BY BILLY SUTER
AFTER having been home to the Rainbow Terrace restaurant since 1997, the Hilton Durban hotel’s third-floor restaurant, leading onto a spacious undercover patio, has been given a new name and a complete makeover. And it’s looking pretty good!
It is now called Vasco’s – named after Vasco da Gama, the first European sea-faring explorer to sail into Durban bay on Christmas Eve, 520 years ago – and it opened at this Walnut Road hotel, overlooking the International Convention Centre, just two weeks ago.
The venue remains a buffet as well as an a la carte venue, serving both breakfasts and themed buffets, and offers a much more contemporary and elegant look than its predecessor.
Richly coloured in chocolates, oranges, tans, coppers and accents of blue and mustard, the contemporary design was intended to conjure a look and feel that is uniquely Durban, says Markus Fritz, general manager of Hilton Durban.
Think hot and sultry, a mix of styles which evoke rich textures and flavours of the city, yet still create a welcoming, friendly, feel-at-home atmosphere. That’s the way he puts it.
The Durban influence is evident as you arrive – the new reception desk resembles a traditional beer pot, and is backed by a glass wall featuring spicy colours designed to reflect the city’s Indian influences. Just beyond the reception is a striking wall feature depicting hills and mountains.
The pillar behind the desk suggests wooden bracelets, continuing the theme that celebrates the fusion of cultures that is Durban, explains Fritz.
“A lot of thought went into the design, and I believe that we have achieved our objective of creating a space that echoes the collective influence of various cultures in a contemporary, authentic and chic manner,” he adds.
The design allows for a light, airy feel during the day which is complemented by drop lighting that maintains a cosy warmth in the evenings. One is drawn through the restaurant to the covered outside patio, a perfect spot for larger gatherings.
The new restaurant is of note for a tandoori oven that takes centre-stage at the buffet counter, and it’s rather fun watching the making of various naan breads while you check out the tasty treats on offer, or order something to be grilled.
The Vasco’s interactive, live-cooking station and various spreads offer everything from an assortment of seafood grills, curries, pasta and pastries to dishes prepared, while you watch, in the tandoori oven.
“A family room and a Harvest Table add to the sociable vibe at Vasco’s and offer something for everyone. Regular themed evenings include seafood, curries and – moving outside – the best of South African braais,” explains Fritz.
From Sundays to Thursdays, Vasco’s offers what is billed as an “international” buffet, featuring the usual roasts, curries, puds and the like. The cost is R310 a head.
On Saturdays there is a special curry buffet (R275 a head) and proving popular, I am told, is the Friday seafood buffet (R350 a head). The cost of the daily breakfast buffet is R195.
I popped along this week to sample the seafood buffet and it looked spectacular, with beautiful, colourful displays of fresh fish, salads, puds and cakes.
Besides fresh seafood which can be cooked to order – calamari, mussels, kingklip, yellowtail, hake and prawns (by request the night I was in) – special dishes include tandoori prawns; a prawn and mussel chowder; seafood thermidor; cajun buttered corn on the cob; shrimp mac and cheese; and roast catch of the day (yellowtail when I was there).
An ample spread includes a large section for creating your own salads, although I whipped past that to rather indulge in some very good Cape-style pickled fish and the excellent rosettes of salmon (which went fast).
In this section, too, are coleslaw salad with pineapple; beetroot salad with coriander and a balsamic drizzle; quite tasty halumi, zucchini and cherry tomato skewers; as well as cured and smoked fish, and a salt and pepper squid that was little too salty for me but loved by my partner.
The seafood cocktail was a bit s0-what to be honest, served in a shallow glass with slivers of pepper and tomato. Rather give me a chunky cold prawn topped with mayo any day (sadly, not on the menu when I was in).
For mains, I had a taste of the roast catch of the day (yellowtail, and it was great) and I sampled, with basmati rice, both the curries available.
Both were satisfying, the better of the two being the Madras yellowtail with brinjal. The other was a chicken and prawn curry which was tasty, buttery, but remarkably low in prawns. I spent a good 30 seconds trying to hook some from the pot and ended up with only two small ones.
.A fellow customer also felt a bit-shortchanged on the prawns issue, and said that while he was happy with both curries, he was disappointed there was no crab or crab curry available on the buffet.
And so on to puds – there is a delightful display, with both chocolate cake (more a Black Forest variation, actually) and a yummy vanilla cake among the picks when I was there. Among other sweets available were mini milk-tart bites, sinfully rich mini chocolate brownies, and mini peach and almond slices.
Service is friendly and attentive and the restaurant has a warm ambiance. It is certainly worth a visit.
Dinner is from 6.30pm to 10.30pm. The breakfast buffet is from 6.30am to 10.30am Mondays to Fridays, 7am to 11am on Saturdays and Sundays. To book or for more information phone 031 336 8100.