BILLY SUTER visits the welcoming Robson’s Real Beer & Food Factory in the standout navy-blue building at the slowly-rejuvenating harbour-end of Durban’s Point Waterfront. It is at 72 Mahatma Gandhi Road (formerly Point Road) – across the road from the city’s new R200 million cruise terminal which, when it opens soon, is sure to give the area a big economic boost.
SEE END OF THIS POST FOR THE COMPETITION FOR THE BREWERY TOUR FOR FOUR PEOPLE!
WITH finishing touches and the planting of mature palms now taking place at Durban’s striking new cruise terminal near the harbour-end of Mahatma Gandhi Road (formerly Point Road), there appears to be a renewed buzz in the potential of the waterfront area.
Among those at the forefront of this enthusiasm is Donn Stewart. Alongside brother Gary and their brewing master father Brian, Donn heads the team of the popular Robsons brewery. They expanded to the “brew-pub” concept with the 2016 opening of their Robson’s Real Beer & Food Factory in the navy-blue building opposite the new cruise terminal.
It’s for good reason Donn is excited about the cruise liner terminal finally being readied for its grand opening soon, after delays from Covid-19 chaos. It is anticipated the terminal will be quite a big draw for the city, handling between 5000 and 6000 cruise passengers at any time and also offering retail bars and restaurants, a tourism kiosk and a curio/fleamarket.
All these people will also have easy access to Robson’s Real Beer & Food Factory, a stone’s throw away. So fingers are crossed there will be a boon soon – and one can only wish the Stewarts the very best of luck with their fun venue which is well worth visiting for unpretentious and good food, fine craft beer, enticing specials and free entertainment on Sundays.
Donn, who was previously in the vehicle industry, together with his former yacht skipper brother and their former development consultant father, bought the Robsons brewery in 2010 from Stuart Robson, who returned to his native UK. The harbour brewery-restaurant concept arose after the family opted to close the brewery at the Stewarts’ original premises – Donn’s mother’s duck farm in Shongweni – and seek a spot in Durban.
“We quickly realised our brewery is too small to compete on a wholesale basis, selling to bottle stores, but was perfect for a ‘brew-pub’. We modelled our approach on how small breweries have survived in Germany, Belgium and the UK – brew our own beer and serve it through our own taps,” explains Donn.
“The thing with breweries is that you need space, and retail space isn’t cheap. That’s why you will find ‘brew-pubs’/tasting rooms on the outskirts of most cities and towns.”
The Stewarts settled on the Mahatma Gandhi Road premises because they anticipated increasing development in that area and wanted to be part of it: “We could hit the retail sector, tourism sector and be positioned near the ocean in a heritage-protected building. It ticked all the boxes at the right price”.
Before it became Robsons, the building housed a speedboat engine-repair business, “full of oil; grimy and dirty,” recalls Donn.
“The renovations were extensive, and to save on costs a lot was done by my brother and I. Compared to what it was, the shop is a masterpiece now.”
A year later, in November 2017, Robson’s opened a second, slightly different, branch at Ballito’s Lifestyle Centre.
“The themes are rustic, relaxed and good vibes. Lots of the colours you find on our labelled beers you will find in the restaurants themselves. The menus are different due to different clientele and different buying behaviours. We also didn’t want to replicate the experience as both are unique in their own way. So you can have a meal in Point and then one in Ballito, and it will be totally different.”
Asked what attracted the family to brewing and the restaurant business, Donn smiles and says the team had no real experience in either field. But he is quick to add: “We had an idea and a vision, just plain ignorance and confidence, and jumped in. It was a baptism of fire, a learning curve, but we were not willing to fail. Even through Covid we have survived!”
My partner, Gordon, and I popped along for lunch at the harbour-side Robsons on Sunday, when amiable singer-musician Rene Tshiakanyi takes to a small stage at the restaurant’s entrance and entertains all afternoon with a great mix of English, French and Portuguese (even Afrikaans) songs.
The brewery-restaurant has a relaxed, warm and inviting atmosphere with exposed rafters, a high ceiling, raw-brick walls and chunky wooden furniture. Service is cheerful and efficient and the menu offers a nice range of items. I truly hope it thrives.
For starters, Donn suggested we try the Balls of Fury (R69; deep-fried macaroni balls stuffed with cheddar and cheese sauce) or the Taco Board (R99 for six mini tortillas filled with spiced shredded pork; crumbed chicken with salsa and aioli, and beef strips with caramelised onion, avocado and tzaziki sauce).
Both sounded yum, but my eye went to the Ducking Good Spring Rolls on the menu (R84 for two crispy springrolls filled with barbequed, shredded duck and a sweet chilli sauce). The duck comes from Donn’s mum’s farm so I was looking forward to it. Sadly, the springrolls were not available on Sunday so I opted, instead, for the Pint of Prawns. For R89 one gets six crispy, breadcrumb-crusted prawns enjoyed with a small side of skordalia (a potato and garlic dip) and squeezes of a lemon wedge.
The prawns made for an enjoyable starter, but I preferred Gordon’s choice, which was the day’s special, Halloumi Fries. Five tasty halloumi strips, which we dunked into a sweet-chilli dipping sauce, for R57.
Pizzas and burgers are big draws at Robsons, I hear. The pizzas sound interesting, the eight variations on the menu including The Gary (R115), which has slow-roasted duck with fig jam, spinach, red peppers and camembert; and Die Blou Bul (R109) which offers biltong, blue cheese, caramelised onion, butternut and basil pesto. Other options include pulled pork, chicken liver, chorizo and spicy chicken.
For mains, I had Skin and Bone (R149), comprising 400g of pork belly ribs with a choice of chips or salad. Tender and very tasty, they got a big thumbs-up from me, being just the right side of sweet. Served with sour cream on the side, they come basted with a jalapeno-spiced, apricot jam-flavoured sauce. Oh, and go for the flavourful chips, as they are really good, served with the skin on.
Gordon took Donn’s advice and ordered the popular Thor’s Burger (R104), a delicious and hearty 200g beef burger in a homemade beer bun. It’s topped with smokey bacon, melted cheddar and caramelised onions, and served with a good, homemade Jack Daniels barbeque sauce. It comes with chips or salad.
Incidentally, the venue also offers, for R179, a gargantuan version called Thor’s Challenge. It offers six 100g patties, three layers of cheese, cheese sauce and chips, plus a choice of one of the seven craft beers made in the brewery at the back of the restaurant. “Finish it in 15 minutes or less and your name goes on our wall,” says the menu.
Milkshakes, cocktails and other beverages are available at Robsons, but the beer is obviously a big draw and the original crafts on offer are described in detail on the menu, where food pairings for each are also suggested.
“We have a line of seven beers, but not all are always available due to our raw materials being imported rather than sourced locally, as the quality is better from different regions in the world,” says Donn.
“We source from the US, UK, Germany, Czechoslovakia and other places. Our beer is made the old way, with no additives. It is 100% malt-based, non-filtered, non-pasteurised. It is alive and has a two-year shelf life in the bottle (we are, however, moving to cans) and continuously changes in complexity over time, like wine.”
I’m not a beer lover, so settled for a generous Frozen Strawberry Daiquiri for R69, but Gordon sampled three variations and gave a very happy smile after each! One can also order a beer taster paddle (R79) offering six 100ml beers, plus there are four beer-infused cocktails available.
Note that Robsons offers regular brewery tours, including beer tastings. The cost is R120 a head (cheaper for bigger groups) and can be booked on (031) 332 2742. The tours generally take an hour to an hour-and-a-half, I’m told, and up to three hours on a Monday, when actual brewing takes place and visitors can see the whole beer-making process from start to finish.
Sadly, Robson’s does not offer a puds menu. “Have another beer,” is Donn’s motto.
There are daily specials (check the menu) and the venue is constantly posting upcoming events on social media. The next event is planned for the end of September – a 10-day Oktoberfest in the venue’s beer garden, with live music on selected days, eisbein, German sausage and German games.
The restaurant is open every day, except Mondays. It is currently open from 11am to 8pm due to lockdown curfews. The phone number there is (031) 332 2742.
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