Combine weather so benign you can dine outdoors year-round; panoramic sea views; a rich Victorian, Art Deco, and Indian architectural heritage; and a melting pot of cultural flavors, and you can see why Durban's dining scene is so interesting. It's also quite easy to navigate, with much of it concentrated in the Glenwood-Berea-Morningside residential belt (the best are highlighted below). Florida and Windermere roads in Morningside are still the hot spots, but newcomer Davenport Road, in Glenwood, is one to watch.
At the bottom end of Windermere, you'll find Bean Bag Bohemia, no. 18 (tel. 031/309-6019). Located in an elegant old Durban building, this is home away from home for Durban's arty set, who, like BBB, never seem to sleep. On the ground floor, a buzzy bar and cafe-style eatery serves pizzas, sandwiches, and spoonfuls of tasty tidbits ranging from olives to won tons. Come here for a drink, then move on to Mama Luciana's, no. 45 (tel. 031/303-8350), where Mama Luciana offers a family-style welcome. Better still, around the corner at 40 Marriot Rd., Manna serves tasty, healthy, clever food in a quiet, off-road, shaded courtyard.
Midway up Florida Road, at no. 178, is Society (tel. 031/312-3213), a stylish restaurant and bar sprawling over two floors in one of the finest examples of early Durban architecture. The small, contemporary fusion menu features sushi and Asian-style tapas. Practically next door is Spiga D'Ore(tel. 031/303-9511), a popular family-owned Italian eatery. Food is good and cheap, but you might have to wait for a table. If you're in the mood for light Asian, head straight to the Mo Better Noodles, Shop 5, 275 Florida Rd. (tel. 031/312-4193), an airy noodle bar serving consistently fine Thai-style food. The menu is small, but a long list of daily specials keeps regulars loyal.
Packed cheek to jowl, this new dining district in Glenwood has become a serious challenge to Florida Road's culinary dominance. Olive and Oil, on the corner of Bulwer and Davenport roads (tel. 031/201-6146), serves a somewhat conservative menu of Mediterranean food that relies on rich but satisfying sauces. Or trundle on to Pizzetta, no 139 (tel. 031/201-1019), a casual but stylish eatery serving gourmet pizza combinations such as smoked salmon, capers, and mascarpone cheese. A few doors away, Hemingways, no. 131 (tel. 031/202-4906), offers contemporary cafe food, light lunches, breakfasts, seriously good coffee, and both indoor and alfresco dining. Across the road is Dawn Glenny's Euforia, no. 134 (tel. 031/202-8951), a vegetarian joint, where the food is fresh, healthy, and organic. Middle Eastern Yossi's, at no. 127 (tel. 031/201-0090), is hugely popular, but, truth be told, it's really the warm vibe, open terrace, and chance to smoke a hookah that keep people coming back for more. (Don't miss the live jazz on Wed and Sun evenings.) Around the corner on Bulwer Road is the Arts Cafe (tel. 031/201-9969), where you can eat from a light, cafe-style menu while sitting under spreading trees. A supervised play area allows kids to run around. Good coffee, too.
Perhaps it's the year-round balmy weather, perhaps it's the casual laid-back atmosphere, but Durban has fewer fine-dining outlets than other cities. Undoubtedly the best, 9th Avenue Bistro, in the Avonmore Centre, not far from the buzz of Florida Road (tel. 031/312-9134), is where award-winning chef/owner Carly Goncalves serves up modern bistro fare. The menu is small and changes seasonally, but expect the likes of pear and Gorgonzola salad with candied pecans; seared tuna carpaccio; or seafood sausages served with seared scallops, basil mash, saffron emulsion, and tomato relish. Loin of venison is a popular perennial. Green Mango (tel. 031/312-7054), in the same center, serves superb and authentic Thai dishes, sushi, and sashimi -- their spicy, crispy duck is the stuff of culinary fantasies.
The other top option is Cafe 1999, high up on the Berea in the Silvervause Centre (tel. 031/202-3406), where Chef Marcelle Labuschagne and her partner, Sean Roberts, who handles the front of house, continue to pack them in with a modern Mediterranean menu, including their signature boned loin of lamb, grilled with lemon and rosemary, served with wilted bok choy, smashed baby potatoes, olive tapenade, and feta, and drizzled with red wine jus. Best of all, menu items are offered in "tidbit" or "bigbit" portions, so you can taste to your stomach's capacity. The only downside is the noise levels. If you're looking for a quiet tête-à-tête, pop next door to The Store (tel. 031/202-6182). Owners Monique and Sherwin have garnered a devoted following for such dishes as duck breast flavored with star anise and cayenne and sweetened with honey, and a roasted sweet potato and leek stack. Finally, if you're in Umhlanga, top picks are The Sugar Club and Ile Maurice, 9 McCausland Crescent (tel. 031/561-7609), where the Mauvis family has been offering a mix of traditional French and Mauritian cuisine and excellent seafood for decades.
Table With A Sea View, Please
Perched over the small-crafts harbor, with water lapping at its foundation and moored yachts just a touch away, Yacht Mole (tel. 031/305-5062) specializes in seafood. A good wine list will keep discerning wine drinkers happy. For a range of dining options with a view, head farther along the Embankment to Wilson's Wharf, at the southern end of Durban's bay, where you can choose among several restaurants, including a good sushi and oyster bar and a Thai restaurant, all with decks overlooking the harbor. Suncoast Casino, overlooking Durban's North Beach, is a casino and family-entertainment center rolled into one; the best option here is Havana Grill and Wine Bar (tel. 031/337-1305), which offers top-quality steaks as well as a few interesting seafood and vegetarian options. In Umhlanga, head for The Sugar Club (tel. 031/561-2211), in the Beverly Hills Hotel, offering contemporary fine dining right next to the ocean. Downstairs, overlooking the sea and large swimming pool, is Elements (tel. 031/561-2211), with an appealing all-white decor and a light, contemporary cafe menu.
Just 20 minutes north of Durban city centre, in Umdloti (the beach town just north of Umhlanga), is Bean Bag Bahia, Beach Cafe & Deli (32 North Beach Rd., Umdloti; tel. 031/568-2229). Floor-to-ceiling windows overlook the beach and provide a light-filled space with the freshness of salty sea air. The menu promises "flavours and tastes from South American and modern Portuguese influences," and they're reasonably priced from R70 to R120. But locals have all been lining up for a sea-facing table at Bel Punto (Umdloti Centre, 1 South Beach Rd.; tel. 031/5682407), a family-run Italian restaurant: Try Mamma's homemade gnocchi and tiramisu.
But if you'd like to combine your seaview table with a dip, the best seaview dining to be had lies a little farther north, in Salt Rock (approximately 30 min. north of Durban city center), at the Salt Rock Hotel (tel. 032/525-5025; www.saltrockbeach.co.za). It's by no means fancy food, but this old, laidback beach hotel is an institution: Amid tropical grounds, waiters serve up a number of fresh curries all day on the terrace (try the crab and prawn curries, after a round of fresh oysters). It's an easy stroll down to the beach and the tidal pool (great for kids), and for a fee you can wash off afterward in the hotel pool.
Kings Of Curry
Currently, the hot option in town is new Spice, at 362 Windermere Rd., in a comfortable old Edwardian home set back from the road (tel. 031-3036375; Tues-Sun noon-3pm, Tues-Sat 6pm-late), where owners Linda Govender-Burger and Russell Burger have a different take on spice. In a marriage of East and West, oxtail is tweaked with cinnamon, a pear and leek soup fringed with cumin, and trout spiced with fennel. Farther down the drag, at 20 Windermere Rd., Vintage (tel. 031/309-1328), another popular Indian restaurant in an old Berea home, serves up a selection of more traditional north and south Indian food. Also in Windermere, the Indian Connection (tel. 031/312-1440) serves mainly north Indian, but with a comprehensive vegetarian selection. Palki, on Musgrave Road (tel. 031/201-0019), serves north and south Indian foods in a cheerful, spacious first-floor room. If you're in Umhlanga, or looking for a grand and elegant dining experience befitting Indian royalty, head for the imposing Gateway to India, Gateway Theatre of Shopping, Umhlanga (tel. 031/566-5711), where a team of chefs from India prepares north Indian dishes.
Note: This information was accurate when it was published, but can change without notice. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.