Words: Robyn Nel
Images: Shirley Berko & Robyn Nel
I defy you not to let out an “oooh” when the sliding doors open to reveal The Village Table. The outside of The Pearls Mall’s brand new eatery is more eye-holding than eye-catching; there’s just so much to look at. From the glittering glass walls decked out in bold, tropical vine and flower decals, to the huge outdoor sofas begging to be lounged on, to the expanse of open space that invites the breeze; this place immediately makes you forget you’ve just been walking through a shopping mall.
It also made us forget that at some point, we should stop ogling and actually go inside.
We were welcomed by a friendly hostess, and shown to our table. Cue more ogling. The glass walls’ beautifully painted flowers merge with the jewel-green palms that surround the restaurant and arch lazily over the tables. Coupled with the bushes set in big planters that offer more privacy, it’s a bit like dining in the chicest jungle known to man.
Our waitress, Fabienne, is friendly and attentive, and immediately tells us that the restaurant isn’t yet officially open, and they’d love any feedback we have. It’s a sentiment shared by the entire staff, including the manager, Nilton dos Ramos. “We’re very open to change and improvement. I make sure that every waiter tells their table that this is a trial run.”
Nilton needn’t worry. True, the menus are just laminated pages at the moment, and the dessert and cocktail list is still being finalised (much to my disappointment – I live for the last course). But the food that does come totally flattens any misgivings.
I order the salmon with roasted vegetables and a caper butter, and my dining partner orders chicken breasts with roasted vegetables, a side of mash, and a herbed yoghurt dressing.
Both plates explode with colour and texture. Silky piles of sweet potato mash are topped with bright orange and ruby vegetable crisps. The salmon, perfectly pink and slightly crusted, perches on top of green mange tout, creamy cauliflower florets, and shining red peppers. The chicken is glazed with a Portuguese-style sauce that smells mouth-watering, and studded with butternut chunks and soft white Danish Feta.
Ever the pessimist, I’m almost immediately wondering if this is going to be all silk skirt and no knickers. But the very first bite proves me wrong. The salmon, always tricky to get right, flakes perfectly and tastes sublime. The roasted vegetables are flavourful, crisp, and fresh – a far cry from the mushy mix I’ve had so often before. The little taste of sweet potato reminds me how much I truly love carbs, and it’s not long before I’m digging into my partner’s generous helping of mash, which turns out to be a perfect accompaniment to my salmon. And my veggies. And just life.
It’s no wonder the food tastes so good; the ingredients come fresh from next door’s Food Lover’s Market. The Village Table is owned by Claude, Jose and Lionel Luizinho, who are the trio responsible for all the KZN branches of Food Lover’s, as well as the Refresh café in La Lucia Mall. This is their next step in bringing fresh, flavourful food from market to table. Albeit a rather more posh table.
My partner’s chicken could have done with a nice sear to offer a little more dimension to the taste and mouthfeel, but with such bright, balanced flavours accompanying it, it’s hard to complain. So we don’t. We sit in near silence and enjoy each mouthful.
The Village Table offers delicious, generous portions of food at reasonable prices and a beautiful setting that belies its no-nonsense, friendly approach to food and customers. It’s a rare combination, and if this is just the beginning, I can’t wait to watch it evolve. Preferably from their couch, cocktail in hand.
Tid Bit Details:
The meal cost us: Grilled Salmon – R86; Margie’s Chicken – R66; Flat White – R17; Ginger and Apple juice – R24
Parking: Secure undercover paid parking at the mall
Operating hours: Confirm with restaurant
The View: Gorgeous and facing the Indian Ocean, peering between the Pearls Mall and residential skyscrapers.
WiFi: Yes, and it’s free
Liquor license: Not yet
Address: The Pearls of Umhlanga Mall, 6 Lagoon Drive, Umhlanga
Number: 087 288 4235