A sure cure for the blues…

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The three-level, marine-themed Aqua restaurant at Sibaya Casino, near Umhlanga.

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Getting away from it all doesn’t necessarily mean a long drive or flight, or a break-the-bank cash outlay. Sometimes just one treat evening away – somewhere fairly close to home, but far from the madding crowd – can work wonders. BILLY SUTER found that out when he had a meal and overnight’s stay at Sibaya Casino, in the rolling hills near Umhlanga.

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I HAD become quite a grump over all things Trump. I had had it up to my sticky neck with the relentless Durbs heat and humidity. Also, I wanted to be as far away as I could from a TV set on the night of the predictably chaotic circus that was the South African State of the Nation address.

It was Thursday, February 9. I was determined to escape to relax and unwind – and a night’s quiet stay at Sibaya Lodge, at Sibaya Casino, preceded by a meal at the casino complex’s Aqua, a restaurant I’d always enjoyed for its sushi and seared tuna, seemed the answer.

So after a run to the car with a small overnight bag, a quick turn-on-high of the air-con and a crank up of my new fave tune, Robbie Williams’s I Love My Life, my partner, Gordon, and I were off.

Just over a half-hour later we had checked in at the lodge, which is to the right of the main casino entrance and a short stroll to the entertainment and food areas.

Before we headed there, though, we visited the lodge pub, a floor below reception, which also operates as a spacious breakfast room.

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The Sibaya Lodge pool leading off the bar and breakfast area. It is a short stroll from the casino food and gaming areas.

We plopped into reclining loungers to sip gin and tonics while admiring the large, inviting pool that extends beyond the breakfast area, past two giant palms dripping weavers’ nest. The pool virtually acts as a signpost to direct one’s gaze to the expansive view of the ships at sea and neighbouring hills.

Already the day’s troubles started to glide away…

Not long after, we were off to the marine-themed Aqua, with its cool (in both senses of the word) flow of turquoise, dark-blue and white décor, with accents of green, yellow and cream.

I have always loved the playful but elegant decor – most notably the cylindrical fish tank that extends from the third-level sushi and teppanyaki area, through the main dining area, then down to the fun pub on a lower level.

The restaurant has had some pretty mixed reviews over the years but with one or two personal hiccups here and then I have always found the food good.

Also, other than on one earlier occasion a year or so ago when friends and I were left waiting ages for our mains, I have always had service that has been fine, attentive without being obtrusive – as exemplified by our February 9 waitress, the cheerful and sweet Angela Ngwenya, who has been there since 2014.

The best thing when deciding about any restaurant, when there are both brickbats and bouquets, is to pop along and decide for yourself, I say. Not every venue is always wonderful every night.

This Thursday was wonderful. Our shared sushi starter of Salmon Roses (six for R149) proved excellent. I have always loved the combo of avo, salmon and sushi rice.

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Salmon Roses from the sushi section at Aqua.

My double-thumbs-up at the dish raised a bright smile from sushi chef Kervin Barnes, who started out at Aqua as a server (see my interview with him under this site’s Food & Drink section).

Kervin insisted we later sample a dessert he was trying out.

Sadly, it wasn’t great. Gordon enjoyed it, but strips of strawberry atop and inside a roll of rice and cottage cheese, drizzled with Kervin’s own yoghurt dressing concoction, didn’t ring my bell. I have to admit I have never been one for rice as a pud, though.

But we are jumping the gun. Mains proved a treat for both of us.

I went for the linefish (R155) which was a chunky, beautifully cooked Cape Salmon, served on a bed of lentil and almond basmati rice, with a small side dish of slightly spicy pea dahl.

I loved it, but was equally as impressed with Gordon’s order from the upstairs teppanyaki station.

He opted for Chicken and Prawn Egg Fried Rice (R170) that was as plentiful as it was flavourful… a yummy mix of chicken fillet pieces, plump prawns, shiitake mushrooms, spring onion, bok choy (a type of Chinese cabbage), plum sauce, soy sauce and hon dashi (a stock made from dried skipjack tuna and dried kelp). It was all tossed in egg fried rice.

I nearly swopped my fish for his dish – and will have that again, for sure.

After our sample of Kervin’s strawberry-sushi dessert, I miraculously managed to find room for the baked passion-fruit cheesecake (R70), prettily served with a mango coulis and caramelised apple bits. Nice…but not as good as Gordon’s chocolate fondant (R70).

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Waitress Angela Ngwenya and one of the Aqua managers, Lance Moonsamy, with our Cape Salmon and Chicken and Prawn Egg Fried Rice dishes.

The fondant is a neatly plated slice of heaven – a warm choc volcano served with Amarula crème anglaise, a ball of vanilla ice-cream and chocolate sauce.

It was a good night, but if there was one disappointment it was that I truly missed the flavoured butters that were long such a trademark of this venue, served on arrival with a complimentary bread basket.

Now diners simply get four balls of butter and a sprig of random greenery accompanying the otherwise yum tomato bread slices, cajun bread sticks and chunks of focaccia bread.

Aqua’s menu offers a broad range of fresh seafood dishes, award-winning South African wines and great fresh sushi served in style. Meat dishes include duck and a fine fillet medallions dish, and I enjoyed the prawn and chicken curry on a previous visit.

Trading hours are from 1pm to 4pm Sundays, after which a half-price sushi menu special runs from 5pm to 9pm every Sunday. Dinner is from 6pm to 11pm Thursdays to Saturdays

To book a table, phone 031 580 5168.

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Baked Passion-Fruit Cheesecake.

….…VALENTINE’S SPECIALS AT SIBAYA CASINO…….

The scene is set for romance at Sibaya Casino and Entertainment Kingdom during the month of love. The culinary teams at Sibaya’s Royal Court and Aqua restaurants have put together special menus which simply ooze romance.

The lighter side of life and love can also be explored at the iZulu Theatre with shows such as My Funny Valentine (featuring funnyman Masood Boomgard and songbird Natalie Rungan) from February 10 to 12.

“Romance reigns at Sibaya during the month of love. From sumptuous dinners at our beautiful restaurants and rejuvenating spa treatments at Mangwanani Day Spa to light-hearted comedy shows and live entertainment, we’ve got Valentine’s covered,” says Belinda Jelf, marketing manager at Sibaya.

Aqua is serving up Food for the Heart this Valentine’s Day, with a four-course menu for R395 per person.

There is live entertainment by one-man band Rodger Peters from 8pm to 10pm every Friday and Saturday, and from 1pm to 4pm on Sundays, in February. Booking is essential.

At The Royal Court Grill guests can enjoy a most gracious setting. The restaurant offers an extensive menu featuring steaks, grills, seafood, vegetarian and kiddies meals.

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Aqua’s complimentary bread basket. Sadly, the flavoured butters are no longer served.

For Valentine’s Day (February 14), The Royal Court presents an Italian Love Affair, a three-stage dinner featuring authentic Italian-inspired fare. The cost per head is R300 and booking is essential on 031 580 5168.

Throughout the month of February, diners can enjoy The Royal Court’s popular lamb shank served with mash potatoes and fresh seasonal vegetables, accompanied by a glass of Porcupine Ridge Merlot for R190.

For couples that want to getaway for the Valentine’s weekend, Sibaya features two quality hotels; the three-star Sibaya Lodge and the luxury Royal Sibaya Hotel, where out-of-town guests can stay over in beautifully appointed rooms.

For more information visit www.suninternational.com

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Pulling up to the main entrance at Sibaya Casino.

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