Surf Riders Café
Where: 17 Erskine Terrace, South Beach
Open: Daily 6.30am to 5pm, 6pm on Friday and Saturday.
Call: 062 747 7037
We’re sitting on Durban’s beachfront eating tofu and drinking turmeric cappuccinos.
It all sounds ridiculously healthy, and, no, I haven’t suddenly slipped behind the Muesli Curtain. And no, we hadn’t just attended a beach yoga class at sunrise, or cycled the entire promenade, or anything so virtuous.
I’m with food writer Ingrid Shevlin and her friend Trevor, a vegetarian, trying out Surf Riders Café’s new vegan menu. We’ve been invited by Samantha Small-Shaw who is now running the kitchen. The menu is a pretty substantial offering and shows a lot of her imagination.
I warned Sam in advance that tofu and I have a very scratchy relationship. I think it stems from a very early experience of a Korean restaurant in London where we were served this slimy tofu floating in a brown, salty broth loaded with kimchi. Having tried it many times since, I’m also still not a fan of kimchi.
Then there was a tofu burger I was once persuaded to try that tasted like I was biting into a piece of rubber. Or one of Durban’s Thai restaurants that padded out the protein with pieces of tofu. It always was a why bother, it’s got no flavour and no texture.
The turmeric cappuccino, made with almond milk, is pleasant. It’s not a coffee by any stretch of the imagination ‒ in fact I would order a very good real cappuccino next ‒ but it gives you that warm and fuzzy feeling of being virtuous. Ingrid and Trevor enjoyed their luminous pink beetroot cappuccinos.
We pondered the likes of a vegan gyro with artichokes, brown mushrooms, hummus, salsa and beach greens. A gyro is a Greek street food usually made from spit roasted lamb of pork and wrapped in a pita, a cross between a wrap and a burger. It sounded good.
As did the vegan taco filled with salt and pepper tofu bites, hummus, baba ganoush, pickled vegetables, smashed avo, mange tout and vegan mayo. Also interesting was a vegan Buddha bowl with tofu, sushi rice, beetroot, pickled daikon, black beans, corn, hummus, smashed avo and vegan mayo. There’s zucchini fries with a hummus and smashed avo dipping sauce for those wanting something light.
We shared three dishes. A salad (R119) of coconut crumbed tofu with crunchy zucchini, pickled beets, chargrilled brinjals, kimchi, smashed avo, chickpeas, mange tout and black beans with greens was delicious. The coconut crumb gave the tofu some crunch and the deep frying made it go soft and silky. I skirted the kimchi, but the rest of the flavours made for a tasty and interesting dish.
The gua bao burger (R99) had more of that coconut fried tofu with Asian slaw, kimchi mayo and grilled pineapple. This is a Thai style street food with a steamed bun wrapping round the filling, eating it like a burger or sandwich. They also offer panko line fish and chicken versions. Well stuffed, this was a delicious messy affair.
The Mexican Pho bowl (R115) of a tofu and watermelon salad with smashed avo, cumin rub and beach greens was perhaps less successful. Ingrid felt the watermelon needed to be a sweeter fruit to give it more contrast. I, on the other hand, am a great fan of the humble watermelon. It may never pack the punch of a ripe juicy peach or mango, but I love its cool crunch on a hot summer’s day. Here the tofu wasn’t cooked so, despite the cumin rub, lacked any real flavour. For me the dish screamed out for feta, but the vegans wouldn’t like that.
We finished up sharing their vegetarian pizza, stuffed with artichokes, peppers, marinated brinjals, olives, onions, mushrooms etc. This was superb. A super light and crispy base topped with beautiful and imaginative veg. It was all the better for not having any cheese, making it a lighter meal. Who said healthy can’t be delicious as well?
Desserts here are always interesting.
The Rocky Road, a sort of ice cream and caramel sundae with nuts and honeycomb, promises you the “ride of your life”, while the chocolate mud pie is a “chocolate overload”. This is a brownie topped with praline mousse and chocolate ice cream and chocolate sauce.
We shared a good crisp fresh waffle topped with fresh fruit and ice cream, and their cinnamon dusted churros. Both were excellent.
The Independent on Saturday