BILLY SUTER pays a return visit, after a year, to the popular 14 on Chartwell, the bespoke bar and upmarket restaurant in the bustling Umhlanga Village – and again finds a lunchtime visit a great alternative for anyone wanting to experience the fine food away from the buzzy, pub-lounge vibe that makes it a top draw at night.
HAVING visited the elegant 14 on Chartwell bar and restaurant in Umhlanga Village just under a year ago, and had a really great lunch there (see my earlier review on this site), I promised to return. But I just did not get around to it.
Recently, however, I caught wind of some interesting new items having been added to the menu, so I set a date to again brave the traffic congestion in an area where high-rise buildings continue to pop up at an alarming rate.
Good news is that the restaurant, which opened in October 2015 on premises which partially accommodated a CNA store, has not slipped in standards.
It remains elegant, but warm and inviting. The service is as good as I remember, the food mostly very impressive and with a wide variety of interesting menu items. The booze selection is as enormous as ever.
The drinks menu, by the way, printed on olive-green sheaths of paper clipped to a wooden board, runs for three pages. One can order craft on tap or bottled, assorted ciders, signature giant gin and tonics, spiked milkshakes, as well as local beers, assorted cocktails and various small-batch spirits. A good, four-page wine list is also available.
The décor is stylish but comfortable, one section of the restaurant offering couch-like seating with cushions alongside tables. There is more of a plush pub-feel at tables towards the back of the restaurant, as well as standard dining tables, and also a less formal area where tables spill on to the pavement and a deck.
Brian Schoerie, amiable general manager, is clearly proud of 14 on Chartwell and its look, pointing to the large, bespoke, circular, linking chandeliers which dominate the centre of the room above the large, square pub. The chandeliers took some nine months to create, Brian tells me, also pointing out bespoke floor tiles that were specially designed to bleed from one colour into another.
Browns, greens, golds and yellows feature most prominently in a large room where, regulars will be glad to know, the house speciality, lamb shank pie, is still on the menu. A hearty and ample dish, it sells for R180 and comes with a spiced red wine and vegetable gravy and a side order of chips.
I was very close to trying it out on this visit, especially as both Brian and his Pietermaritzburg-born executive chef Jeane Morkel, rate it as their favourite dish. Instead I found myself pulled towards enjoying a starter and a main.
I was a little disappointed with my starter choice of Asian Lamb Riblets (R75), being slivers of char-grilled, sticky hoison ribs which were more dry than sticky and came with a pale, bland, nam jim dipping sauce.
My partner, Gordon, fared far better with his circle of baked camembert with hazelnut praline and toasted brioche (R110). Yummy, yummy, yummy!
Also among starters are Pork Belly Bites (R80) which I had on my last visit and enjoyed, albeit finding the Kortean BBQ dipping sauce a bit too salty.
I’d also like to try the two new starter options, introduced to the menu in April, now that the days are getting chillier. They are the Chartwell Chowder (R115), a savoury, creamy seafood soup with fresh black mussels, haddock and prawns; and the Chicken Liver and Dombolo (R55), being spicy chicken livers and steam bread.
The menu includes grills, burgers and a platter menu where a new addition sounds fun and is distinctly South African – the Shisha Nyama Platter (R310) which contains short ribs, lamb cutlets, brisket boerewors, chicken wings, jeqe, pap and chakalaka.
There is also a Durban Platter (R590) for those keen on a spicy touch. It contains a trio of samoosas, curried lamb riblets, mini lamb curry brioche bunny chows and chicken tikka fingers. More things nice and spicy are to be found in a new item on the mains menu – Indian Tapas Board (R170), offering yellow dhal, butter chicken, lamb curry, paneeer butter masala, naan bread and sambals.
Keeping the South African flavours going, note that the restaurant’s signature dishes menu also includes a new item that, curiously, seems hard to find in restaurants locally – bobotie. The Cape Malay Bobotie here sells for R110 and has the lightly curried beef mince and egg custard topping covered with almonds and served with yellow rice and chutney. A great winter choice.
My friendly waiter said the bobotie was good but when I said I felt like seafood, he suggested the prawn linguine pasta (R140). I declined as I had had that on my last visit, and found it delicious and plentiful, packed with plump prawns, topped with a langoustine and with a nice bit of a bite. It comes with a sauce flaked with fresh red chilli, parmesan cheese and lemon zest.
I instead chose the Brown Butter Lime Salmon (R195) and, as per my waiter’s suggestion, added three plump prawns (R15 each). It was terrific, the salmon beautifully seared and served on a wasabi mash.
Also new to the signatures menu is a Ginger Honey Glazed Eisbein (R150) that Gordon ordered for his mains and which was excellent. The smoked eisbein was tender and delicious, with just the right amount of sweetness. It’s done in Pilsener beer, honey, ginger, bacon and onion, and served with mustard mashed potato.
Desserts? I had tried the Eton Mess (R50) before – a mix of whole raspberries, meringues, whipped cream, raspberry coulis, and toasted pistachio nuts – and wasn’t in the mood for the new menu item, Black Cherry Crepes (R55), which are served with vanilla ice-cream.
So I decided to go for an Amaretto Dom Pedro (R55) – I’ve had a mad craving for them lately – and shared some of Gordon’s Hot Fudge Affogato (R40) featuring Madagascan vanilla bean ice-cream with fudge sauce, crushed (and whole) Maltesers and a shot of espresso. Nice!
Other sinful offerings include Bar One springrolls with ice-cream (R45) and a Hazelnut and Chocolate Mudpie (R65), which is a layered brownie tart with chocolate ganache, pomegranate pearls and vanilla bean ice-cream.
Worth noting that chef Jeane originally studied hotel management at Varsity College and has worked at Fern Hill, Little Switzerland, Selborne Estate and the Golden Horse Casino, as well as in industrial catering. He also spent time with Mango Catering, working on film set catering (Blood Diamond, Wild at Heart) and has fed stars such as Elton John and Michael Buble.
Jeane also spent six months working in Qatar in the Middle East but missed home and returned in January 2013.
…………THINGS TO KNOW…………
Address: 14 Chartwell Drive, Umhlanga
Phone number: (031) 561 1017
Hours: 11am to 11pm every day.