DURBAN’S CAFÉ 1999 HAS EVERYTHING YOU COULD WANT FROM AN EATERY: GREAT FOOD – OF COURSE – BUT ALSO VARIETY, VIBES, MUSIC AND A SOMMELIER OF NOTE…
the year 1999 was a good one for dining out in Durban. It was the year that the café bearing the tag of its ‘birth’ was opened by entrepreneur Andre Schubert and, within two years, it had become well patronised by businesspeople and foodies in the area. It had also attracted the culinary talents of Marcelle Roberts, who’d worked abroad and at Tala Private Game Reserve in South Africa, and came to Café 1999 as head chef in 2001. Here she met Sean, ‘a naughty, energetic waiter who swept me off my feet and is now my dear husband and father of our two boys’. After buying the place from Andre in 2004, the couple expanded the Café’s reach: Sean opened Unity, a craft-beer bar, and That Brewing Company, a microbrewery; Marcelle continues to focus on fabulous food; and much-admired manager Mo Therese is responsible for ‘wooing guests’ with his incredible wine and food knowledge.
MC: What’s the Café’s ethos? Marcelle: The concept is based on sharing. Platters can be made up from all the tapas-style dishes in the titbits section. The ‘bigbits’ section offers main course-sized dishes but they’re also available in small helpings, so customers can enjoy a mix of different flavours. MC: And the style of food? Marcelle: It started out as a chiefly Mediterranean restaurant, but over the years my love for Asian cuisine has found its way onto the menu. We run daily specials and a firm favourite is sesame-crusted seared tuna, which can be served in any number of ways. All our desserts are home-made and I try and source the best and most local ingredients that I can.
Our most popular dish is a little creation made of calamata olives, stuffed with ricotta, crumbed, deep-fried and served with chilli and herb mayo. It’s wonderful – slightly salty and perfect to start the evening off. If I took it off the menu,we would certainly lose a few fans.
Although our focus is on a small, select wine list, Mo has been known to rustle up a few special cocktails when asked. He’s incredibly knowledgeable about wine. In fact, all our waiters are well trained and can ‘walk’ each patron through our special wines that are not on the list. MC: Who comes? Marcelle: We entertain all sorts of people, from businessmen at lunchtime to the arty theatre crowd; from couples to families celebrating birthdays. We aim for a laid-back ambience but it’s by no means slack! The music can range from easy jazz to deep house on a Friday night when it gets really busy. There’s something for everyone here…
This page, right The welcoming interior of Durban’s Café 1999. Below Banana Split à la owner-chef Marcelle Roberts. Opposite Sesame seared tuna with rice noodle salad.
This page, above Rustic beetroot tart with goat’s cheese medallions.
Left Marcelle Roberts. Opposite, top Décor elements have been chosen for their contemporary appeal and funchic factor. Bottom Crispy polenta fingers with Gorgonzola sauce.