BY BILLY SUTER
THE last time I popped in at Durban’s Suncoast Towers hotel at the beachfront casino complex of the same name, I enjoyed a breakfast in what was then the ground-floor Riviera restaurant.
It was a long room leading off a cool, large, open-plan bar area at the bottom of a staircase twirling from the hotel’s reception. The restaurant entrance featured an impressive, circular work of wire art on a wall, depicting a school of fish.
All that is still there, but the Riveira, which specialised in Meditteranean dishes, local favourites and seafood treats, has since become the more elegant Jeera restaurant. Also, in recent months, it has undergone some slight refurbishing, the red elements in the décor having given way to more earthy colours.
These tones are in keeping with the restaurant name which, besides being an Indian word for cumin, also translates as meaning earthy or warm, I am told.
That is not the only change at this venue, which leads to a palm-bordered pool area – it has also acquired an amiable and enthusiastic new executive chef in young Manoj Rama, who has come full circle, so to speak.
Having studied at the Durban University of Technology in Durban, then had early training experience at the Beverly Hills Hotel in Umhlanga, he recalls that his first job was at Suncoast Towers, where he spent two years after graduating from DUT in 2007.
He arrived back there on June 16 this year as executive chef, after having spent eight years at the Elangeni Maharani on Durban’s Golden Mile, working alongside Shaun Munro.
Manoj is excited about the prospect of embroidering and expanding on a menu that is said to already be a hot favourite with curry-lovers in the city, and he is quick to single out the popular twice-weekly curry buffet.
Nodding to a basket of spicy, crunchy, fried shafts of roti and small breadrolls that he places on our table, he tells my partner, Gordon, and I that the complimentary bread basket is a staple at the Jeera buffets, held from 6pm to 10pm Fridays and Saturdays, for R295 a head.
Manoj says 13 hot dishes usually feature on the buffet, among them a special curry (either crab, trotters and beans, or butter chicken, he says) as well as a lamb curry or breyani. Two hot vegetable dishes and a tandoori masala are also on offer, along with a dessert spread.
We were in on a Tuesday night, so chose from the a la carte menu, Gordon and I opting to each have two of the four chilli-bite prawns that come as a starter option.
We got it on a bed of lettuce – and while the menu says it comes with green chilli sauce and mint coriander, we were happy, thank you very much, with ours instead coming with thick, tasty tamarind dipping sauce.
Pretty pricey at R85 for four, but they were delicious – plump prawns encased in a pea flour and deep fried.
Also among the five starter options are conventional chilli bites at R45 a serving (chickpea flour with jeera, ginger and coriander, fried until golden, and served with sweet chilli, honey and dhania dipping sauce).
Another option, at R50, and something I was tempted to try, is Puri Patha, being layered madumbi leaves with chilli paste, rolled and steamed, and served between two fried puris (deep-fried Indian bread) with lemon and fresh coriander.
A trio of samoosas – chicken, lamb and veg – are also available (R65) among the “appetisers”, as they are billed on the restaurant’s ornate, embossed fabric menu. Or one can choose a Jeera Tasting Platter for two, at R120, containing samoosas, chicken tikka, puri pathas, chilli bites and spicy lamb kebabs.
Manoj tried to persuade Gordon to go for the butter chicken as a main dish, but he had his tastebuds set on a prawn and chicken curry (R195), and I opted for the deboned lamb curry with potatoes (R175) that Manoj was pleased I chose.
Both Gordon and I were happy with our choices, the meat being tender, flavourful and plentiful. It was also fun having the meat and rice placed on separate burners to keep it warm in front of us.
A special fish curry and a crab curry are SQ items on the menu, while I rather like the sound of the Gourmet Bunny Chow Trio (R160) featuring three mini bread loaves with fillings of prawn curry, lamb curry and butter chicken.
Also a little different is Chutney Lamb (R185) which is lamb chops braised in tomato chutney with ground spices, while tandoor oven choices include Chicken Tikka (R145), Fine Ground Lamb (R165), and a combo of fish, lamb and chicken (R185). Grilled chicken, lamb, beef and fish is also available.
The five choices on the vegetarian menu are Lentil, Spinach and Cashew Nut Curry (R110); Three Bean and Paneer Curry (R110); Paneer Makani (R110); Chickpea Curry (R95) and Vegetable Briyani (R110). All are served with rice, roti and condiments.
And on to the condiments – a massive golden tray containing almost 30 colourful condiments was brought to tables the night we were in.
Friendly waiter Raj Anand, who has been working at Jeera for two years, pointed out that is a novelty appreciated by many of the venue’s visitors.
The tray features everything from turmeric-coloured dessicated coconut to green chilli paste, almond flakes, raisins, lemon, fresh chilli, tomato and onion, and beetroot in yoghurt. I also sampled lime, coriander, roasted coconut, mixed veg and tamarind.
After a long break, dessert was on the cards, and I am a little disappointed that I did not go for the chocolate mousse with ginger crunch (R65) that caught my eye immediately. Instead, the kitchen devised a taster of puds – but the choc brownie and carrot cake were not on the menu so it was pointless writing about them.
Gordon gave a thumbs-up to the crème brulee topped with a strawberry and golden sugar web (R65), while other options include a trio of sorbets, vermicelli with cream, Kheer (rice pudding) with coconut cream, and Soji (wheat pudding) sSrved with cardamom cream.
Jeera is open for breakfast from 6am to 11am and lunch from 1pm to 5pm. Dinner is from 8pm to 10pm. The phone number for bookings and enquiries is 031 314 7878.