Andrea Abbott enjoys unpretentious cuisine in Hillcrest, outside Durban.
Two Acres Tea Room, Hillcrest, 031 768 1957
Having just completed a pond-building project, my hubby and I felt we deserved to go out for lunch. At the same time we wanted to thank our friend and plant guru, Anno, for the mass of wetland plants she’d sourced for us. What better venue, then, than pretty-as-a-picture garden café, Two Acres Tea Room in Assagay on the edge of Hillcrest? It’s a favourite with ‘ladies who lunch’ and is firmly on the map for kitchen teas, high teas (on offer are some wicked cakes and tarts) and special occasions like farewells. Oh, and pond-completion celebrations.
We chose a table on the terrace beneath the massive plane trees that provide welcome shade on a hot day. As with most quality restaurants nowadays, the emphasis is on fresh, locally sourced ingredients, ethically produced meat and eggs, and artisan products such as bread and ice cream. Herbs and some veggies and salad plants are grown on site.
The menu offers contemporary, unpretentious fare that’s beautifully presented. Anno ordered melanzane with Parmesan and green salad (R70). John’s was the chicken and mushroom pie with creamed potato (R70), and mine, roasted butternut, leek and feta tartlet with garden salad (R60). We were warned that the chicken pie, baked from scratch, meant a 30-minute delay. No problem for us. There’s nothing like a long, slow lunch in a verdant garden.
The food was well worth the wait. My tartlet with its chunky filling and light, crisp pastry was scrumptious. Anno could not fault the melanzane, and John who, being an Englishman, was practically raised on pies, was very happy, thank you very much. Often, he wishes he’d had the same as me. Not this time.
On then to those wicked deserts. For John – warm apple and caramel cake with cream (R40). It earned full points.
“It reminds me of the Hurray Pudding my mother used to make,” he said. Anno and I, claiming health consciousness, ordered the gluten-free chocolate and orange cake (R35). I think it was Miss Piggy who said, ‘Never eat more chocolate than you can lift’. Well it was a close thing. The cake was huge, rich and a chocaholic’s dream. Miss Piggy would have loved it.
Punjabi’s, Hillcrest, 031 765 4779
I’ve long wanted to go to India but with the rand value plunging to impressively new lows, my chance of travelling there has similarly reached near zero. Happily, a little part of that country has arrived on my back doorstep.
Punjabi’s Restaurant occupies one of a row of small shops in Hillcrest’s Oxford Village Market (previously Heritage Market). It’s a modest place that’s easy to overlook if you don’t know it’s there, but don’t be fooled by its unassuming face and simple decor.
Owned and run by a family from Punjab, the tiny (about eight tables) restaurant became locally famous almost overnight for its authentic North Indian cuisine characterised by fragrant curries cooked in rich gravies. The menu includes a huge choice of curries, as well as seafood, tandoors and, for die-hard South Africans, bunny chows.
On our first visit, after asking our waiter Deepak what his home region was like – “flat, agricultural, not exciting” – we started with the vegetable sweetcorn soup. Light and creamy and just R15.
For mains, we ordered medium strength (all curries are served mild, medium or hot) Paneer Tikka Masala – Indian cottage cheese barbecued in a clay oven and folded into a rich tomato sauce (R60), and Dhingri Muttar – mushrooms stuffed with paneer and potatoes, cooked with green peas in a yellow gravy, also R60. So tasty and quite different from a typical Durban curry but also more on the hot side of medium than our Western palates are used to.
On our second visit (this time, Deepak described Punjab as a “beautiful place”, I suppose absence makes the heart grow fonder), I stressed I wanted mild Kadhai Paneer (R60) – Indian cottage cheese and green peppers sautéed with tomatoes, ginger and spices. 10/10. Once scorched twice shy, John steered clear of curry, choosing the half Tandoor Chicken that comes with chips or naan bread, the latter baked in-house (R70), His score: 8/10. As we did on the first occasion, we ended with kulfi which is Indian ice cream made with milk and flavoured with almonds. I detected a hint of cardamom. Unusual, delicious and just the ticket after spicy food. And at R15, an absolute steal.