Read up on what Aunty Fish, one of the admins of well known Facebook group, ‘Durban Restaurants – The Good, Bad & Nasty’ has to say as she dines and dishes on her weekly Olive & Oil fun food finds!
Drinks like… Aunty Fish
Confession: Aunty Fish is bit of snob. So being chauffeured to dinner in a friend’s old single cab work bakkie wasn’t quite the glamorous entrance I’d hoped for my night. My pal, however, found it so entertaining that she parked so very barely within the lines just for added embarrassment on my behalf.
Entering Olive & Oil Hillcrest, I mentally cleared the slate and decided that tonight was going to be sophisticated and we would represent all that is refined and elegant. And then my friend claimed that, ‘Yohhh. That manager is flipping HOT.’ and my swank lost its shine. But Donna has been my closest friend for 30 years and I love her nearly as much as I love a really exceptional meal.
We were plushing it up and figured that a bottle of sparkling wine would be fitting. But then no, the thought of a mojito suddenly became enticing. I chose some cocktail called a WooHoo, because. Well, just because. We scrolled our menus, wondering, ‘What would Princess Diana have ordered?’ My eyes locked onto a bone marrow and truffle fillet and I was sold. Donna was agonising whether to enjoy a Prawn Saganaki or the Lime, Chilli & Coriander Chicken. As our beautifully dressed drinks arrived at the table, one shlurp of her cocktail and my friend said that she wanted prawns, ‘In.My.Face!’ Her choice was magic but the Posh-O-Dometer was waining. She told me to shush and drink up.
Which I did. My WooHoo was a sweet fruit-based cocktail but with a great bite of cranberry. Straw suddenly abandoned, I was less sipping and more gulping. A lady? What’s that? Donna had siphoned half of her minty rum delight and was beginning to flirt with a trainee waiter, who looked terrified. Not long after, our meals arrived. Donna’s Prawn Saganaki looked lovely; Plump delicious queen prawns baked in an ouzo flavoured napolitana sauce topped with bubbling feta and served with savoury rice. They were prawns on ‘roids – gigantic. My marrow and truffle fillet looked marvellous. Served on truffle infused mash and topped with a mushroom and sherry sauce, I effortlessly cut into the tender and perfectly cooked piece of beef and literally had a moment of catharsis. A complete beef revelation. Honestly. The most exceptional piece of steak that I have ever eaten. Aged and marbled and seasoned and grilled and basted and oh my good grief, if I’m ever falsely accused of a crime and sentenced to death and am forced to choose a last meal, this one would be it. The earthy, pungent and deliciously funky flavour of the truffle infused mash, combined with scoops of buttery marrow, I was entranced and hypnotised by the contents upon my plate.
Two more cocktails arrived (Half price on cocktails from Monday – Thursday until 7pm). A cosmopolitan for myself and a margarita for the tequila tolerator before me. One sip of hers and I was back in Ballito for New Years Eve 2001. Nope, no, not for me. But Donna was in seventh heaven, ordering yet another before she’d even finished the second.
We didn’t end up behaving too impeccably, I’m afraid. If it had been an etiquette exam, we’d have flunked. But I was comfortable with the courtesy blanket that kept me warm, and the trainee waiter and manager surely won’t suffer permanent emotional trauma from excessive flirting from my pal. Straws and fruit and empty glasses of all shapes adorning our table, two very satisfied gals left the restaurant. And called a friend to drive us home.
I feel sometimes as though I’m like that mean headmistress in Roald Dahl’s Matilda.
I’d never wish any ill on a child, ever, mind you (okay, perhaps not so much like Headmistress from Matilda), and they tend to be cute and adorable and I’m jealous that the teeny tiny ones get to wear onesies (baby grows or whatever they’re actually called) all day and night. But I once asked a child what they thought of the meaningful lyrics in Adele’s latest song and they didn’t have very much to contribute, so I’m not certain that we’d have much in common.
I hadn’t seen a friend for months and she wouldn’t foster her kids out for the day, so we chose to meet for lunch at Olive & Oil Hillcrest. I’d seen glimpses of their kids play area, so figured that we could lock the ankle biters in there. Joking. Kind of.
Like baby moths to baby flames, they were both magnetically drawn to the pretty room. Under the care of a child minder – hoorah. Adult time. Ordering two cool drinks, we asked for the Monday pasta specials menu. R74.95 for any dish on offer, I chose the Cajun rump pizza and Mandy went with the Roast butternut ravioli. We needed to nourish the little people, so asked for a children’s chicken nuggets and chips. It was surprisingly busy, I felt, for a Monday lunch. Multiple full tables enjoying the warmth on the verandah outside, some likeminded mums, families, and golden oldies as far as the eye could see.
Our meals arrived really quickly which was fantastic, as the older of the small people in our crew was beginning to repetitively make mention of her chicken fingers and chippies and their whereabouts. Shouldn’t 3yr olds be able to tell the time and that we’d only ordered 10 minutes previously? No? Okay.
My pizza was enormous. Gigantic, but with a thin and crispy base that made it surprisingly light. Topped with tomato, mozzarella, red onion, mushrooms, roasted peppers, coriander and Cajun rump chunks, it was epic and indulgent and even better in the fact that no little people would touch it because I was telling them that Cajun meant spicy and hot as Hades.
Mandy’s roast butternut ravioli was served in a beautifully balanced and fresh Napolitano and creamy white wine-based Mediterranean sauce, fresh rocket and smooth feta cheese. Watching the woman feed one elf at the table and another in a high chair looked exhausting, so I snuck in a forkful and found it a real beauty. Next time. A bowl to myself. I was beginning to actually enjoy the company of these two nippers. Free smiles and laughter, and I didn’t even need to work for it. Easy crowd. Although the bigger one was working a food versus play negotiation with it’s mother like a pro. After finishing a chicken piece, she dashed back into the rainbow room of recreation. Both Mandy and I took the opportunity to taste a nugget. And it was great; none of that processed stuff that is so overly fried that the USA want to invade it. Light and fluffy and fresh. I’d managed half of my pizza and was thrilled to not have to cook for dinner. My new best friend manager Fanuel returned with the remainder of my almighty pizza in a takeaway.
Coaxing the curly blonde one from the play area reminded me of my own behaviour during Varsity days when told that last rounds had been called at the bar and that that I could only squeak my tekkie on the dance floor for one more tune. Whinging and sulking and pleading and tears. And that was just me.
Pacifying the pigmy tribe by promising that we would return soon, I sure do hope that we can go and play again this week.
Two for Tuesday
It had been the worst of times. It had been the… worst of times. Sorry Charles Dickens, I can’t sugar coat my Tuesday day.
My vehicle license disc had just expired, a front headlight bulb had blown that day, I had formed a dislike for humans in general, and it was raining as if the heavens were crying at me for being an irresponsible car owner. With thick mist forming in Hillcrest, I dashed from my delinquent wagon and arrived at Olive & Oil resembling the deadly T-Rex in Jurassic Park as he hops the disabled electric fence for a midnight snack out in the rain.
Speaking (typing) of movies, I hadn’t quite reached a size during the festive season of Johnny Depp’s mother in What’s Eating Gilbert Grape. So, when mention was made of a seafood platter for 2, I immediately booked a table. A Tuesday special of R279-99 that has been recently revived, I pulled a friend along merely so that I wasn’t obviously dining alone.
Ordering a bottle of wine in an effort to dissipate the thundercloud above my head, my poor pal was trying every one liner in his repertoire. But he needn’t have worried; one look at our Italian work of art/ waiter and my mood instantly improved. Ricardo was his name and for his beauty, Leonardo da Vinci was to blame. I could go on about this fine Mediterranean dish, but I’d only seen our server and not yet the food.
The wine had perhaps got to me, as I was beginning to flirt with Fanuel, the manager, too, as he arrived with two complimentary ginger-based champagne cocktails. I don’t know how he maintains that smile so constantly. It’s a skill. Or he’s generally a nice guy. Whichever. Before any real damage was done to my reputation, a magnificent seafood platter arrived and was placed between my friend and I. We instantly laughed at the mere size of it. An entire baby sole, 6 prawns, 4 langoustine tails with the most incredibly luxurious thermidor sauce, deep fried and super crunchy squid heads, and enough savoury rice and (really, really good) chips to feed a small army. Very small army, it would seem, as my mate was mastering the dip and shovel technique. Plunging his forkful of prawn meat into a spicy yet not overpoweringly hot peri peri sauce, he was very nearly having a When Harry Met Sally moment. We were in a full restaurant, so I told him to knock it off. But then I went in for the sole, and it parted from the bones and beautiful flaked away and towards my plate. I was Eat Pray LOVING every morsel, every flavour, every smooth cheese and mushroom langoustine, munch of fried calamari, gentle lemony pan fried fish, and more.
I claimed my empty plate and planted my white flag (read: black napkin) like Nicole Kidman in Far and Away. But ol’ Tommy Cruise beside me would not admit defeat until the platter was bare. A smallish bloke, but by no means famished, he very nearly offered his bowl of nearly empty peri peri sauce up to our Italian Stallion and asked for, ‘Some more, sir.’ like Oliver Twist, but decided that his meat and carb to sauce ratio was just perfect and so additional sauce wasn’t required.
Leaving the safety of the restaurant for the torrential downpour in greater Hillcrest, I recognised that the evening and meal were stuff that movies are made of. Turmoil and upset in the opening scene, but I’d found love (or a restraining order from waiter. minor details), and a heartwarming and cheerful, happy ending.
Sea Food and Eat It
My friend Claire had been home from Dubai for 3 days and was in desperate need of an air conditioner. Or an inflatable dolphin, G&T, and a cold swimming pool. Knowing that the pool would always be cold and wanting a catch up and cuisine and cool air, we manoeuvred between the sea of GP licence plates towards Olive & Oil in Hillcrest. Dehydrated and flustered, we were nearly panting at the entrance of the restaurant when 2 managers smiled and greeted us and asked where we’d like to be seated. ‘Wherever is coldest’, we wheezed in unison, before perking up considerably; do they hire their management staff primarily for their chiseled bone structure and charm, I wondered as I sashayed past in the manner that only a woman who had never sashayed in her life would do. Think newborn giraffe. I wasn’t even wearing heels.
We were quickly placed at a perfect angle so as to best achieve the chill factor under the aircon, ordered a bottle of wine and high 5’d as we agreed upon the seafood platter for two. We were going to smash that food like a Greek plate. Just then, another really very genetically blessed manager filled our wine glasses, and soon the place started filling. Families spanning 3 generations and older couples and young romances. And us two, snorting and guffawing like teenagers as we recalled ‘That time when we…’ and ‘He asked you to do what?!’
Just then, a plate was placed before each of us. Sprinkled with chopped parsley, we were soon rolling around as we declared that we could never finish all of this and, ‘Oh my, as least it’s Banting’, and, ‘Do I have anything in my teeth?’ But within moments, a decadent selection of crayfish tails, queen prawns, calamari, sole and squid heads sat in the middle of our table. For the first time in twenty minutes, we were mute. Silenced. Look at the size of that thing?! I mean, we both prepared for indulgence by skipping breakfast and wearing loose-fitting attire, but this was insane.
It was all just so… amazing. And gluttonous. Saying a quiet apology to Nemo and Dori and their friends, I lifted my knife and fork, unsure where to start. We’d asked for our grilled calamari to be prepared Cajun-style, and I chose to first sample a tube. Like a lady who sashays, and all. With a pleasant spicy bite to the tongue, it was both perfectly cooked so as not to be chewy, and also offering just enough added heat in a day like today. 8 prawns to share, we each pulled the flesh from the cavity of the plump pink crustaceans before planting the empty shells into a bowl that had been placed between us. A rich cheese and mushroom sauce had been generously poured atop the meaty crayfish tails; flip, it was both gooey and lavish. The crunchy fried calamari tentacles were a fun and flavoursome addition when dunked into any of the sauces provided.
We sat back, admitting defeat before the spread could be depleted. We’d done well. Very well, in fact, but half the sole and a prawn could not be vanquished. We were so full. Paying and thanking our wonderful staff, we almost rolled to my car before heading home and enjoying an afternoon nap under a ceiling fan. And declining an offer of dinner.
It had been a hard 5 days. Tough. Harsh, even.
120 hours. 7200 minutes. 43 2000 seconds without coffee or alcohol or meat.
Forget meandering away from the Health Spa in Nottingham Road. I had 3 things of my mind, and in this specific order; caffeine, red meat, and wine. Swerving cows and ignoring the beauty that lay in the Midlands, I needed a steak in my life. And Hillcrest was too far. Olive & Oil Pietermaritzburg is a favourite of my in laws, so they were rallied and herded towards the Cascades Shopping Centre in Pmb.
Arriving early and having already satisfied the call for coffee, I was met by a manager and plonked my protein deprived self on a chair. A tall, charming waiter swung up to me and introduced himself as Bruce, pouring water into a small glass as they all seem to do. I politely explained that this was no time for H2o. Heck, that’s all I’d drunk for nearly a week. Glass of dry white wine. Porcupine Ridge unwooded Chardonnay. Please!
Sensing the emergency situation, a carafe of fermented grapes and a bowl of ice were immediately in front of my arid husk of a liver. Soon after, the original Mr Fish and his beautiful bride entered the restaurant. Greeting the staff like VIPs before exchanging hugs and pleasantries with me, they sat down and Fish Snr immediately reached for the wine list. For little purpose, as my new best friend Bruce was already beside and between them, with a chilled bottle of Tokara Sauvignon Blanc. And more ice. Clapping like a seal, my father in law was thrilled and swirled his taster splash of wine before declaring it’s splendour, and having Bruce fill all glasses. On such a hot day in the bowl of humidity that is KZN’s legislative capital city, the indoor air-conditioning was just perfect.
Opening our menus, we all knew what we wanted. Susan, the Mother in Law, went for the Athena’s Chicken: chicken breasts sautéed in a creamy white wine, mushroom and prawn sauce served on parmesan mash and finished with pecorino cheese and spring onions. It sounded marvellous but I wanted beef. About 250g of it. Grilled to perfection and basted in their delicious secret basting. With vegetables and a side sauce of gorgonzola and bacon. Because I could. Fish (honestly. That’s all I’ve ever known him as. I’m sure he has a first name but don’t ask me to verify it) went straight to his favourite; the Kingklip Odyssey. Grilled kingklip served on parmesan mash topped with a prawn thermidor sauce and bubbling mozzarella. It sounded insanely decadent and I was nearly, almost, slightly jealous of his choice. But, no. I needed REAL meat.
I don’t know how it happened so quickly, but soon our bottle of wine was empty and placed bottom-up into it’s ice bucket. I know. We drink like…. fish. Fish gave our waiter a specific look, and Bruce swooshed by instantly with a second bottle of Tokara. Just in time, as our meals were before us, begging to be enjoyed. I sunk my knife into my steak, then fork, and lifted the aged and tender bite to my mouth. No words. None. I just can’t. I met, shook hands with, and then barrel rolled my craving. Adding the mindblowingly rich and sinful cheese and bacon sauce to each piece, it was a masterpiece on a plate.
Susan and her chicken dish had her humming tunes of enjoyment. Taking a bite of the indulgent sauce and mash myself, it was both balanced in flavours while being an absolute gift to the palate. Fish was thoroughly enjoying his…fish, and kept offering his own critique of how beautifully cooked his generously sized kingklip portion was. Cheesy and creamy and with the flakes of flesh falling perfectly onto his fork, he was in seafood heaven.
Having to still drive home to Hillcrest, I handed my second glass of wine over to the patriarch at the table. Somehow, their second bottle had vanished too. Soon, we were all full and embraced again, wishing the best for the festive season and such, before I sped off.
The retreat from meat had been quite neat, but my lunch yesterday was such a treat.
Aunty Fish Gets Shell Shocked
But surely my palate had matured in 22 years. Undoubtedly, I would be able to digest and appreciate the delicacy this time? Definitely, I hold more class and table etiquette than to purge such a treat at the table…
Driving into the sea town of Umhlanga, I could already smell the salty air. And glimpse the almost never-ending horizon of blue water. Water that held oysters. After dodging the throngs of teenagers in vests and neon shorts in town (Matric Rage, apparently) and upon being seated within the stylish upstairs Olive & Oil restaurant in Chartwell Centre, I was greeted by the friendliest of waitresses, Casey, and poured more pill water. Where was a sedative when I needed one?! No. Breathing techniques and meditation and quiet reflection and oh my yes, of course I’ll have some sparkling wine!
Two friends had joined me for the new lunch special of 4 Lüderitz oysters and a glass of Klein Zalze MCC Rosé. With flutes full, our 3 plates arrived before us. The delicate silver pink hue of my beverage invited me to sip on, as I was now psyching myself up to knock back these bad boys. Focusing on the plate before me, 4 of the plumpest portions of flesh lay on their shucked shells, atop a bed of ice and fresh greens, with a lemon quarter to the side. Repeating a mantra to myself, ‘You are presented with an oyster, you overcome your initial fear, you take the plunge, and afterward feel brave and proud and relieved. You will want to do it again’, I anointed my first oyster with generous splashes of tabasco and lemon, lifted and tilted the shell to my lips, and lay the shell back onto the plate.
Problem: There was still an oyster in my mouth. Firm and slippery at the same time, it was a shock of salty freshness mixed with the overdose of pungent vinegary pepper sauce and lemon. I hadn’t entirely thought this through. What now? Did I chew? No? No! With great mental strength, I unfastened my tightly clenched throat and down it slid.
It wasn’t ladylike. And neither was the sight of me knocking back another generous gulp of Rose’ sparkling wine. But, with a bouquet of cherries and red berries and with graceful layers of finesse on the palate, the bubbly was beautiful. Casey, our waitress, was remarkably professional as she refilled my glass and smiled in an, ‘It’s alright. I’ve seen way worse’ kind of way.
Observing the pro to my left gently dab a single drop of tabasco onto an oyster with a delicate squirt of lemon and quickly inhale the contents of her shell, before exclaiming that it was ‘like kissing the sea on the lips’, I grasped that not much had changed for me. The child had not been defeated, and the woman had not won. My friends, thinking that Christmas had come early when offered my 3 extra oysters, I figured that it was just a dish that was not meant for me. And that’s okay. I’ll always have wine. If however, oysters are your pleasure, then R89.95 for 4 large Nambian Lüderitz oysters and a glass of Klein Zalze MCC Rosé must surely be the…freshest…of specials.
Aunty Fish’s First Catch
Cheerio, Aunty Fish