The Cargo Hold (Durban, South Africa)

Our first full day in Durban was taken up doing some light sightseeing and getting a feel for the area, visiting The Kwazulu Natal Society of the Arts, the Phansi African Art Centre, and spending a nice early afternoon wandering about the expansive Durban Botanical Gardens, after a nice stroll along the Golden Mile beach (which was pleasant, but swimming was not recommended due to elevated bacteria levels from the recent major flooding), we decided to check out one of Durban’s more unique restaurants, The Cargo Hold.

This is probably a good place to discuss Durban’s seasonal nature: Durban is pretty much the major seaside tourist area during South Africa’s summer, and for about a kilometer or so from the water along the Golden Mile, it’s pretty much hotels, restaurants, and amusement parks, and apparently quite busy. But for our visit in April, we were coming into Austral Fall, and between the off-season and the recent flooding, the Golden Mile part of town was extremely quiet: no crowds, many attractions closed, and quite frankly, quite peaceful. It also means that several attractions recommended in guides are either shuttered for the season, or running on reduced hours. But for several places that are normally quite busy, it can be a boon. That was the case with The Cargo Hold.

Cargo Hold is a fairly unique spot: looking like a slightly-rusted cargo vessel, The Cargo Hold is actually part of the larger uShaka Marine World theme park and aquarium, and the restaurant is built onto the end of one of the large aquarium tanks; most of one wall of the dining room is a shark tank, and most of the opposite wall is panoramic windows overlooking the beach. Coming here during the day on-season, it’s quite the scene, with one wall of blue fish tank, and another wall bright beach. Off-season? A very different experience: the water is dark and dimly lit, with a green cast, and the outside wall gets almost no light from outside. It’s still a neat experience, but a very different feel.

That, and while several sources, including their website, mentioned the importance of reservations… That’s likely the case during peak season. On our visit, we were one of three tables (although that made for a very attentive waitstaff!).

To start out our meal, we did a simple carpaccio appetizer. Here, they make it local by using springbok, which is one of those meats I hadn’t yet tried. But it worked well. Honestly, this wasn’t notably different from a venison carpaccio, but the meat was flavorful and tender, and prepared with just enough salt, oil, and pepper. A solid start.

For my main course, quite a few of the dishes sounded appealing, but my experiences in South Africa were that “beef” and “seafood” were strengths, so I ended up ordering from the grill with a nice surf and turf. A nicely grilled 300g and the same giant prawns we had in St Lucia, served with peri-peri sauce. This combination worked really well; the steak was nicely tender and well-seared, with a nice juicy and flavorful interior. The prawns had that nicely-seared and slightly blistered exterior, and the interior was tender but not rubbery, easily peeling from the shell. Using the peri-peri as both a dip for the shrimp, and for my chips (not shown), this was an enjoyable main course.

For dessert, we ended up splitting a dessert combo of coconut ice cream and crème brûlée. The ice cream was smooth and silky, with a coconut flavor that reminded me pleasant of all the not-overly-sweet coconut dishes we had back in Mexico in March. The crème brûlée was smooth and creamy as well, with plenty of vanilla, and just enough sugar crust to give a proper snap.

Overall, despite the weird off-season ambiance and the modest novelty nature of the restaurant (even during prime on-season, much of the ambiance is like, say Rainforest Cafe at the Mall of America), we had an enjoyable meal, good service, and it’s kind of fun to watch the sharks circling while you dine. It’s definitely recommended, even during the busy season.

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