BILLY SUTER reports on the famous curry buffet at the elegant Oyster Box Hotel in Umhlanga. This is not curry in a hurry, but an event for which time and a good appetite is needed to get the most from the variety of dishes on offer. To book for the buffet, phone (031) 514 5000 or e-mail email@example.com
AS A curry lover I had only once before had the privilege, some years ago, of enjoying the fine curry buffet at Umhlanga’s glorious Oyster Box Hotel. So when I got the nod recently to revisit for a feature for my site I ensured I skipped lunch and arrived tummy-grumble hungry.
Needless to say, when I left an hour-and-a-half or so later I was puffed like a blowfish… but smiling happily.
The curry buffet, a landmark of sorts in a city known for its curries, is not a cheap affair. It costs R390 a head for either the lunch sitting, from noon to 3pm, or the evening sitting, from 6pm to 10pm.
However, like the popular High Tea in the room that adjoins the casual, Mediterranean-inspired Ocean Terrace – where the buffet lines the full width of the far end of the room – at least one treat visit is a must-do.
The spacious terrace, in cool shades of white and blue, offers great views across the Indian Ocean, and service, as expected of the Oyster Box, is excellent.
The buffet offers at least 11 curries daily, including meat, fish and vegetarian options and there is a good variety on display, with helpful staff at hand to offer suggestions.
From the delicate flavours of the Singapore Fish Curry, to the spicy and hot Lamb Vindaloo or the smooth-textured Butter Chicken, there is something for all tastes.
Vegetarian options include Vegetable Korma, and very popular is the Chicken and Prawn Curry which, while tender and with plump prawns, was just a tad too tomatoey for my liking.
Full marks, however, for the Traditional Durban Lamb Curry (the recipe of which is featured below), which I am told is a firm buffet favourite.
Accompanied by fresh, homemade condiments and freshly baked naan breads, papadums and rotis, the buffet recently added two puds (not on display but which can be ordered) and two starters to the menu.
Starters the night I was in included mini but chunky chicken samoosas (tasty but cold) and what I was told was a chili bite but was more of a potato ball.
Two tandoori ovens guarantee authentic, freshly prepared Tandoori chicken which was excellent – tender and tasty – especially good with a peanut butter and mint raita sauce.
Also among choices that whet my appetite were the Beef Vindaloo and sugar beans curry, while the wide array of condiments include lime pickle, dried apricots, vegetable pickle, mixed dried fruits, candied nuts, mango, fruit chutney, sweet and sour carrot, banana and cinnamon milk, dessicated coconut, sweet chili, tomato and onion, raisins and spiced pineapples.
The only surprise the night I was in was that there was no sign of a bunny chow (curry in a mini bread loaf, for those not in the know), which is so much a part of Durban and the local curry scene. But I am sure if requested, one could be rustled up with no complaint.
Local etiquette dictates that a bunny chow always be eaten with the fingers – tear pieces off of the side of the loaf and dip them into the gravy.
The trick is to avoid taking pieces off the loaf that are below the gravy line. Also, steer clear of the gravy if you don’t like hot food, as experience has shown it is the hottest part of the curry.
Very few tourists leave our city without enjoying an authentic Durban curry.
Curry was introduced to the then colony of Natal some 150 years ago by indentured sugarcane labourers, who brought with them the aromatic foods of India.
In fact, the word ‘curry’ stems from the Tamil word ‘kari’ which means ‘sauce’.
The unique flavours of Indian cooking, which were embraced by British settlers and the Zulus, have been developed to make the curry particular to Durban, famous around the world.
The flavours of this spicy red dish – derived from hot curries of Gujarat and Tamil Nadu – are enhanced by fiery chillies, which are the main ingredient in the curry powder, giving a rich colour and hearty flavour.
The array of tasty Durban curries encompass many glorious dishes made from chicken, prawns, fish, beef and vegetables, but the most popular choice is lamb or mutton.
So what’s the difference between an Indian curry and a Durban curry?
“Indian curries are usually coloured yellow with turmeric, while Durban curries, which are hotter, are coloured red with tomatoes, chillies and cayenne pepper,” says an Oyster Box spokesman.
Expert curry makers from Duban boast that a typical Durban Masala curry powder has about 12 different ingredients in the blend. These include ground coriander, cinnamon, cumin, curry leaves, fennel seed, dried chillies and cayenne pepper, as well as ginger and garlic.
The Oyster Box is a member of Red Carnation Hotels, a private, family-run collection of four-star and five-star boutique hotels in London, Guernsey, Dorset, Geneva, South Africa and Palm Beach.
The collection prides itself on splendid luxury, generous hospitality, inventive and traditional cuisine, private art collections, passionate service and loyal staff committed to creating richly rewarding experiences for all their guests.
The Oyster Box’s famous Lamb Curry
- 1 kg leg of lamb or shoulder (or 1 kg chicken), cubed
- 75 ml oil
- 1 onion, diced
- 2 cloves
- 2 cinnamon sticks (10 cm long)
- 20 ml medium strength masala curry powder
- 1 teaspoon salt
- 10 ml crushed garlic and ginger
- 4 curry leaves
- 5 ml whole fennel seeds
- 250 ml water (one cup)
- 2 large potatoes, peeled and cut in half
- 1 medium tomato, skinned and diced
- Coriander (Dhania) leaves for garnishing
- Wash cubed meat and drain water
- Heat oil. Add diced onion, cloves and cinnamon sticks
- Add masala curry powder, stir and add meat to the pot
- Add salt, garlic and ginger, curry leaves and fennel seeds.
Stir all ingredients together
- Allow to cook on a high heat for 5 minutes.
Reduce heat to medium and continue cooking for half an hour
- As excess water and juices evaporate, add the additional cup of water, followed by the potato and tomato
- When both meat and vegetables are cooked (approximately 30 minutes), simmer on high heat for 5 minutes
- Garnish with coriander and serve
Preparation and cooking time: 1 hour
Serves: 4 people
Serve with: Rice, roti and green salad
……………………….COMING UP AT THE OYSTER BOX…………………….
The Oyster Box will feature a string of culinary and entertaining autumn events to suit all tastes and celebrate special occasions during the coming , cooler months.
To celebrate Freedom Day on April 27, the hotel will present a proudly South African-inspired High Tea. From 2.30pm to 5pm, visitors will be able to savour the sweet tastes of our native land with syrupy koeksisters, creamy melktert and rich malva pudding. For a savoury balance, try the imfino and putu bites , and the ujeqe. The cost is R390 per person.
A one-of- a-kind Indian High Chai Tea is scheduled from 2.30pm to 5pm on May 1 in the beautiful Palm Court. Enjoy scones with pumpkin chutney, Bengali spiced prawn puffs and assorted samoosas along with cups of milky Indian Masala Chai. The cost is R390 per person.
From 7pn to 11pm on Wednesday, May 10, the hotel offers an educational and insightful evening that examines the flavours of Johnnie Walker. The main single malt base for each premium Johnnie Walker Blended Whisky will be broken down for you and two whiskies will be paired with each course on this journey, through flavour notes. The Oyster Box’s flagship restaurant, The Grill Room, is the venue for this experience. The cost isR650 per person. Booking is essential.
Show your mom how much she matters this Mother’s Day! On Sunday, May 14, the famous High Tea will be served in the Pearl Room, from 3.20pm to 5pm, with goody bags from Lindt Kindor and the vocal talent of Eric Canham accompanied by a pianist, as sweeteners. If a sit-down affair is your preference, take advantage of the Mother’s Day Lunch on the Ocean Terrace from noon to 3pm, where Blommie, the hotel’s in-house florist, will craft each mum a posie. High Tea costs R 390 per person and the lunch costs R750 per person.
On Friday, May 26, join executive chef, Kevin Joseph, for a Curry Master Class and a three-course dinner in The Pearl Room. Chef Kevin will expertly demonstrate a selection of dishes, incorporating Indian cuisine. Dinner will feature some of the demonstration’s dishes andeach guest will take home the recipes, hints and tips for recreating the meal at home. The evening starts at 6pm and costs R 850 per person.
Treat the youngsters to a High Tea for Teenagers from 2.30pm to 5pm on Youth Day, June 16. Mini burgers, hot dogs and sweet treats will leave every teenager with a smile on their face. They will also stand a chance of winning a voucher for the Gateway Entertainment Centre. The cost is R350 per person.
A special Gentlemen’s Tea is the ideal opportunity to make your man feel extra indulged. Husbands, dads and grandads will all love this more savoury then sweet event. Dainty cucumber sandwiches have been replaced with pork pies, beef sliders, scotch eggs and whisky truffles. This exclusive event, on June 18, will include a whisky tasting for each gentleman, and thechance of winning a bottle of whisky. The High Tea runs from 2.30pm to 5pm in the Palm Court at R390 per person.
The Oyster Box has joined forces with the House of Moët to offer six exceptional courses, each paired with a champagne from the Moët portfolio. It will be served in the elegant, fine- dining Grill Room. A Moët representative will be on hand to guide you through each pairing. It is from 7pm to 11pm on Wednesday, June 28. The dinner and pairing costs R 950and booking is essential.
The Oyster Box offers live entertainment every day of the week. The Lighthouse Bar is open daily for cocktails and snacks, with live music on Thursday and Friday evenings from 6.30pm to 9.30pm. Sit back and enjoy live music each evening(6.30pm to 9.30pm) in The Oyster Bar.
On The Ocean Terrace, popular Wallace Nock does the honours on Saturdays from noon to 3pm, and new arrival, velvet-voiced Eric Canham, from noon to 3pm on Sundays.
Restaurant and High Tea reservations
(031) 514 5018 • Email: firstname.lastname@example.org
(031) 514 5072 • Email: email@example.com
(031) 514 5000 • Email: firstname.lastname@example.org