Curry of the Week - Britannia Hotel
The windows of the ground floor of the Britannia Hotel are darkened or frosted. But were you able to look out of them, your view would be the small section of freeway that curves around the end of Durban's ridge on one side and connects it with Durban North on the other. When the Britannia was first built, however, the view would have been very different. Before the advent of all this concrete, the hotel looked out on to the banks of the Umgeni River. And looking at the gorgeous frontage of the colonial building, it's easy to imagine the grand afternoons that passed on its generous veranda. The river has long since been rerouted - to allow for the development of the Sea Cow Lake factory park - but it still passes by the Britannia Hotel, obscured now by the freeway interchange. But the river's proximity is no longer the reason why Durbanites flock to the Britannia. Instead, the lure of rippling water has been replaced by what many people consider to be one of the finest - if not the finest - example of Durban curry.
Now, in a city filled with hundreds of curry spots, this is something of a claim; and while I'm sure that I have frequently exclaimed that a particular Britannia meal was the best curry I've ever had, I'm not quite prepared to commit to such a statement during the course of a review. It seems too dangerous a thing to do. But the food is sublime. Although an exemplar of the brash, fiery curry for which Durban is famous, the Britannia's kitchen nonetheless manages to imbue its output with a rich sumptuousness that would normally be associated with the richer cream-based menus of North and South Indian restaurants such as Vintage (in Windermere/Lilian Ngoyi Rd) or Palkis (Musgrave Rd). The result is consistently a magnificent symphony of taste, and one that lingers even after I've downed the can of coke with which I usually crown (or destroy, depending on your perspective) a curry.
While the chutney chops are legendary, and the bunny chow always executed with flair, my curry mate and I usually go for the vegetarian options. We tend to go overboard and order four meals - broad beans, paneer, veg koftas, and veg prawns - between the two of us and cart the unfinished food home. Once you add the rice, rotis and sambals, this amount to a heavenly, protein-rich veg buffet that would satisfy even the most craven carnivore.
The beans are transcendent; with each bite they virtually melt into the gravy which houses them. The paneer (indian cheese, much like ricotta) is firm but crumbles gently and sits on a gentle tomato base; it is the mildest meal on the menu. The veg koftas are made from green bananas, and if that sounds a little disgusting,they tastes amazing. They too are served on a tomato base, as are the succulent but slightly crisp veg prawns, although with the prawns the tomato tang is more than countered by the heat of the chillies.
If you're a little disappointed that I haven't mentioned the meat dishes, take their quality as an article of faith attested to by the fact that the Britannia's parking lot is full every lunch time, and with a majority of meat eaters.
Finally, a note of caution. The food is great, but it doesn't come quickly. Ever. In fact, sometimes it feels like the Britannia keeps you waiting simply because the food is so evidently worth waiting for.
1299 Umgeni Road
Phone 031 3032266