Situated in old Durban house, which gives little away from the outside, Mali’s is a treat, from the minute you’re warmly greeted to the exceptional celebration of eastern cuisine on the menu.
The offering is vast and includes a range of both North and South Indian dishes, as well as some Indo-Chinese specialities, on which you can decide over a tasty snack of chickpeas, fried with mustard seeds.
Start off with the mushroom Manchurian, a spicy plate of deep-fried mushrooms coated in Chinese spices with a surprisingly delicious crunch. Meat and vegetarian options include a range of idli (a South Indian savoury cake), impressive large dosa pancakes served with a variety of fillings, or vadai, an interesting savoury doughnut, which is delicious served in sambhar, a lentil-based vegetable broth with a sneaky kick.
Luxurious chicken, lamb, vegetarian and seafood curries can be mopped up with a variety of Indian bread – the masala kulcha topped with sesame seeds is superb. If you can’t choose between the many curry, tandoori, biryani, rice or noodle dishes, order a thali. This South Indian array of dishes is served on a tray and kept warm on a burner at your table, solving some of that indecision problem, with portions of spicy vegetable soup, succulent lamb curry, flavourful butter chicken, dhal, naan bread and crispy papad, as well as sambals and yoghurt. It includes gulab jamun for dessert – a sublime deep-fried milk ball soaked in light syrup with a hint of rose water. Traditionally you’re supposed to use the tray to assemble all the main dishes and eat off it with your hands, but the waiters are prepared for amateurs and bring you a plate and cutlery.
A small list of local beer and wine is available. Dessert drink options include lassis, Bombay crush and milkshakes.
Waiters are patient and helpful with suggestions, making the meal relaxing and enjoyable. Servers are efficient and meals are served promptly.
The dining room is cosy and simply decorated, but comfortable with a lively atmosphere most evenings.
The Chettinad crab curry is the signature dish, but does require at least 24 hours notice when making a reservation.
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You’ll notice a brief flirtation with Indo-Chinese dishes but, given the exceptional South Indian fare and imported chefs, it makes sense to look further than that on the extensive menu. For starters, try one of the dosai that dominates the starter menu, like the paper one, which sees a deliciously thin, crispy pancake (rolled to resemble an oversized cigar) with a flavourful potato filling. Main courses include biryani and offer a diversity of vegetarian options. The Chettinad curries are their signature dishes and come with a dense, unctuous gravy that incorporates black pepper, red pepper, tamarind and curry leaf. The butter chicken is one of the most outstanding versions in town, and desserts incorporate sweet meats.
A rudimentary ensemble of wines that all reside on the lower end of the price spectrum. Traditional lassis – mango, salt or sugar – are also available.
Waiters are outnumbered by owners and manager-types who officiate over proceedings. From the friendly welcome at the door, right through the meal, there is a genuine sense of hospitality, offset with efficiency.
Blue lights flicker merrily in the windows, alerting diners to the restaurant’s presence. Inside the converted house, sunshine yellow walls provide a happy background for traditional ornaments, artwork and generous wicker armchairs. Tables are bedecked in linen tablecloths, and retro fantailed serviettes demarcate each place setting.
Make use of secure off-street parking behind the restaurant.
This eatery offer a great example of South Indian cuisine and delicious flavours in a family-style environment. The large menu includes a number of vegetarian options. For starters, cauliflower marinated in spices gets the taste buds going, as does the fried paneer and marinated chickpeas with mustard seeds. South Indian specialties include vada (crispy Indian donut) and dosa, with the well-spiced dosa with mushroom curry being a particular highlight, and generous enough to satisfy even the biggest appetite. A dish of lamb chettinad with black pepper, coconut and tamarind paste is highly aromatic and goes wonderfully with their garlic naan. Further menu options include the usual popular suspects of butter chicken and kormas. Desserts are simple and quite sweet but perfectly executed.
They don’t have a liquor licence, so bring your own. They do, however, make a great lime spritz.
Welcoming. Not as refined as the food, but very warm.
Regular guests are treated like family at this busy restaurant. It’s perfect for groups, as large tables can be set up. The décor is very simple.
Don’t be afraid to ask for suggestions; the owners love to give advice, and you won’t be disappointed by their recommendations.