Impulse by the Sea: So much of flavour

Impulse by the Sea: So much of flavour
Prawn curry at Impulse by the Sea, Tinley Manor. Image from Erica Platter's Durban Curry cookbook. Photograph: Clinton Friedman

We wanted to source the best prawn curry, and nobody knows a prawn curry better than Erica Platter, author of the best-selling Durban Curry cookbook. She loves this particular prawn curry so much that it’s right there on her book’s cover.

Tinley Manor Beach is a bit of a trek: 57km or so from the city. But it is simply the best (etc) if you’re looking for the quintessential local prawn curry. Or fish, when the dorado are running. Or broad beans when they’re at their seasonal best. If you’re flying in to King Shaka, get off the plane, head straight up the north coast. Then it’s only 34km. Worth the journey.

There is only one rule, really, says Shamen Reddi. “Shaken, not stirred.”

Recipes will stipulate that slices of fish (fush, we say in KwaZulu-Natal) should be lowered “carefully into the gravy”. Or that that the prawns should be “placed on the surface of the mixture”. But it all simmers (gently) down to James Bond’s martini recipe. That is the making or breaking of a Durban seafood curry.

Shamen is the elegant owner of Impulse by the Sea restaurant, perched above a café and estate agency just up from gentrified but still slightly shabby Tinley Manor beach, once an exclusively Indian area. My favourite of all Prohibited signs may be found here: it exhorts fishermen not to release sharks into the tidal swimming pool.

Shamen is a Govender. “We are the crab people,” she explains, known for their shellfish-cooking prowess. The deep, tamarind-laced savour of her crab curry is indeed superb (and challengingly messy). Impulse’s bunny chow is rather superior, and its dhal, and lamb kebab meatball curry, are excellent.

But for me, nothing beats the spicy red deliciousness and discreet heat of the Impulse prawn curry. Its distinctive fragrance— ginger and garlic, mustard seeds, fresh curry leaves and chillies— rises seductively from the little copper pots, sagdi, which keep all these curries warm right through your meal.

Writing for The Telegraph, travel editor and correspondent Graham Boynton, who has sampled the world in his time, described his Impulse dish as the best prawn curry he had ever eaten. His local lunching companion (not I) did not agree. There’s food for you. One man’s mutton/prawn/chicken…

There is rice flecked with spices and microscopically chopped carrot on the side, the usual sambals, and far-from-usual poppadoms. Which make you wonder what on earth you have previously been sampling masquerading under this name.

Ditto the chilli-bites, which are so crisp, so crunchy with fresh veg, so green-chilli-spicy, that they are devoured within five minutes. (Food Ed: mostly by you.)

We have been eating here for more than 20 years. From Impulse’s beginnings in a cavern of a basement, where we threw an after-party for one of my significant birthdays (do you remember, Ronnie Kasrils?) to its migration to a slice of a sea view upstairs, a breezy veranda, and some major redecorating. Traditional celebratory Kolam patterns now swirl around the wall, and the disco ball, slot machines and Bollywood movies have gone.

But the food, from Shamen and chef Tami Mtetwa, remains what it says on the tin: Definitely above-average for a country curry-joint. Nothing grand, or trying-to-be-too-fancy. Just good, authentic, unpretentious, delicious, home-style KZN curry.

So much of flavour” was the sub-title of our first book on Durban curry. The cover featured the Impulse prawn curry. So good-looking that if you scratched it, a whole lot of spice would waft out, I once told someone. And was believed for a few seconds.

The prawn curry is the most luxurious dish at about R140. The kebab (meatballs) and bean curries are very inexpensive. DM

Impulse by the Sea, Tinley Manor Beach 032 5544 626. Open 12-3, 6-9. Closed Mondays.

Erica Platter and Clinton Friedman are working on their second Durban curry book: Durban Curry, Up 2 Date. Their first, reprinted three times and now sold out, won several 2015 World Gourmand Foodbook awards, including Best SA book, and Runner-up to Best in the World.


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