There was some shock and disappointment when Durban dining institution Ile Maurice closed down this year, and regulars watched with interest as the site was transformed into the recently opened Danté — a three-story venue that boasts a main restaurant and bar, gin garden, cigar bar, oyster and Champagne bar, signature bar for exclusive, private dining, and a rooftop bar with exceptional ocean views.
The bold interiors nod to the building’s heritage with tiles, balustrades, basins and a few mosaics retained, which interior designer Alice Kelly has combined with dramatic wallpapers; intricate chandeliers; sumptuously patterned fabrics; a walls gallery, full of artwork; and stylish furniture featuring local design stars such as Ardmore and Victoria Verbaan. “I think every colour under the sun has been used in this project,” Kelly says, “And it all seems to work together like a beautiful piece of tapestry.”
Danté is the brainchild of Durban-born twin brothers Andile and Ayanda Ngidi, and Trent Varejes. Experienced eventers, this venue is a dream come true, Ayanda told us at dinner.
With the transformation of the building underway, they called on Durban food luminary and chef consultant Marco Nico to create a menu with head chef Kyle Govender that would be as memorable as the décor. Nico’s philosophy of slow food created from local ingredients is evident in the menu, which includes a host of layered, imaginative dishes.
Ayanda recommended the caramel pork belly with ash-roasted vegetables, mushrooms, lemon, rocket and lemon zest risotto; and the surf-and-turf espetada — a stack of linefish, prawns and 30-day aged beef skewered and served with house-cut potato chips, roasted garlic and seaweed butter. The pork (clearly cooked for hours) fell apart at the touch of the fork, and perfectly complemented the risotto — simply put, it was exceptional. The sauce was the highlight of the surf-and-turf espetada, elevating the seafood and steak to delicious heights. Both dishes generously portioned, and both winners.
Chocolate features heavily in the dessert menu (much to my delight), and I settled on the fondant which arrived beautifully plated and cooked to oozy perfection. It was served with black pepper vanilla ice cream and berries — I scraped my plate. My husband chose the Divine Comedy — chocolate tobacco mousse, almond micro-sponge crumble, coffee cream, toasted almond praline and espresso syrup — but found it fell short on expectations, finding it too sweet. Never something that worries me, I thought the flavours and textures all worked.
The inventive cocktails deserve a special mention and we’ll certainly be back to sample more sitting on the rooftop overlooking the ocean before we head down to try the other dishes that caught our eye on the menu — think crab and tarragon béarnaise; pineapple, brown sugar barbeque, bacon and oxtail marmalade on a cut of meat; and various seafood dishes.
With all Covid-19 protocols strictly in place, with plenty of social-distancing and well-ventilated areas, definitely add Danté to your list if you’re in Durbs this holiday season.
• Danté, 9 McCausland Cres, Umhlanga, Durban