I basically want to go round to Shabs and Sarah’s house every night for dinner for the rest of my life, please. Unfortunately, I think that ambition is going to have to remain unrealised, because I have the feeling that their dining room is going to be full pretty much constantly as soon as people catch on to the existence of this absolute gem of a supper club.
As you might have gathered, my husband and I had a truly excellent evening at Durban Spice. Durban, for those who don’t know (i.e. me before I googled it just before the supper club), is the third largest city in South Africa, situated on the east coast. Shabs and Sarah are clearly incredibly knowledgeable and very proud of Durban’s cuisine, and it’s easy to see why. South African food isn’t necessarily that well-known in the UK, but I hope that’s something that will change in the near future, as, if this evening was anything to go by, it’s got a lot going for it. With obvious Indian and African influences, as well as Dutch and Malay vibes, the food is rich and complex. What we ate was all about subtle and layered spicing, the contrast between heat and fruitiness, and unexpected and fascinating textures.
When we arrived at Shabs and Sarah’s house in Wheatley, we were given the warmest welcome by Sarah, who I adored after being in her presence for about seven seconds. We waved briefly to Shabs as we passed him hard at work in the kitchen, before settling down in the restaurant space the couple have set up in their conservatory. We then began our journey through five courses of South African cuisine, and it was a total treat. Each course was accompanied by a little introduction from Sarah, who explained the provenance and ingredients of all the dishes and was really happy to answer all our questions throughout the evening.
We started with a biltong pate with local sourdough. Biltong is basically a South African jerky (I am massively oversimplifying), and it never would have occurred to me to make it into a pate, but it worked incredibly well and produced a rich, subtly-spiced, utterly moreish starter that left us fighting to scrape the remnants from the dish. From there, we moved on to two types of croustades, one filled with chicken curry and the other with chickpea, both complemented by their own chutneys. I loved the chickpea; my husband favoured the chicken: both were utterly delicious and well-balanced between spicy and sweet. Then there were samosas, fresh and crisp, one variety packed with lamb and served with a green chilli sauce with a proper kick, and the other with sweetcorn and cheese and served with a tamarind chutney, which seems like a weird idea until you taste it. Even my husband loved these and he actively hates sweetcorn.
Then to the main event: a traditional lamb breyani with Durban carrot salad, raita, and poppadoms. This was actually probably my favourite course, despite the deliciousness of what came before and after it. There’s just something so satisfying about a breyani (South Africa for biriyani, or any one of the many other variants) and little is more comforting than a pile of meat and rice, particularly if that meat is incredibly well-seasoned and tender; the rice perfectly-cooked and fluffy; the accompaniments well-thought out and proportioned. Our completely scraped-clean plates said it all.
We finished with a traditional malva pudding, which, although not really like a sticky toffee (much lighter, no dates) has that same sort of feeling. A comforting sponge made with apricot jam, slathered with butterscotch sauce. Really totally delicious and a great end to the meal, though leaving us with just enough space to squeeze in the little chocolate petit fours that came with the coffee…
One of the things that really impressed me about the evening at Durban Spice was the thought and attention to detail that had been put into everything. Despite the fact that there were five courses, everything was well-portioned, and I finished the evening feeling pleasantly replete instead of uncomfortably stuffed (although do go hungry if you’re going!). I was also pleased to note that, though this evening was all about spice, it had been handled with an expert hand, so that there were things hot enough to please spice fiends and mild enough to be enjoyed by those with less hardy palettes; when there were two options, there was generally one with more heat and one with less. Definitely make note of the fact that Durban Spice is happy to host private parties too; it would be absolutely ideal to book them out for the evening and come along with a big group for a birthday or another celebration. At £37 per head for a fantastic five-course meal (it’s BYOB as Durban Spice don’t have a liquor license), this is really great value.
Supper clubs seem to be gaining in momentum and I’m really glad to see it. There’s something so special about being welcomed into someone’s home and being served food with such love and care, particularly when the hosts clearly care so much about the cuisine. We had a really wonderful evening at Durban Spice and we will certainly be back.
Durban Spice Supper Club