BILLY SUTER takes up an invitation to dine at the new Butcher Block restaurant at Sibaya Casino, near Umhlanga, which recently opened on the premises previously occupied by the Aqua restaurant. Yep, the one with the towering fish tank.
THERE is good news for visitors to Sibaya Casino near Umhlanga, who may have noticed the closure and refurbishment of Aqua restaurant over the past few months, and been saddened to think the spot and its landmark cylindrical fish tank were on the way out.
Aqua is no more, it is true – and I, for one, will miss its seared tuna. But in its place is a spanking new Butcher Block steakhouse franchise, which has lent a striking new look to a space that, layout-wise, remains much as it was before, but with some notable new tweaks.
We still have the fish tank linking all three levels of the large, semi-circular restaurant space, but now the downstairs bar counter that circled the tank has been removed to allow for additional seating there. This means the restaurant now seats 190 inside, 60 on the verandah, and can also makes use of a linked conference space.
The entrance area is similar to before, albeit with bold Butcher Block signage. There is now a large and impressive bar counter to the right of the entrance. Much the same is the large, transparent wine-stock room.
The restaurant seating area has a much richer, more modern feel now and highlights a distinctly African theme.
Aqua’s pale, shell-like ceiling lights have been replaced with suspended bulbs hanging from skewed wooden frames; the Aqua blue walls are now a dark chocolate and, in a very good move, Butcher Block has opted to dispense with the heavy beige drapes of old to allow more light through the massive windows.
The Aqua blue carpet with fishy motifs has also gone and in its place is a glossy, chocolate, epoxy-coated floor with cowhide rugs. Dining booths hugging the walls have been reupholstered in chocolate leather and there are now beige chairbacks, replacing the green and blues of the Aqua chairs.
Most striking of all is that the walls, which once displayed some rather kitsch fish, now display massive prints of cattle and, here and there, mounted skulls and horns.
Friendly general manager Dominic Kostyrski points out that sushi (popular at Aqua) is also available at Butcher Block on a separate menu, while plans are to soon introduce a Teppanyaki area in the upstairs area, where the dangling fake fish of Aqua days are no more.
Another plan is to convert the small, double-telephone booth alcove, alongside the restaurant exterior, near the gaming machines, into a 24-hour biltong bar. Nice.
Butcher Block offers free musical entertainment on Friday evenings and Sunday afternoons. A good idea, with the fine Afritude trio playing a pleasant mix of popular music.
However, the band can get w-a-y too loud, to the point that my partner and I had to shout at each other at times when we visited on Friday evening. Hopefully, something will be done to sort that out soon.
We ordered a bottle of red (Diamond Infinity Shiraz Mourvedre, R5 of the R195 cost of which goes to charity, says Dominic) which went down very well while we were deciding on starters.
Butcher Block offers a wide range of starters – the menu including meatballs, West Coast mussels, black mushrooms, venison carpaccio, marinated beef strips, snails, marrow bones, chicken livers, sticky chicken wings and Haloumi cheese.
I considered bobotie spring rolls with a sweet yoghurt dip (R70) and my partner was close to ordering the deep-fried Camembert cheese with roasted almonds, a sweet plum sauce and melba toast (R75).
Instead we both went for prawns. I had a prawn cocktail – eight plump and satisfying, cold prawns in a Marie-Rose sauce on shredded lettuce (R90) – while my partner enjoyed Panko Prawns: four good-sized, crumbed, deep-fried Malaysian prawn tails, served in a small metal basket alongside a sweet-chilli dipping sauce (R85).
Six salads are also available – including Prawn and Papaya, Cajun Chicken, Greek, and, perfect for a humid day, a yummy-sounding Beach Salad. The priciest salad at R115, it contains grilled calamari, chicken strips, prawns, red onions and cucumber tossed in a sweet Thai chilli jam, served on crispy spinach with lime wedges and coriander.
Various chicken dishes and burgers are on the menu, as well as a good variety of steak and seafood combo options. There’s also a Chicken and Prawn Curry (R155), Eisbein (R145), Pot Roast Lamb Shank (R225), Oxtail (R195), Teriyaki Salmon (R215), Lamb Chops (R205), Seafood Platter (R305), Calamari (R145) and Maria’s Bobotie (R135). So, much from which to choose.
I felt like steak, so ordered one of the nine Butcher’s Choice options, which offer combos with a choice of 300g sirloin or rump and a serving of starch or vegetables.
I requested medium-rare rump for my Wild Mushrooms and Prawns (R195). It arrived done closer to medium, but I was happy enough with it to not take up management’s quick and commendable offer of cooking me another steak if I was not totally happy.
Served with fries in a tiny basket, it came with a tasty, creamy, sherry and wild mushroom sauce infused with reduced stock, topped with two large prawn tails.
My partner went for the steak and pork ribs combo (R245), requesting a 200g fillet instead of the 200g rump or sirloin, costing an extra R50. It was excellent and he had it with chunky fries, although side-option choices include baked or mashed potato, veg, salad, and pap with Chakalaka.
The ribs were great. Seven large ones in a good sticky, barbeque basting that was not overly sweet. I’d go back to order those again.
Of course, one can also order individual cuts of meat, all the restaurant’s beef being wet-aged for a minimum of 21 days. All steaks are char-grilled and basted with the restaurant’s unique basting unless otherwise requested, and served with a complimentary side.
One can order additional side orders at extra cost – we shared puffy, battered onion rings (R35) and creamed spinach (R45).
We had no room for puds after that feast, but options here include Malva pudding, deep-fried Oreos, apple tart, triple-choc brownies, Mississippi Mud Pie, Khalua and ice-cream crepes, cheesecake and lemon meringue pie. Dessert prices range from R45 to R65.
This Butcher Block seems set for success – the night we were in, the joint had a buzz the likes of which I have not seen in this space in some time. It’s well worth a visit. To make a booking phone (031) 648 0040.