This brûlée was skating on very thin ice

This brûlée was skating on very thin ice

45 Eat Street

Where: Lifestyle Centre, 498 Main Road, Ballito

Open: Daily, 11am to 10pm

Call: 087 460 0085

I HADN’T eaten at 45 Eat Street since it opened when Ballito’s Lifestyle Centre had a much-needed makeover as the area’s restaurant and foodie Mecca. It showed huge promise and I was excited by a menu that offered a few things different from the ho-hum of the many franchised joints.

It’s a big, smart restaurant. A casual open veranda terrace spills inside into a more formal restaurant. There’s a bar round the corner that opens onto a private garden. There’s a section of banquettes for bigger parties. On a chilly day, there was a fire going in the fireplace. The design is eclectic, sumptuous and interesting.

We were shown to one of those banquettes where we perused a vast menu… possibly too vast.

Mussels in a saffron sauce.

One way of eating here is ordering a selection of sharing plates that might make for a sociable evening over drinks. The idea, I suppose, is to put a couple of these in the middle of the table and nibble away. These include the likes of chicken wings, jalapeño poppers, sliders, and mini bunnies, along with prawns in a tom yum broth or beetroot hummus with flatbread. There’s even a T-bone option, although I’m not sure how you share a T-bone.

There’s also an extensive sushi menu, with which you could do something similar. Start with the sushi selection and then go on to a meaty selection that might make for a fun evening.

Duck liver pater topped with cherry jelly

But my friend, let’s call her the Sheriff of Morningside because she bosses our local councillor around and gets things done, doesn’t “do raw fish”, so we took the more conventional route.

Starters take in chicken livers with tomato herbs and chilli, or crumbed mushroom risotto balls with a lemon Hollandaise and Parmesan crisp, or pork cheek, black crumbed and braised in Chinese master stock with pea purée and citrus foam. Calamari tubes are stuffed with halloumi, peppadews, spring onions and pine nuts and served with a basil, tomato and white wine sauce.

I opted for the special of saffron mussels (R85) which while plentiful, were disappointing. The gloopy sauce tasted nothing of the supposed chouriço and saffron, but rather of white wine, straight from the bottle. If you had thinned out a bland butternut soup with wine, you might have got something similar.

Calamari in a garlic lemon and ginger cream

The Sheriff’s duck liver pâté, made with porcini mushrooms and marsala wine (R85), made up for it. This was a deliciously rich, smooth pâté and was topped with a cherry jelly to give it sweetness. We mopped it all up.

Mains include sesame and pepper-crusted seared tuna with spinach spaghetti and ponzu sauce, or salmon with a teriyaki glaze on egg noodles with fresh asparagus. Pork belly is served on roasted beetroot and sautéed cabbage, with caramelised pan jus, crackling and pommes Anna (potato bake).

There are T-bones and sirloin and burgers, this being a mighty 200g patty, complete with the kitchen sink. It arrived at the next table and would be challenging to eat without a knife and fork. There’s even a whole page of pizzas.

The Sheriff went for the grilled calamari tubes and tentacles in a creamy garlic, lemon and ginger sauce (R155). It was pleasant although it had cooled somewhat by the time it came to the table. I quite liked the hint of ginger, although the first thing she asked for was some garlic to give it some oomph.

Crème brûlée with espresso ice cream.

I tried the slow-braised lamb neck (R235), which seemed expensive for what should be one of the cheaper cuts of meat. This was slow braised in red wine and herb jus, served with sautéed spinach, leeks, artichokes, parsnip infused pomme purée and mushroom arancini (risotto balls).

The meat was meltingly tender and tasty, and the spinach good, although the intense jus bore little relation to the red wine and herb cooking sauce. It was piled high with a mountain of crispy leeks, while there was little hint of any artichokes.

I must admit I was expecting more of a slow-cooked casserole than the various elements combined later on the plate. The arancini balls were not needed. These were stodgy and tasteless and filled with something that was once green, possibly spinach, or possibly the missing artichokes. They were sitting in a tasteless sauce which I thought was probably a béchamel, but might have been the pomme purée.

Lemon malva pudding with lemon curd and lemon cheesecake ice-cream.

We ploughed on to dessert. Here the menu is more interesting, with options like milk tart spring rolls, or panna cotta with meringue. And there’s many ways with chocolate, including deep fried battered chocolate bites.

The Sheriff was disappointed with her crème brûlée (R75). Too often the crust of a brûlée is way too thick. It has to crack. A former food critic always said you shouldn’t be able to skate the entire Russian ice ballet over it. Well, this was the opposite. Because it had been turned out onto the plate, the brûlée crust was so thin it was barely there. I suspect the kitchen was terrified that if they blow torched it too long, they would end up with a soggy custard mess. But this was skating on very thin ice.

I enjoyed my lemon malva pudding with lemon meringue shards, lemon curd and home-made lemon cheesecake ice cream (R65). The pudding had a nice hit of lemon although it was very sweet. The lemon curd was excellent, if only there had been more of it.

Food: 2 ½

Service: 3

Ambience: 3

The Bill: R850

The Independent on Saturday

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