The Secret Diner: An old Durban haunt for a delectable curry

Island Hotel

Where: 19 Beach Road, Isipingo Beach

Open: Daily 10am to late

Call: 031 902 3400

On a recent trip back to Durban from the South Coast, we were starving.

It was after 2pm and we were driving through Toti wondering where to stop for a quick lunch, when my friend suggested the Island Hotel in Isipingo Beach.

It was a haunt from his old stomping ground, having grown up in the suburb, and his stepmother still lives on a property he owns there. I was more than happy for the detour.

The three-star Island Hotel is one of the province’s more historic hotels, it’s original authentic colonial grandeur infused with a rich Indian cultural heritage. The lagoon is home to three protected mangrove species and prides itself on protecting the wild flora and fauna in the estuary.

Besides the formal dining room, it boasts the Mangrove Restaurant which was empty when we arrived, but its meals are also served in the River Mouth Sports Bar, where it was all happening. Even at this late lunch hour, many were tucking into bunny chows piled high with delicious looking curries. There is also a takeaway outlet popular with those going fishing on the beach.

The menu was super simple. It would be curry, curry or curry. We had a choice of a rich slow-cooked mutton curry touted as appearing with potatoes in a “thick, tantalising gravy”, a chicken curry or braised mutton billed as a dry curry, slow-cooked. There was also a sugar beans or broad beans option and one with soya prawns. All curries are served with carrot salad and rice or bread, or could be served as a bunny chow. Rotis and sambals were extra.

There are also weekend specials with mutton biryani on Fridays, trotters and sugar beans on Saturdays and Cornish curry, presumably a Cornish hen, on Sundays.

The bar lady apologised that the mutton curry had sold out during the lunch-time rush. Obviously, big pots are made in the morning and when they run out, they run out. The locals know this.

She recommended the braised mutton (R90). My friend opted for that while I thought I’d try the chicken curry (R65).

We ordered a couple of beers and sat out on the deck, which unfortunately is at the back of the hotel and looks out onto the car park rather than the mangroves. But after a long ride in the car it was nice to be outside.

It wasn’t long before our bar lady came out to apologise that the chicken curry had run out too.

She delivered a bunny to the next table filled with the braised mutton which certainly looked delicious and definitely didn’t look dry. So I thought let’s give it a whirl.

The meals arrived and the portions were enormous. As an apology she brought us a complimentary bowl of sambals complete with pickled chillies. The curry was delicious, rich, strong, but not unbearably hot, and the meat tender and without bones. It was topped with that deep red oil so traditional of a good Durban curry.

One of the city’s top curry chefs once told me that “a curry without oil is a white man’s stew”.

We lapped it up over a second beer. There was more than enough for lunch the next day.

Food: 3 ½

Service: 3 ½

Ambience: 3

The Independent on Saturday