BILLY SUTER was invited to lunch at a wonderland of a spot, awash with inventiveness, colourful quirkiness and surprise. It’s a new, 160-seater wedding venue that will also soon double as a supper theatre. However, it is already doing a brisk breakfast and lunch trade in its central, circular-shaped café under a domed roof – an area which leads off the wedding venue and also connects to a quirky,’vintage’ decor store, a ‘secret garden’ and a day spa . It’s the must-visit The Grand Exotic, a new find in Sheffield Beach, near Salt Rock on the KwaZulu-Natal North Coast.
CARE to guess the link between Across the Universe, the trippy 2007 movie musical inspired by Beatles classics, and the delightfully named The Grand Exotic? The latter is the colourful, new, domed venue that is all the buzz since it opened in July, not far from the freeway in Sheffield Beach, on the KwaZulu-Natal North Coast.
Well, explains the venue’s owner, Umhlanga artist, passionate collector and clever recycler Sarah Owen, it was a palace-like structure in Across the Universe – glanced in a brief scene involving a group of tall, blue men – that first inspired the idea for her enchanting new landmark.
Sarah knew she wanted something different. She wanted something grand, something exotic, on the land in Sheffield Beach Road that she had bought some 10 years ago, when it was a vacant lot that had become a dumping ground.
And different The Grand Exotic most certainly is. The moment one spots the teal dome atop a dusty pink corrugated iron structure, flanked by palms, a smile creases the face and one is overcome with a child-like sense of wanting to explore a treasure found.
Do yourself a favour and pop in for breakfast or lunch, or to shop, and soak in the delights of the design and the many fascinating knick-knacks. You will discover everything from rich antique decor to colourful kitsch and amusing curiosities. It’s a place where multi-coloured, corrugated iron walls feature ornate, wooden doorways; where windows and sections of the dome have been hand-painted by Sarah with patterns or in the style of old masters.
The Grand Exotic is a happy splash of all things fun and fab. Think circus, think India, think the tropics and you’ll have some idea. Think all things bright and bold. Think theatre and cinema – the loo area highlights a brown-leather, two-seater couch which has working car headlights at the front of each arm. Also there are framed movie stills and old show posters under a bright, illuminated art deco sign. Fun!
A look at the pictures on this page says it all, really.
Sarah has always been one to face a challenge with gusto – she was the founder of Durban’s Naughty ’90s antiques and, for 12 years, owned Churchill’s in Durban. Thereafter she and her partner, landscape gardener Curt Wolff, transformed the former Surrey Farm, near Fort Nottingham, into The Crystal Barn, a magical country estate and décor shop.
Sarah ran that for a decade or so, then sold up there three years ago, her plan being to create a variation of her décor shop on the land at Sheffield Beach. Then her plans changed again and she opted for a wedding venue and café.
So, after two years of design, planning and lots of hard work – not to mention shopping (Sarah estimates she has been on sprees to India 37 times to date) – the Grand Exotic started to take shape.
Much assistance and hard work also came again from Curt who, in addition to his landscaping skills, has a civil engineering background, which proved very handy when it came to creating The Grand Exotic’s dome.
His and Sarah’s work is not done yet. They are forever adding new touches, planning new things, Sarah tells me.
The circular, 70-seater Grand Café, at the main entrance, is decorated with bright tables where waitresses in colourfully patterned, long baggy pants and turbans, are quick with a smile.
The room leads on to a back verandah overlooking a garden lush with greenery and a small, man-made waterfall that trickles into a rock pool decorated with plastic water lilies, a large teapot and other amusing bits and bobs. At one end of the verandah is a wall painted to depict a pink creeper trailing over a gated arch that looks on to a painted street scene with cars.
The café menu is not large – “short, sweet, simple and savoury… for now”, says Sarah – but offers sufficient variety for a breakfast or light lunch, or tea, the emphasis being on simple, fresh meals, with gluten-free and vegetarian options.
Note, though, that it is not kiddy-friendly. Due to the abundance of vintage décor and the colourful garden being strictly ornamental, The Grand Exotic is restricted to over-14s. In fact, a welcome sign at the entrance states, with some tongue in cheek, that “This is not a place for little ones. We have a policy of no-under-14 years. Badly behaved adults will have to play outside”.
The Grand Café is a great place to soak up the many visual treats while catching up with a pal over a coffee, and if you do so, do try the carrot cake which has been proving hugely popular, Sarah tells me.
My partner and I had to share a slice (R48) as a pud, alongside a hot chocolate (R35) and cappuccino (R25), when we visited on Friday. I have to say it is yummy. Other cakes are gluten-free options –a dense Belgium choc tart with crushed almonds and whipped cream; and a Clementine crushed almond tart with cream. Both also cost R48 a slice.
For lunch, we considered the day’s specials, written in chalk on a large wall blackboard, which included a choice of two tarts – butternut and feta, or Brie with bacon and onion marmalade – but they went like hotcakes.
There was also a special of bagel with avo, Brie, sweet chilli, bacon and coriander, but I instead took my waitress’s advice and had the dish called All Time Favourite (R78). Perfect for a humid day it comprises two corn fritters with salmon, avocado and crème fraiche, with a sweet chili drizzle aside a large salad from The Grand Exotic’s garden. I was very happy.
My partner settled on the Special Sarmi (R78), comprising two slices of health bread with pastrami beef, thin slices of apple, Brie, avo and crushed walnuts. He thoroughly enjoyed it.
Other menu items that caught my eye were a smoked chicken, pear, avo and cherry tomato salad with a creamy, sesame, honey-mustard dressing (R69); and a trio of brochette with home-made basil pesto, roasted garlic–infused peppers and olive tapenade (R69).
Sarah also suggested we try the home-made fishcakes (R69, served with a home-made mayo and a leafy salad). She was anxious to hear our opinions as she explained, with a shrug, that some patrons had found them “too fishy” and others “not fishy enough”. My partner and I shared a single fishcake and found it amply fishy and quite satisfying.
Breakfast options include creamy scrambled egg in a croissant with smoked salmon (R69); berry and banana in French toast (R69); asparagus and melted cheese on health toast (R55); a croissant with grated cheese and apricot jam (R45); and, for those who couldn’t care a fig about calorie counts, a croissant filled with chocolate or marzipan (R38). I would like to return to try the sweet potato and walnut muffin with butter (R25).
The café is open weekdays from 8am to 4pm, and from 8am to 2pm on Saturdays. Sadly, it is closed on a Sunday.
Note that, from this month, the Rhumbelow Theatre in Durban is scheduled to present regular occasional shows at the wedding venue, The Grand Hall, which adjoins The Grand Café.
First up will be award-winning Aaron McIlroy’s ADHD comedy show, a wild and whacky look at learning disorders. It will be staged at The Grand Exotic’s 160-seater venue at 2pm on Sunday, December 29, while The Blarney Brothers will ring in the new year with New Year Blarney Party at 9.30pm on December 31.
The venue will open an hour before the start of each show, for finger snacks and drinks, and seating will be at tables of eight. The ticket price will include savoury snack platters (with meaty and vegetarian bites) and pudding. Beverages must be bought from the cash bar. A car guard will watch vehicles on the premises.
Tickets for the Aaron McIlroy show cost R320 and R350, while tickets for the Blarney Brothers New Year’s Even bash cost R350 and R400. Note that no under-14s are permitted at the venue. Book at Computicket or phone Roland at 082 499 8636.
Also note that Black Friday is on Wednesday, November 27, at The Grand Exotic, with discounts in the vintage shop on all furniture, fabrics, silverware, glass and decor items. The Skin and Nail Beauty Salon in the building alongside the restaurant will also offer special deals on products and treatments. That same day, tea or coffee with a scone, jam and cream will be available for R30 in the cafe.
The venue can be reached at 076 435 6090 or via email at the firstname.lastname@example.org.