Driving through the suburban streets of Durban’s Pinetown neighbourhood, you’d be forgiven for giving the address in your GPS a second look, not that there’s anything wrong with the area, but rather it is surprising that one of KwaZulu-Natal’s culinary gems would be found within this slice of suburbia.
For it’s here, tucked away in Summerhill Boutique Hotel where German-born, Durban-raised chef Johannes Richter and his wife Johanna run the LivingRoom dinner club and where they’ve slowly but surely been making waves, championing KwaZulu-Natal cuisine in a way that is both clever and refreshing.
At its core, The LivingRoom’s aim is to showcase the province’s culinary diversity from product to plate with a strong focus on sustainability and community development. It’s not about reductively reproducing ideas or what may be considered stereotypical flavours but rather about showcasing the region’s endemic, seasonal ingredients, drawing on and experimenting with local flavours and using the fine techniques and prodigious skill from years of experience in top restaurants around the world.
Sustainability is something Richter takes seriously. Not only do the sprawling grounds of the estate include an organic vegetable garden and free-range chicken run (where the chickens are fed the kitchen scraps) but any fish that ends up on the menu are caught by the chef himself — by spearfishing, no less.
The seven-course menu is a well considered and conceptualised, offering beginning with a bread and soup course, perfect for chilly Durban evenings.
A bold and flavourful pear and onion soup split with a fig leaf oil arrives served with the chef’s homemade sourdough — to be slathered with spiced masala butter — and accompanied by tasty mouthfuls of green banana fritters and pickled seasonal vegetables.
What follows is a stunningly crafted and curated meal that fluctuates between very good and sublime. There’s the pulled beef served with the most mouthwatering braised cucumber broth accompanied by textures of yellow pepper, mustard seeds and ox tongue. This is followed by two dishes of locally sourced poultry — one chicken, one duck, the latter arriving with an assortment of rhubarb elements and carrots done three ways.
The main course arrives in the form of a Zulu Water’s impala loin together with an eland liver sausage — if you follow Summerhill Estate on Instagram, you would’ve witnessed its creation — and squash in numerous iterations garnished with fresh shavings of KwaZulu-Natal truffle. The winter veg, umami truffle and gamey venison work well together.
The meal ends as strongly as it began with an amasi, peanut and pineapple dessert. An interesting and delectable exercise of sweet, salty, sour and tangy, complemented by a host of textures from creamy to crunchy, keeping things exciting till the very end.
The menu is expertly paired by Johanna, who runs front of house, with the pairings including an array of exciting and interesting SA wines — from Jessica Saurwein’s Chi riesling to Trizanne Signature Wines award-winning Syrah and many more. Each dish elevated rather than distracted by the chosen pairing.
It’s clever cooking through and through, delivering grand flavours through delicate and well-thought-out textures while maintaining wonderful balance from one dish to the next.
For far too long Durban has been unfairly considered the ugly stepsister of SA’s dining scene. However, one thing is for certain, the Richters are here to change that. A phenomenal meal from start to finish. A refreshing and exciting portrayal of all KwaZulu-Natal has to offer. If they’re not on your radar, they should be.
The LivingRoom at Summerhill
9 Belvedale Road,
Cowies Hill, Durban