I don’t visit Durban very often, but over the last 12 years there’s one particular establishment, with its trendy partly-gay crowd, that I always pop into when I’m in town. That place is Bean Bag Bohemia, or BBB as it’s also known.
Established in 1995, this bistro, bar and social haunt has become a mainstay of Durban’s stylish beautiful people as well as those who simply want a solid meal, courtesy of Chef Brendan Newport.
On a recent trip to the seaside city, my first in a couple of years, I got the chance to again test out this ever popular eatery and to establish if they’d kept up their standards. The fact that I was staying at La Bordello, the boutique hotel attached to BBB, meant that I would have plenty of opportunity to sample both the menu and the clientele (in a manner of speaking, course).
BBB has an upstairs restaurant with a more comprehensive menu, but we chose to stay with the relaxed cafÃ© environment of the much more popular and busy downstairs area throughout our visit. This persona of BBB doesn’t have pretensions of fine dining. It offers largely simple bistro-style fare, mostly consisting of breakfasts, pizzas, burgers, salads, sandwiches and pastas.
The exception to this “basic” menu is in what are described as ‘Spoonfulls.’ I tried a couple of these starter-size portions served, of course, on a large spoon, including the Figs and Parma-Ham with Basil and Goat Cheese (R20). This elicited groans of pleasure from our group: An explosion of flavour, smothered in a sticky balsamic vinegar that surprisingly did not overwhelm the other ingredients.
The Green Olives Stuffed with Feta and Marinated in Lemon (R17) was also a treat. Another much-lauded Spoonful was the Sticky Lamb Cutlet Char Roast in Plum Sauce, Wasabi and Lime, served on an avocado salsa (R30). I hoped to try the Angry Duck Dim Sum (R19) but never got the chance.
Choosing a large Puttanesca Pizza (R44 – anchovies, capers, black olives, mozzarella, tomato sauce, garlic and fresh oregano) on the first night at BBB, I couldn’t get enough of the homemade stone ground flour base and fresh ingredients. The crunchy and puffed-up light base was one of the best I’ve tasted in a long time; the perfect substrate for the gorgeous flavours. My one complaint (or a suggestion rather) is that chilli be thrown in to the mix for the pizza to live up to its ‘puttanesca’ name. (Puttanesca is a derivative of the Italian word for “whore” and appropriately is traditionally a spicy tomato-based sauce.)
Other pizza options we tried included the Italian Cherry Tomatoes, Black Olives, Parmigiano Reggiano, Avocado and Basil (R50) which was equally acclaimed for taste and freshness of ingredients.
One of the items on the menu that became increasingly popular among our group during our stay in Durban was BBB’s burger, which comes in a few guises such “blue cheese” and “avocado bacon.” Once again, a humble dish was elevated to new heights, anchored by a meaty freshly-made rump beef patty. It’s served on a crispy Portuguese style bun with a relish and that rarest of side-dishes these days – the freshly made and edible potato chip.
The breakfasts were above average, presented in good size portions, and a treat for anyone staying at La Bordello (the same breakfast options are offered to guests). The eggs especially were consistently perfect day in and day out – even one of our group who asked for his eggs to be cooked to “bouncing point” was impressed that they came ‘just right’ for his personal taste. The Eggs Benedict (R39) wasn’t served on the traditional English muffin but on halved and toasted Portuguese buns. I had no complaints though; this worked equally well, if not better. The coffee too was superb.
It was, however, at breakfast where we experienced a few hiccups when it came to service. On two mornings butter for our toast seemed to be a rather hard commodity to find, and in one case it simply never arrived. Oddly, on one occasion the Country Style Breakfast was served sans the promised bacon. No explanation was forthcoming when we enquired, but a crispy portion arrived shortly thereafter. The staff were, however, extremely friendly while still maintaining their individual personas and characters.
The dessert offerings must be mentioned. From the Lemon Meringue Pie (R25) to the Baked Cheesecake with Pecan Nuts and Praline (R23), these were impeccable. I’m not the world’s most committed fan of sweets, but I unexpectedly found myself tempted to get greedy when sharing dessert.
My biggest – and most shameful – disappointment was that I never got the chance to try the “Infamous Durban Street Chow” (a large bun topped with chicken and prawn curry (R37), BBB’s version of the city’s well known Bunny Chow.
BBB has a comfortable and relaxed ambiance enhanced by the large foldaway glass frontage, with tables spilling out onto the pavement. Later at night, the venue changes character, taking on a bar-like feeling with a more evening-dress crowd. On Sunday afternoons and evenings patrons can indulge in all manner of board games while socialising.
An extensive cocktail menu ensures that all and sundry are well lubricated. And do try stay away from owner Guy Wood, who may just ply you with ‘All Gold’ (tomato cocktail and tequila) shooters.
It’s been some time since I’ve eaten at an establishment – especially one offering informal cafÃ© style dishes – in which the food has been consistently good. Bean Bag Bohemia offers great value and shows that a restaurant doesn’t need to impress with a pretentious or overly ambitious menu to present solid, fresh and extremely tasty food.
Bean Bag Bohemia is located at 18 Windermere Road, Morningside, Durban. Tel 031 309 6019. Website: www.beanbagbohemia.co.za.