The Restaurant: Prawn Shack
Shelley Seid visits the Prawn Shack, a beach eatery that lives up to its name
What to do when foreigners come to town? Although it's alleged that we tell most of them to get the hell out of Dodge, there are those of us who choose a different tack. We take them to venues to which we ourselves have never been. Like the Prawn Shack. It's a great venue that manages to encapsulate the East Coast: lazy and laid back, a four-hour lunch where both the mojitos and the atmosphere are chilled to perfection.
The Prawn Shack - 110km from Durban on the KZN North Coast - is the brainwave of Bill Bud, a man well known throughout Durban for culinary brainwaves that included Legends, the hippest Durban restaurant of the 1980s and 1990s, Gringo's and, currently, Bud's on the Bay and the Prawn Shack.
When Bud opened his Amatikulu Prawn Farm around 10 years ago, he decided to open the Prawn Shack - quite literally a big wooden shack with a partially covered deck upstairs - to promote his local prawns. Sadly, the farm couldn't compete with cheap imports and closed down, but the restaurant kept on growing.
"We never advertised," says Bud. "It became a place to bring your out-of-town friends because it is so different."
We (that's me, a couple of locals and two North Americans) arrived at 11.30am, walked up a sand dune, along a bit of beach and there it was, a double-story imijondolo looking for all the world like the tribal council meeting room in Survivor: Samoa. The ground floor is all bar, with a couple of swings and a scattering of chairs.
Wesley, the manager, immediately handed each of us a complimentary caipirinha so lethal that the smell sent my blood-alcohol level shooting past the legal limit. That led to the ordering of watermelon and chilli mojitos, the discarding of our sand-filled shoes and instant over-familiarity with the other patrons. A bunch of men in shorts were downing shots containing live baby prawns; Bob Marley was telling us not to let them fool ya; and a woman glided past wearing a snorkel and water wings.
Feeling that the tourists had already had their money's worth, we went upstairs to begin the languid lunch. The food was simple, fresh, tasty and plentiful, served course by course at a buffet table, on enamel plates.
We began with a caprese salad and homemade pesto, which was followed by a prawn bisque and then mini prawn and chicken bunnies that didn't stint on the prawn. The tourist from Illinois waxed lyrical about the prawn bisque. "I'm the Augustus Gloop of this soup," he boomed. It may have been the mojitos talking, but he was later spotted sneaking another cup of the stuff from the kitchen.
The food just kept on coming. Pasta with chillies and prawns, large wedges of fresh linefish, slivers of rare beef fillet. At some point, one of the staff members came over and offered to take us on an escorted walk along the pristine beach. "You must be kidding," groaned the chap from Canada, who was already having a problem getting down the stairs to the bar.
My vote - not that anyone cared - went to the dessert. A baked camembert, topped with a port reduction and caramelised at the table with one of those kitchen blow-torch things. The crack of the fruity port crust with the soft, pungent cheese was sublime. I think the rest were as impressed but were too mellow to do much more than grunt contentedly.
The Prawn Shack, KZN North Coast, 0847376493. R160 for eight 'tasting' courses and a caipirinha.