BILLY SUTER visits Durban’s sprawling new La Rosa Mexican-themed restaurant in Suncoast Casino’s new extension wing – alongside the new Barnyard Theatre, above the new Dakota Spur, and overlooking the beachfront promenade on one side and facing the Moses Mabhida Stadium on the other.
YOU may not know your fajita from your quesadilla, or your tazone from your enchilada, but that will in no way stop you from enjoying a visit to Durban’s colourful new La Rosa restaurant, on the first level of the Suncoast Casino’s new extension.
Frankly, it is probably the most fun and exciting restaurant I have visited in the city in many a year – a large venue with the embellishment of a verandah area encircling the main restaurant almost 360-degrees; offering views of the beachfront promenade, the Moses Mabhida Stadium and the casino’s new side entrance from the parking lot.
“The beauty of it,” says proud owner Suraj Marajh, as he ushers my partner and I through his 360-seater venue, “is that we can cater for everyone: from the large party crowds to romantic pairs, to corporate and family groups.
“If the music is too loud in one area, there’s another area of the restaurant perfect for you,” he adds, smiling as he welcomes our obvious delight at first glance of his neon lighting design, in bright blue and the shape of a skull, that peers down from the ceiling of the special smoking room to one side of the restaurant.
The neon skull compliments the large, floral-tatooed, bright pink one on the restaurant wall outside and the smaller ones that separate the words La Rosa in the signs created from white bulbs that hang above the restaurants two entrances. A visit to the bathrooms, where painted skulls and skeletons are also in abundance, will also bring a smile to the face.
Skulls, in different designs and fluorescent colours are all over the restaurant, along with large, bold, beautifully painted wall portraits of women with flowers in their hair and skull features on their faces. All of this nods to the Mexican holiday known as Day of the Dead (Dia de los Muertos), festivities for which include sugar skulls being used to decorate gravestones of the deceased.
Why Mexican, I ask Suraj?
“I wanted a change and this seemed like great fun and something Durban needed,” he tells me, pointing out that he opened La Rosa on December 1 last year, after selling the Suncoast Casino Mimmo’s restaurant he ran for 16 years (he still runs the one at Umhlanga’s Gateway mall, which he has had for a decade).
La Rosa Mexican Grille and Tequileria, to give the venue its full title, is one of only three restaurants in the national franchise, the other two being at Johannesburg’s Montecasino and in Honeydew. A fourth is scheduled to open at Times Square in Menlyn, Pretoria, in March.
Suraj considers his La Rosa the most vibrant of the lot and, looking around the restaurant on a busy Thursday night, one got the impression he is on to a good thing.
Two large groups in that night happily donned colourful sombreros, which are handed out to patrons by waiters, and quickly got into festive mood with skull-shaped glass mugs of tropical-flavoured margaritas (we sampled the passion fruit and strawberry variations and they were a steal and ultra-yum at R70 a pop).
A look at the images on this page show just how spacious and colourful the restaurant is, and it’s worth noting that the large and unique bar offers 50 different kinds of tequila, varying from R20 to R600 a tot. There is also an extensive and popular cocktail menu.
Amiable manager Kevaar Hari says it has sometimes been a challenge to get Durbanites to sample a menu that may be foreign to many, but those who have visited La Rosa and follow suggestions – the La Rosa waiters are happy to advise and explain to the uninitiated – have returned to try new items after taking the plunge into a new food adventure.
For those hellbent on sticking to the more familiar, however, the restaurant has seven Mexican-inspired main course options that include a hearty beef and potato stew with rice (R150), grilled 250g beef fillet steak rubbed with Mexican spices (R195), and eight queen prawns in a spicy red sauce with spicy rice and Mexican cabbage (R225). Other choices here are grilled half-chicken with a dry chilli rub and chips (R125), grilled fillet of hake with salsa and green rice (R145) and a 300g grilled rump steak with salsa and chips (R195).
Also in this section is Chili Con Carne (R125) which I had not had in years, so chose as a mains option. It was a huge portion of slow-cooked beef mince with black beans, baked with a generous mixed cheese topping and served with spicy rice, crema (somewhere between sour cream and French crème fraîche) and great pico de gallo (Mexican salsa). Very good… but so much I had to take a doggy bag.
My partner’s choice for main was a recommendation from manager Kevaar, who insisted he consider the fajita option dominated by five queen prawns served in the shell (R150).
It was a pretty picture and a large serving – on a bed of sautéed mixed peppers and onion, served with small sides of pico de gallo, guacamole, cheddar cheese crèma and three flour tortillas (like thin rotis).
My partner loved the dish.
Starter options were also good. I opted for the Nachos Pequeno, a plate for one (R60), and opted to add a topping of small chunks of grilled spicy chicken (R25). It was an enormous serving, with sides of guacamole, crema and house sala. The nachos were fresh, large, crisp and thin, hitting the spot beautifully, with a very generous topping of melted cheese sauce, shredded mozzarella and cheddar cheese.
Other toppings from which one can choose for this or the larger Nachos Grande (R110), which is ideal for sharing, are Mexican chorizo, chilli con carne and carne asada (Mexican-style steak strips).
Also worth a try among starters is Cuatro Tostados (R60), which is an elegant serving of four mini tostados with braised and pulled meat including beef, lamb (a little too strong for my taste), pork and chicken.
We were planning to miss puds due to the big earlier portions and a craving for the margaritas mentioned earlier. Also, to be honest, none of the six sweet dishes on the menu grabbed us – among them the inevitable vanilla or choc ice cream, fried puff pastry with ice-cream, rice pudding, caramel custard with fruit, and fried pastry with cinnamon sugar and caramel.
However, we were gently elbowed into sharing a dish that did not sound terribly exciting but which Kevaar insisted we had to sample.
It’s the exotically named Torta De Tres Leches (R50) which is essentially a square of moist, traditional sponge cake, topped with a fanned strawberry and soaked in a “three-milk” syrup. Taste it both with and without the tiny jug of creamy milk served alongside it and you are sure to agree with both us and Kavaar that it is a lot more heavenly that its description might suggest. I’d have that again.
La Rosa has a pretty varied menu where one can also build one’s own burrito (flour wrap) or create one’s own burrito bowl, which entails meat, rice, beans, and fajita veggies being loaded in a bowl for easy heating up, then topped with cold ingredients such as salad, guacamole and sour-cream.
Check out the full menu at www.larosamexican.co.za and round up some jovial pals for a visit. To book call (031) 942 6750 or email firstname.lastname@example.org
WIN! WIN! WIN! WIN! WIN! WIN!
Don’t miss my competition on SoSuterBill on Wednesday (January 30) to win a R300 voucher to experience the food/drink at Suncoast Casino’s exciting new La Rosa Mexican restaurant.