The one-part beach town, one-part bustling urban hub of Durban is generally overlooked by local travellers who tend to focus on South Africa’s safari-and-wine circuits, but we can’t understand why. Sure, you can check out the best restaurants in Joburg, but this seaside city is awash (pun intended!) in stylish restaurants and bars, both classic and of-the-moment. Consider this your must-read while cruising down the N3 for everything a dreamy escape that’s close enough for comfort is made of.
WHERE TO STAY
Hilton Garden Inn Umhlanga Arch
For such a fabulous place, Durban is actually lacking in the amazing-hotels department, which is why we breathed a sigh of relief when South Africa’s first Hilton Garden Inn, Hilton Garden Inn Umhlanga Arch, recently opened its doors. Located within the business hub of the mixed-use Umhlanga Arch, only 20 minutes from King Shaka International Airport, opt for this sleek four-star hotel for a bit of modern polish overlooking the streets of Umhlanga. While the exterior lacks the charm of some of the area’s more historic options, the interior oozes international flair (someone thought out the clean lines, uncluttered layout and ample counter space in the rooms). All 203 of the refreshingly crisp and clean rooms have a comfortable bed, flat-screen TV, large desk with adjustable lighting and an ergonomic chair, shower and mini refrigerator. Whether you’re here for business or pleasure, you’ll feel the room is well-outfitted for your needs. Planning a day by the pool? There’s an outdoor heated pool with a full-service bar. For breakfast, lunch and dinner, Together & Co restaurant serves a buffet or sharing plates. Let’s not forget the lounge, 24-hour fitness centre or self-service laundry room. The property is also close to some of the best shopping and restaurants in Durban. If you like a good party and don’t mind a few housekeeping hiccups, this is the spot for you. It may sound like a bit much, but when it’s 01h00, you’re at The Baron or Back Yard rooftop bar and your hotel is just a few steps away, you’ll thank yourself for booking here. Depending on the season, prices can be very reasonable too.
1 Ncondo Place, Umhlanga Ridge, Umhlanga
031 007 0775
WHERE TO EAT
Tip: Choose restaurants wisely
A great way to see Durban is to plan your must-have meals first. Then, work your way backward, filling in hitting the beach, shopping at Gateway Theatre of Shopping, going for a stroll on the Golden Mile, exploring the Indian District and sites to see between bites. Here’s where to dine in summery style.
The Ocean Terrace
With its mirrored walls, sweeping spiral staircase, black-and-white checkered terrazzo floors and lush tropical gardens brimming with bright hibiscus flowers, The Oyster Box hotel, located on the Umhlanga beachfront overlooking the Indian Ocean, is like stepping into another era. Go for the scene, stay for the food and drinks. Fashion and style are generously served at The Ocean Terrace, the red-and-white striped indoor-outdoor restaurant which sits adjacent to the iconic Umhlanga lighthouse. Lavishing loving attention on its pristine plates of raw and cooked seafood, this dignified Durban spot gets our vote! The menu oscillates between shellfish and raw crustaceans: Beautifully locally picked oysters served with mignonette and an American cocktail sauce, as well as ultra-sophisticated recipes such as a platter of line fish, mussels and prawns in a super-luscious chardonnay cream. It’s hard to go wrong on a menu devoted to seafood and grills, but we recommend starting with the rich and decadent flamed oysters glistening with garlic butter and Parmesan. Or, let yourself be tempted by the sushi menu, which showcases artful presentation and inventive flavour combinations. The sea’s bounty is on full display on the main menu – think crumbed calamari, salmon and line fish cakes, prawns, langoustines, kingklip on the bone and West Coast sole. But the real crowd-pleaser is the baby crayfish, expertly cooked with a spritz of lemon and a generous dollop of butter. The creative side dish of pea and dill rice rewards diners with a playful palate. Don’t miss out on the excellent cocktails either – the signature Umhlanga Schling made with cane spirit and cane sugar will defeat even the hottest, most humid summer evening.
The Oyster Box Hotel, 2 Lighthouse Road, Umhlanga
031 514 5000
9th Avenue Waterside
Nothing takes a fancy meal to the next level like views out over Durban Harbour. You know you’ve reached peak Durban when you’re sipping a lime, lemonade and fresh mint mojito over a beautiful lunch at 9th Avenue Waterside, where outside the windows is the big blue. It’s a bit of a scramble for tables here, so book in advance and lock one down on the outside deck for some of the best views in the city. With its minimalistic décor and coastal cuisine with global influences, the fine-dining restaurant reels customers in with sumptuous starters like fresh oysters (especially good with a bottle of white), crispy calamari with Vietnamese sauce and roasted jalapeño aioili as well as delicate salmon cured in beetroot and gin with beetroot and strawberry purée, crème fraîche, coriander chutney, strawberries and black rice crackers. Mains are exquisitely fresh and refined, with almost too many brilliant dishes to choose from. We recommend the spicy, frightfully delicious prawn tail and homemade squid ink tagliatelle, served simply in a magnificent tomato and fennel cream with chilli pesto and rocket. Or, for something punchier, the full-flavoured beef fillet that melts in your mouth like butter, served with potato fondant, wild mushrooms and a brandy and green peppercorn sauce. For dessert, make sure to order the incredible ‘Gin & Tonic’ – zesty and refreshing gin and juniper sorbet with toasted marshmallow meringue, lemon curd and cucumber gelée. One thing’s for sure – eating by the water gives your meal that extra shine, which is why we highly recommend indulging. What’s more, service is uniformly excellent, a cheerful atmosphere reigns and there’s more space one floor above for sunset cocktails.
2 Maritime Place, Harbour, Durban
031 940 4628