In its previous incarnation, 9th Avenue Waterside had legions of fans: couples who celebrated every birthday and anniversary there; retirees who lunched once a month; business people who entertained clients nowhere else. Quick recap, they were 9th Avenue Bistro for 19 years before moving to the Durban Yacht Mole in September and tweaking their name. Although the setting has changed, the food is still the fine dining treat that patrons have come to know and love.
Renowned chef Graham Neilson and his team have updated the menu to honour the old favourites - langoustine tails with orzo; duck liver parfait and candied pecan, pear and gorgonzola salad - and have introduced exciting new seafood dishes that befit the oceanside setting. The focus is on fresh, local and seasonal, and new dishes include Saldanha Bay mussels, fruits de mer platters and a soupe de poisson. The menu is reinvented regularly, according to the produce available, co-owner Gina Neilson tells me, and the balance between knowing what to expect and finding a surprise on the menu has been a contributor to 9th Avenue’s success.
We began our meal with seafood, ordering a portion of calamari and the gin-cured salmon. I am a calamari connoisseur and this plate is high on my list of best ever. Coated in a delicate, perfectly seasoned batter that melted in my mouth to give way to cooked-just-right rings and heads, it was simply delicious. Served with two sauces, a tangy Vietnamese and a creamy jalapeno aioli, it left me wanting more.
My husband’s gin-cured salmon was easily the prettiest dish of the day. The bite-sized pieces of fish were adorned with a dollop of creme fraiche holding a pearl of trout roe aloft and plated among edible flowers and sprigs of dill. It tasted as good as it looked, especially when eaten with the homemade seed loaf for a contrasting texture.
Plates cleared, we sipped our drinks and discussed whether the mains would live up to the promise of the first course. They did. I went with my heart and ordered the crispy roasted free-range duck with glazed carrots, green beans, mushroom and lentil cream and hazelnuts. The new prawn tail squid ink linguine; oyster mushroom and artichoke risotto and charcoal roasted pork belly were all in the running, though, and I watched them emerge from the kitchen hoping I’d made the right choice.
Two roasted (and crispy as promised) pieces of duck, one a breast and the other a thigh, were complemented by the other flavours on the plate. The earthiness of the mushroom and lentil cream was the ideal foil for the richness of the bird.
My husband went for the lamb shoulder served with pea puree, potato mash, grilled cabbage, zucchini and minted honey. This course was a slam-dunk too. The lamb fell apart at first pass of the knife and we loved the hint of mint with the sweetness of the honey. The portions were both hearty and we took a breather before deciding on dessert.
I chose the chocolate hazelnut pot de creme and Brett the vanilla bean creme brulee. Both were gorgeous, generous in size and satisfying, with contrasting textures – a cookie crumble in the chocolate pot and a finger of shortbread for the creme brulee.
On the way out, we lingered in one of the hanging chairs in the bar upstairs, enjoying the view of the yachts and harbour. The food at 9th Avenue has always been celebrated and there’s no doubt, with a setting that now matches, a whole new set of diners will become devotees.