A lustrous five-star pearl
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Oyster Box Hotel
Where: 2 Lighthouse Rd, uMhlanga
Call: 031 514 5000
I HADN’T visited the grand old dame since before Covid, so, when I heard the Oyster Box was launching a new light tapas menu, I thought: “Let’s make an outing if it.”
As we arrived, Durban’s famed feline resident was basking in the wan winter sun at the entrance. Skebenga too had put on a few extra pounds during lockdown. Doors are opened, and the greeting at reception is warm. We admired the massive arrangement of anthuriums in the entrance, designed to look like a giant pineapple. Certainly dramatic.
The tapas menu is available in the Oyster and Lighthouse bars until 7pm. We made ourselves comfortable in the tub chairs of the Oyster Bar downstairs, with views of the ocean through the large circular windows. It’s a lovely light and airy space. The veranda was popular, with a few tables of people relaxing over platters of sushi and taking in the view.
We started sharing the mezze platter (R140), one of the two vegetarian options on the small but interesting tapas menu. It looked impressive, with a delicious selection of vegetables, good hummus and creamed feta dips, and plenty of olives, green and black.
The roasted tomatoes, marinated brinjals and roasted peppers ‒ all hidden under those cucumber ribbons ‒ were a delicious accompaniment. We mopped it all up with warm mini pitas and fried bread. The menu had said crackers, although I think this was the better option.
While deciding what to choose for “mains”, so to speak, we admired the impressive cheeseboard that arrived at the next table ‒ piled high with fresh and dried fruits, preserves and a whole array of different crackers.
Portions are more starter size than true tapas style, so we decided to share a few plates. The squid ink bun with crumbed hake and Asian slaw sounded interesting, as did the mussels with garlic, white wine and chourico. This being the Oyster Box, oysters were definitely on the menu, prepared Spanish style with wine vinegar, ginger, marinated peppers and lumpfish caviar. As one who always prefers my oysters au naturel, I was assured that wouldn’t be a problem either.
Land lovers could enjoy Bolognaise croquettes with grana padano, Napoli and sauce verde, or there’s bobotie spring rolls with pear chutney. We also liked the sound of pulled pork in steamed buns with pickled veg and plum sauce.
The sushi menu has all the usuals, including a few Oyster Box specials like tempura prawn rolls with teriyaki sauce, and wasabi parcels.
We enjoyed the spinach, feta-and-olive-stuffed calamari in a garlic and parsley cream (R140), although the dish had cooled somewhat by the time it got to the table. The crispy fried prawns on a light salad with mango butter (R195) were delicious. The large prawns with crispy shells were perfectly cooked, plump and juicy. The only problem ‒ we had to arm wrestle each other over the third prawn. Or should we order another plate?
Sadly, I lost that round.
Service is, as always, impeccable. Finger bowls are produced effortlessly to mop up after a single prawn.
Perhaps the dish of the day was the rum, orange and chilli roast pork with cucumber and soya mayo (R120). This was belly pork that had gone all sticky and crispy with just the right amount of sweetness and heat. And it worked well with those cucumber ribbons that seemed to go on for miles.
By now we were stuffed and well into our second glass of chardonnay, while the pianist was firing up for High Tea in the Palm Court. But we were treated to a couple of tasty morsels off the High Tea table ‒ a chocolate brownie which was better for being more of a mousse cake, red velvet Swiss roll, a baby lemon meringue and a macaron.
Service: 4 ½
Ambience: 4 ½
The Independent on Saturday