BILLY SUTER pays a long overdue return visit to golfing great Ernie Els’s elegant Durban restaurant, Big Easy, at the Hilton Durban, in Walnut Road, alongside the International Convention Centre.
I CANNOT believe almost two years have whizzed by since I attended the official media launch of Durban’s Big Easy restaurant, when I was still arts editor of The Mercury and editing the Goodlife supplement.
It was a fun time spent both in the airy, sophisticated interior and, more so, in the inviting restaurant outside areas, sipping wines and sampling many mini variations of the food conjured for the menu by amiable executive chef Janine Fourie.
It was a wonderful afternoon, and I was every bit as impressed with the food, service and ambiance when I booked a table a few weeks later to treat a friend to a meal there as a 60th birthday treat.
Good news is that on a long-overdue return visit last night (February 15), a lot of my favourite dishes were still on the menu.
The food and service was also still as good as I remember it. And Janine is still there and as bubbly and talented as ever.
South African-born, she arrived at Big Easy after having been executive chef for two restaurants at the Knai Bang Chatt Hotel, an 18-room, boutique hotel in Kep, Cambodia, in the Gulf of Thailand.
Janine completed her in-service training, as well as professional chef diploma, at the Granger Bay Hotel School in Cape Town and has spent the past 17 years gaining valuable local and international culinary experience, front and back of house, all over the world.
“Good quality food inspires me. Only by appreciating your ingredients and gathering knowledge about them, can you produce a truly divine culinary experience,” says Janine, who I have interviewed separately in another post under the SoSuterBill Food&Drink category.
It was sweet, on arrival, that she remembered my partner, Gordon, and I from the launch party. Also, while insisting that we try a quartet of starter samples before our main meal, she even correctly recalled the table I sat at nearly two years previously for that 60th birthday.
The starters were served after we received a complimentary small corn bread to share (see picture right). It was warm, soaked up the butter, and was delicious… but we had to wave half of it away to receive Janine’s signature starter – my favourite Big Easy memory, her oxtail and marrow fritters (R75).
We shared the starter – one-and-a-half fritters each, as there are three balls in a serving. They are to die for and alone worth a trip to Big Easy. Promise.
Sharing a bottle of Ernie Els Sauvignon Blanc (R175), we then tucked into the quartet of sampler starter servings from Janine – beautifully presented, side by side, on little black slates on a wooden board (see picture above).
They included peanut-crusted beef-fillet skewers served with a sweet soya and chilli relish (R85 as a starter dish), which were nice enough, as were the (pretty hot, but tasty) baked, cheesey jalapenos with smoked garlic, feta cheese and spring onions (R68 for starter serving).
Much better, however, were the non-greasy, thin and crisp, coriander, beef and mozzarella samoosas served with a sweet spicy jam tomato chutney (R65 a starter dish).
The best of the quartet we were treated to was the Gnu Carpaccio (R85 a starter dish) which is also one of chef Janine’s favourites. It is served with a beetroot and apple chutney, horseradish crème, celery and toasted pumpkin seeds. Truly more-ish!
And so on to mains, for which we enjoyed a glass of Ernie Els Red (R270 a bottle).
There is a wide choice of steak and chicken options which our waitress says are very popular, as well as a mix of salsas, soups and seafood, but my heart was set on the Butter Duck (R175), which was a sizeable serving, complete with rice, pappadum, roti and relish.
I had no complaints with what I got – a rich and creamy load of yum… the cashew-nut curry sauce being more flavourful than chilli-hot and the duck cooked to perfection. I even chewed away at the bones.
Gordon had considered the famous Big Easy burger containing prime beef, plum tomatoes, onion marmalade, mature cheddar, bacon and rocket leaves, served with fries (R135). He also looked at the lamb shank bunny chow (R195) that is popular, but instead opted for the 500g ribs with chunky chips and a small salad (R165).
With sauce on his cheek at one stage and a quick series of nods all I could get out of him, as he tucked in, he was clearly happy.
We were too stuffed to consider a pud selection, but I would have gone for the trio of chocolate and cardamom layers (R68). It’s a mix of dark chocolate mousse, chocolate ganache and a chocolate brownie base, with a sweet fudge centre. Sinful.
Also a good choice, I hear, is the Amarula creme bruleé, served with caramel fudge ice-cream (R65).
“Having travelled the world, I have developed a good feeling for what I look for in a restaurant – great hospitality in a fun, relaxed environment in which to enjoy the end of a long day – spending time with friends over a great bottle of wine and a meal,” Els says on the Big Easy website.
“The ethos behind Big Easy Durban Restaurant is to achieve that.”
Give it a whirl if you haven’t been there. It’s certainly a must for a special occasion.
The restaurant combines several unique spaces, all tied together by inviting rustic elements such as wood-beamed ceilings, beaten copper, rich textured leather upholstery, brushed concrete and handcrafted furniture, as the website explains.
I particularly love the chandelier of bottles in one corner of the restaurant (see pic bottom right) and the special dining area that has ropes along the walls and on the ceilings.
The open-plan interior of the restaurant comprises a Chef’s Table and open kitchen, where diners can get up-close-and-personal with chef Janine and her team.
A large bar with an impressive wine bottle display, a dramatic floor-to-ceiling backdrop and a copper bar counter, dominates the east end of the space.
“The Els influence can be seen throughout with the many personal touches that have been introduced. The lounge area is stocked with Big Easy vintage wines from Ernie Els’s own vineyard, and showcases a feature wall filled with memorabilia, replica trophies and images,” to further quote the website.
To make a booking phone +27 (31) 336 8166
Address:12 – 14 Walnut Road, Durban, 4001
UPCOMING EVENTS AT BIG EASY
Wine Pairing Dinner
La Vierge Wines
(R425 per person)
La Vierge Wines is in the picturesque Hemel-en-Aarde Valley near Hermanus, and is proudly owned by Durban’s Peter Clarke.
Gerhard Smith, winemaker at La Vierge Wines, will be the guest speaker and guide you through the evening’s wine tastings.
Gerhard, who has been with La Vierge for four years, has had a love affair with Pinot Noir which he refined in New Zealand, where he worked for eight years.
Smith’s winemaking philosophy is a simple one – he believes in wines with a great balance, elegance and texture. Among the wines featured will be their biggest cultivars: Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and Sauvignon Blanc.
Join the Big Easy Durban for a culinary adventure where chef Janine Fourie soffers a four-course farm to table menu paired with a selection of La Vierge wines.
Whisky Pairing Dinner
(R425 per person)
Head for Big Easy for an evening featuring an outstanding selection of the world’s best-selling and most awarded single-malt whisky, by courtesy of Glenfiddich.
For more than 125 years, Glenfiddich has been an industry pioneer while remaining independent and family-owned.
This pairing will include tastings from the Glenfiddich core range which comprises the 12-year, 15-year and 18-year-old blends.
Chef Janine Fourie, together with the Glenfiddich team, are eager present a journey through the complimentary nature of whisky and food.