Ile Maurice celebrates 40 years in Durban in 2016 and remains the stalwart of French-Mauritian cuisine in the city. The menu has a heavy focus on seafood, with foie gras and cuisses de grenouille (frog’s legs) on offer, for those after authentic French dishes.
Soups and salads offer delicious iterations, with the soupe de crabe a highlight, packed with freshly shelled Mozambican crab meat, simmered in a tomato-based soup.
Entrées include freshly-shelled crab, simmered in béchamel sauce and served in its shell, as well as beignets de crevettes – lightly battered prawns, deep-fried and served with peri-peri and sweet-and-sour sauce. You’ll also find oysters and escargots on the menu, but don’t overlook the camembert aux amandes – a deliciously oozy deep-fried camembert round, crumbed with almonds and sesame seeds, served with red currant jelly and melba toast.
Line fish could include kingklip or Chilean sea bass – a species of cod icefish only found in cold waters, between depths of 45m and 3850m – about the same depth your pocket needs to be to pay for a portion of around 200g at R345. It’s lightly pan fried in butter and lemon, and served with nothing else but a sprig of dill, to celebrate its flavour. Although tasty, it felt a tad overhyped and overpriced.
All fish dishes are SQ and the rest of the mains menu is pricey, so expect to be surrounded by tourists and retirees with disposable income and a healthy exchange rate. Meat dishes include lamb, beef, oxtail, duck and rabbit, as well as signature Ile Maurice dishes including fish vindaye, spiced with turmeric, garlic and ginger, cooked with baby onions and a variety of flavoursome line fish or shellfish Mauritian curry dishes.
An elaborate wine list includes local wines, as well as imported French and Italian blends, but again, be prepared to pay for the privilege of drinking them. Specialty whisky and cognac is also available.
Polite and attentive, but not intrusive with good knowledge of the dishes. The heavy French accent of our waiter made everything sound extra delicious.
Cosy indoor or verandah tables, set with flowing tablecloths and wicker chairs, give off a private-island vibe, which is enhanced with myriad palm-print cushions and beautiful artworks.
Sit outside on a warm evening and enjoy a beautiful view towards the sea and Umhlanga promenade.
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Ile Maurice has been a Durban institution for nearly 40 years, from its original spot on Aliwal Street in 1976, then known as St Geran, to its current well-known iteration. With the kitchen originally helmed by the legendary Madame Elsie Mauvis, who only hung up her apron at 90 years of age, the restaurant carved out its own niche for haute French Mauritian cuisine. In August 2015 a new chef, Paul Eaton, took over the reins. He continues to cook from the established and revered recipes but is introducing some new ones. The menu has a seafood focus, as well as offering select dishes not easily found in Durban, including opulent starters such as Cuisse de Grenouilles (frogs’ legs, prepared in a garlic and herb sauce), foie gras and Iranian, Russian and French caviars. And as these ingredients suggest, the menu pricing is matched accordingly. If you plan to go, start saving now. The majority of the menu is priced as ‘SQ’. We enjoyed starters of crab soup, a tomato-based soup with a generous helping of crab meat, served in a shelled crab, as well the Chardonnay French onion soup. One of Paul’s new additions, a Scottish smoked salmon layered with tomato and avo and drizzled with a lemon and fennel aioli, offers a fresh and tasty way to kick off a rich meal. It readies the palate for the heavier experience to follow. Oysters are available as well, although they are some of the priciest in Durban, at R24 a half shell. Their bouillabaisse, often mentioned, is served Mauritian style, with lentils on the side, as well as a bowl of rice. The dish appears, upon arrival, deceptively small, but it’s packed with king prawns, Saldanha mussels, langoustines and line fish, and cooked in a crab soup base. It was incredibly rich, as well as a little too salty – it could have used a touch of acidity to balance things. Historically, a bouillabaisse should have saffron, fennel and some citrus - it’s one of the differentiators from a regular seafood soup or stew. But in this instance, if those ingredients were present, they were heavily overpowered by the shellfish flavour. It tasted, essentially, like the crab soup that we had tried for the starter, with added shellfish and line fish added in. A bit disappointing for R275. The Filet en Croute comprises a pastry-encased beef fillet, served tender and pink. It’s the sophisticated Beef Wellington and proves satisfactory. Desserts include classics like crêpe suzette and crème brûlée. Fans of the former should know it is served without ice cream here, so if you’re after that creamy and cool kick to balance the citric sweetness, you’ll have to order it separately.
Leave your car keys as a deposit at the door if you are navigating the wine list. It’s varied and boasts vintages and blends from France, Italy and our local shores. The prices are for the dollared tourist trade. A bottle of Warwick First Lady, for example, will cost exactly double what it will at a nearby venue up the road.
Service is swift and well-informed. Chef Paul comes out and chats with the diners after the meal – a nice personal touch.
Wicker chairs with palm prints and tables draped with white linen hint at the colonial island heritage of the menu. The verandah overlooks a bit of the ocean and some palm trees, echoing the décor, and on a warm evening with a light breeze, you shouldn’t sit anywhere else.
Complimentary, ice cold Limoncello shots are offered as a post-meal apértif.
The if-it-ain’t-broken-don’t-fix-it philosophy applies here, and there is some comfort to be had in a menu that hasn’t changed for decades. Seafood is prepared with aplomb and great care is taken to source only top-quality ingredients like the outstanding langoustine, which are simply grilled and served with Creole rice. Other signature dishes are gratin de crabe, consisting of fresh crab, shelled and simmered in a light béchamel sauce; line fish baked and topped with a coconut milk and tomato based sauce; and, when available, the well-known Mauritian dish of vindaye, a tempting meal of fresh fish, turmeric, garlic, ginger and baby onions. Traditional French dishes like frogs’ legs, rabbit, escargot (snails) and duck a l’orange also feature. As for desserts, the crème brûlée is very possibly the best in town.
The superlative selection will placate even the fussiest palate. The award-winning list is an extensive, well-balanced representation of South Africa’s iconic and highly regarded wines. A range of Champagne and French wine is also included.
Omnipresent owners dispense French charm to an appreciative audience and oversee the waiters. Service is taken very seriously. As one would expect in this kind of environment, staff are discreet, prompt and pre-emptive.
You’ll find a classy restaurant with a quiet air of colonial sophistication. Tables are dressed traditionally, draped in white tablecloths and adorned with a single rose, and the walls are decorated by framed palm prints and photos of Mauritius. Tables on the covered outside balcony are sought after as you can both see and smell the Indian Ocean for there.
They offer function rooms and menus for special occasions.
The French cuisine and experience of dining in the finest restaurant in Durban remains the benchmark in Durban. The food is exquisite and well matched to an excellent wine collection. A great evening guaranteed.