BY BILLY SUTER
GOLFER Ernie Els’s elegant Big Easy restaurant on the ground floor of the Hilton Durban, alongside the International Convention Centre, has ongoing monthly special events to whet the appetite of both regulars and newcomers, and this month is no exception.
The last time I visited the restaurant was in April to enjoy one such special. It was a pairing of yummy chocolate truffles with four Ernie Els wines – a chenin blanc, then rose, then cabernet sauvignon and, lastly, a blend – at a cost of R155 a head.
It was great fun and quite delicious, so I was very happy to return to the popular grill and winebar last night (September 17) to sample a similar treat, of the savoury kind this time around, which is being made available to customers from 11am to 10pm daily, Sundays to Thursdays, until October 1.
With Jordan Wine Estate being celebrated all of this month at the restaurant, a special that caught my eye is a pairing of four of the estate’s wines with a selection of cheesy arancini which, for anyone not in the know, are crispy, stuffed risotto balls coated with bread crumbs, then deep fried.
Best enjoyed as a shared starter, perhaps, or simply on its own, as my partner and I chose to do, the special is well priced at R155, as one gets four ample glasses of wine with four very nicely turned out, good-sized arancini, each neatly assembled in a row on a black slate.
The special is proving quite popular as a bar snack option, I was told by warm and welcoming Ayanda Kunene, Big Easy’s trainee sommelier, who started out there as a waiter when the venue opened in October 2015.
After placing the slates of arancini on the table, he pours four different wines into the four glasses he lines up behind the golden titbits, explaining with each pouring how the wine compliments the different cheese flavours in each golden morsel.
Ayanda points out that all cheeses used are from The Gourmet Greek, a cheesery in Lions River which explains on its website that all its cheese is handcrafted.
“We believe that something special, let’s even say something of the magic, gets lost when milk gets turned into cheese through an automated mechanical process. What this means is we work the cheese, we feel the curd, we use a lot of the traditional ways. We strain naturally. All of this can be quite physical but we believe the result is worth the effort!,” The Gourmet Greek website adds.
The cheesery, by the way, also provides the mature cheddar that helps define the popular Big Easy Burger, points out Noel Kanyemba, chef de cuisine at the restaurant, who made the arancini the night we were in and came over to our table for a quick chat.
First up in our pairing was Jordan’s Chameleon Chenin Blanc which Ayanda describes as “a perfect entry-level wine; fresh and vibey”, and which I could very happily see me enjoying on a steaming summer day around the pool.
It is very easy on the palate, refreshing – and just perfect with an arancini stuffed with chie cheese which, explains Noel, is a white mould cheese named after the French region. The arancini is full of rich, creamy cheese with a subtle, nutty flavour, and is served with a small portion of dried cranberry and citrus.
The second pairing sees the arancini filled with pecorino – the Italian word for ewe’s milk cheese – and sits alongside a dollop of sundried tomato and dried olives. It is paired with Jordan’s Chameleon Sauvignon Blanc/Chardonnay blend. All nice enough, but my least favourite of the pairings.
Pairing three was a good one – a Jordan Chameleon Merlot served with an arancini filling of peppered boursin, a fresh, textured cream cheese flavoured with herbs and spices, and served to us with a fresh basil and tomato salsa.
And the best for the last – the Jordan Chameleon Cabernet/Merlot blend got my top vote, especially alongside an arancini filled with black gold truffle, a hard and granular cheese coated in black pepper and intensely garlic flavoured. Strong and fresh-tasting, with a gold hue, it was served to us by Ayanda with a walnut and anchovies pesto. Very, very yum!
Other events schedule for Big Easy this month include a Jordan Food and Wine Pairing Dinner on September 28 and a lunch on September 29. Tickets for each of these events – hosted by winemaker Gary Jordan and Big Easy executive chef Janine Fourie – cost R395 per person.
Also, from September 21 to 24, the restaurant celebrates Heritage Day with a truly South African adventure – a sizzling braai platter with a selection of Jordan wines. The cost is R295 a head.
For bookings or more information phone the restaurant at (031) 336 8166.