VickyCristina’sWhen I first saw the bright red and orange sign on Durban’s Florida Road, I thought VickyCristina’s was a lingerie shop. A kind of Victoria’s Secret or even a Lola Montez, discreetly above a cheap Indian takeaway and sports bar. Being the adventurous type I walked upstairs anyway, and was pleased and instantly impressed with the nicely laid-out restaurant I found there.
It's a tapas bar, with dramatic touches such as red and white lanterns, chandeliers hanging from a dark pressed steel ceiling, crisp white tablecloths and a fascinating array of dishes chugging around a sushi-style conveyer belt.
We picked a table in the warm interior and menus arrived, swiftly followed by a roving head waiter who asked if we’d eaten here before and were familiar with the concept. No, and yes, we replied, and he explained that he’d take our drinks order then come back to discuss the menu.
There wasn’t much to discuss really. I had a vegetable craving, so verduras a la plancha (artichoke hearts, roasted cherry tomatoes, aubergine and marinated mushrooms) at R29 was an essential choice. As well as batatas bravas, or pan-fried potatoes with spicy tomato sauce at R29. We figured two meat dishes to go with that would sort us out nicely, so we ordered higados de pollo (chicken livers sautéed in sherry and cream) and moruno de pollo (chicken skewers with cumin and paprika), both for R39.
I’d hungrily eyed slices of tortilla sliding past on the conveyer belt, but since I’d already spotted the dessert menu I didn’t want to fill up without leaving room for at least one postre.
The place was buzzing for a wintry Tuesday evening, with several tables of girls’ nights out. By now I was intrigued, so when an extremely tall man stopped to check that everything was okay, I assumed he was the manager and asked about the place. VickyCristina’s is designed to become a franchise, with two branches already operating in Umhlanga and this second one in Durban. There are plans to extend to Johannesburg, which is excellent because this is one franchise I’d really welcome.
The South African founders took the name from Woody Allen’s award-winning film, Vicky Cristina Barcelona, which pits reckless passion against safe but boring common sense.
The founders have recruited a couple of Spaniards who will be flying in for duty soon, while a Spanish woman is the chain’s chief overseer. She’s fiddled with the food since the owners first demonstrated the menu, after declaring that some dishes were "great, but not Spanish". They’re Spanish now, although the curried potatoes are more Durban than Barcelona.
The supervisor arrived later in flamboyant Spanish style, giving a brief but fiery dancing demonstration with her smouldering partner.
The tapas choices are nicely varied and portion sizes were generous enough to make our selection of four perfectly ample. I’d also like to try the cocas, a Catalonian flatbread-like pizza, with a thin base flavoured with spices and various toppings.
For dessert I asked our waiter which of my two favourite options he’d suggest. He’s a chunky chap, so I was confident he’d sampled them all. He recommended the volcán de chocolate picante at R39, a chocolate cake with a molten centre of chilli-infused chocolate. The last time I had something similar it was disappointing, but this was heavenly. The sponge was soft and chewy, and the erupting sauce so good I’m salivating at the memory.
275 Florida Road, Durban Tel: (031) 561-1000