The KwaZulu-Natal North Coast, South Coast and Midlands are packed with diverse dining options, offering everything from easy-going farm-style cuisine to fine dining in stunning locations. Here’s where to eat out if you’re lucky enough to spend some time in KZN in the year ahead. (Our best of Durban list is essential reading, too.)
Bel Punto (Umdloti Beach)
The Italian-style menu here leans heavily towards seafood. The succulent mussels, rich crab soup and marinara pasta with plenty of clams, prawns, mussels and calamari come highly recommended. White furniture and linen emulate the bright coastal feel, and the covered outdoor seating area with the beautiful ocean view is a must during the day.
Impulse by the Sea (Tinley Manor Beach)
Grab a spot on the deck for a view of the nearby sea and tuck into lovingly prepared curries. The signature dish at this family-run restaurant comprises plump sizable prawns in a thick tomato-based gravy with just the right amount of bite.
La Casa Nostra (Umdloti)
This family-owned trattoria serves a mix of Italian-inspired fare like pastas, pizzas, risottos and calzones. The complimentary focaccia is excellent, light and flaky with just the right amount of crunch – a great introduction to their pizza style. There’s a pleasant al fresco dining area for balmy evenings. (SB)
Brown paper tablecloths set the tone for eating with your hands. Tuck into rissoles, giblets in tomato, paprika and red wine or steak in peri-peri sauce. There’s an indoor play area for kids.
Casa Toscana Ristorante (Trafalgar)
A genuinely authentic establishment with Tuscan owners. You can taste the Italian countryside in the light mushroom flan, mozzarella-and-bolognese-stuffed arancini and beef carpaccio. The desserts are fantastic. This is the South Coast version of the south of Italy, with a breathtaking view of the Mpenjati lagoon.
The Cellar Boutique Restaurant (Port Shepstone)
The concise menu changes regularly, but might feature a starter of seared Norwegian salmon with chive cream cheese, coriander-and-lime pesto and rings of paper-thin dried apple, or sweet-and-sour battered pork belly with pickled red cabbage and ginger arancini. For dessert, go straight for the chocolate platter. It’s very romantic – ideal for date night.
This charming spot has a lush garden and patio, from which you can order delicious, robust dishes like free-range duck glazed in a plum sauce.
The Gorge Restaurant (Port Shepstone)
It’s truly a spectacular setting, overlooking the gorge and the surrounding game reserve. Standout dishes include lemony roast chicken with umami-rich gravy, golden fish goujons with homemade tartare sauce, and a dessert of moist Tunisian orange cake with honey yoghurt.
Trattoria Casa Mia (Umtentweni)
Chef-patron Alfonso is from Naples, a region known for its fresh ingredients and cheeses. Quality is evident in the beef carpaccio, flavoursome prawn pasta with a chilli kick, and fettuccini with a creamy sauce of porcini, white mushrooms and truffle oil. The scenery is exceptional, with a deck overlooking the Mtentweni River leading out into the sea.
Trattoria la Terrazza (Southbroom)
Ask for a table outside at this blissful spot, with its terrace overlooking where the Umkombi River runs into the ocean. Menu highlights include deep-fried zucchini sticks with basil mayo, lightly smoked springbok carpaccio, and spaghetti with glorious meatballs.
Café Bloom (Nottingham Road)
Most of the ingredients are grown in the garden here or at the owners’ home using heirloom and organic seeds. The lunchtime harvest table groans with delectable seasonal salads, and toasted sandwiches come served with house-made tomato-and-onion marmalade, which is available to buy. For a sweet ending, take your pick from scones, muffins, cheesecake or brownies.
Cleopatra Mountain Farmhouse (Kamberg)
The breathtaking setting tries but does not succeed in upstaging the expertly prepared food. The five-course set menu showcases produce grown in their garden in dishes like baby red-onion tarte tatin; oven-roasted tomato soup with coconut cream and chilli; rich smoked salmon timbale with garlic aioli and chilli relish; and confit duck rillette served on a Yorkshire pudding.
The Farmer’s Daughter (Tweedie)
Quaint and rustic, this spot is a visual patchwork of knick-knacks and mismatched furniture. It’s a relaxed, homely and welcoming spot with a kids’ play area outside. Seasonal and farm-fresh highlights include slow-roasted lamb knuckle pie, slow-cooked chicken-and-chorizo cassoulet, and tempting freshly baked goods.
Hartford House (Mooi River)
The peaceful setting may be a drawcard, but the food is the star of the show at this former Top 10 restaurant. Local produce shines on a menu that features the likes of blackened salmon, pork belly with port-glazed blueberries, and eland smoked with hay. A dish of roasted white-chocolate mousse with blood orange foam is a showstopper. The old-fashioned manor house has a wide balcony overlooking the tranquil gardens.
La Lampara (Balgowan)
You could be forgiven for thinking you’ve taken a wrong turn and ended up in Tuscany. This rustic Italian restaurant ticks all the boxes, starting with the crispy focaccia and tapenade on arrival and moving on to fresh asparagus wrapped in prosciutto with a light butter sauce, risotto ai funghi, gnocchi formaggi or spaghetti gamberi. The authentically made crispy-based pizzas are a popular choice, too.
Nicolson’s Country Café (Hilton)
Local produce stars in dishes like Midlands duck breast spring rolls with a basil-chilli aioli; a country pie of the day; and Midlands trout fillet with crispy pancetta, hashbrown, chardonnay cream and onion reduction. Ask for a table with a view of the rolling hills.
Oaklands Country Manor (near Van Reenen)
They grow many of their own vegetables and herbs here, serving dishes like a salad of heirloom beetroot straight from the garden; free-range devilled chicken livers; and Dargle Valley pork roast with beautiful crackling. The broad veranda overlooks the paddock and mountains disappearing into the wide blue yonder.
The Snooty Fox at Fern Hill Hotel (Tweedie)
You’ll find something for everyone at this country-style hotel, with dinner options including vegetarian pasta, grilled tiger prawns, beetroot-cured salmon, prawn-and-pea risotto, and Midlands lamb shank. Snack, pizza and tea-time menus are also available.
A photo posted by Oaklands Country Manor (@oaklandscountrymanor) on
Still-warm bread with butter and whipped feta sets the tone for dinner; pan-fried trout with reconstructed duck egg is a perfect opening act, followed by slow-braised beef tongue with roasted bone marrow or cider-braised pork belly with sweet-and-sour cabbage and crackling. Finish it all off with honey-and-Jameson panna cotta or Roquefort brulée with preserves.
The restaurants included in this story made the cut for the 2016 Eat Out 500, a power list of the best restaurants in South Africa, which appears in the latest issue of Eat Out magazine (on sale now).