innovative cocktail menu and extensive selection of globally renowned whiskies, cognacs, brandies, tequilas and other spirits round out the drinks options. There are also several cigars available for those seeking a final indulgence with their after-dinner appetitive.
Whether sipping sundowners on the veranda; concluding a business deal in a secluded corner or spending hours on a gourmet dinner, the service is faultless. The phones are answered with clinical perfection; the professional welcome at the door a warm embrace to launch an evening and the food presentation as much about the ingredients on the plate as about the precision of the waitrons in detailing that beauty.
Els desires hospitality in a relaxed environment and the Big Easy Winebar and Grill Durban by Ernie Els encapsulates this requirement. Amid unashamedly masculine décor of dark wood, exposed brickwork and awe-inspiring display cabinets is the invitation to savour a single malt whisky or glass of wine and allow the senses to be pampered.
While there are less expensive ways for spoiling within the Big Easy experience, the main restaurant is essentially a premier outing where splashing a small fortune on a promotion, personal milestone or because you love your partner is the order of the day.
The private dining room is also an option for a sophisticated experience.
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