Tall Dark & Handsome (TDH) and I recently celebrated our anniversary and as it was right around the long weekend, we made tracks to get the hell out of this icicle that is Joburg and head to the beach and warmer climates. A place we could wear shorts and t-shirts! I’m not kidding, my office is a freezer unit and I sit in there wearing 2 layers below and 4 layers on top and I now have a lovely hot water bottle for my feet (thanks to TDH!).
So we were so happy to escape the cold for a while. It was an amazing weekend. The weather was in our favour 90% of the time (bar one very windy day, and one half cloudy day when we still ventured into the ocean). We stayed at an amazing little basic self-catering spot right on the beach road called Mei Pen Lai. It has only three units and direct access to the Umdloti beach. Umhlanga (more suitable for swimming) is just around the corner and a very short drive away. And best, the King Shaka airport is not even 15 minutes away from Umdloti. Within walking distance, you have about 6 restaurants and the Spar so all is well with the world when you get to spend a weekend in this quiet spot. I am not kidding when I say there were moments when we were almost the only people on the beach except for a few adventurous surfers who were always around.
The view from the main gate of Mei Pen Lai
I was not in a very social media geared mood and had decided to take time off and disconnect. As such, I have very few photos of anything. I left my phone behind almost every time. So the accommodation photos are from their own site, and the one food photo I have, I posted.
On the night we arrived, TDH organised a great spoil by taking me to Bel Punto, and it would be the absolute highlight of our meals there. We ordered a seafood platter for two and it was exquisite. Not cheap if you’re on a budget but if you do only one meal in the area, then this is the one. Around R500 for the platter is pretty much what you would expect. This platter included two big pieces of line fish, 6 queen prawns and a good amount of calamari. Add to that some rice and green beans, chilli sauce AND lemon butter sauce, and you are so golden, you could die and go to food heaven. This is by far one of the best seafood meals I have ever had. And one thing I can say about Bel Punto and its sister restaurant, La Casa Nostra, the service is some of the best I’ve experienced, and the waiters are extremely well-trained, knowledgeable and friendly. “On the ball” does not even come close.
The winning seafood platter from Bel Punto
For breakfast and lunches, we stuck to making some light meals at our unit. This was a wise budget choice considering our dinners were coming in around R400 – R600 everywhere. The next evening, we headed to La Casa Nostra for pizza. This is an institution on the North Coast and a well-known and well-loved favourite of the locals and regular Umdloti holiday-goers alike. Pizzas of excellent quality, a nice crispy thin base that’s covered in very generous toppings, and extremely tasty. We never got to try the pasta but I expect it to be of the same quality.
On the day we were leaving, we headed to mom & pop seafood takeaway spot Spud Fish & Chips. We decided to grab food to go and enjoy our food and a last moment on the beach. It was the only time the weather turned properly cold so this might not have been the wisest choice, but that’s how it went down. I enjoyed my onion rings the most but the snoek was very tasty, even though I struggled with the bones (a feature of snoek). The chips were only okay and maybe just needed a little vinegar. TDH’s calamari was quite tasty, though he’s not a fan of batter and didn’t think to ask whether it was regular or battered. I should have guessed, it being a fish & chips takeaway joint, that it would be battered. He also had a few prawns which were nice and tasty, though not as good as Bel Punto situated just above it.
The only thing I can say about the North Coast is that they seem to love their salt and we found all our meals had just a little too much salt each time.
What constituted my dinner at Butcher Boys Umhlanga
Those were the highlights in food. Now for the lows. One of the worst recent dining experiences I have had was at Butcher Boys in Umhlanga. Sadly, Butcher Boys deserves a definite MISS. What should have been a “can’t possibly screw it up” delicious picanha was burnt on the outside to the point that the taste of burntness had ruined the whole steak, and I dunno where the pepper crust was that they had spoken of. Probably burnt to dust.
Tall Dark & Handsome had better luck with his fillet steak, which was good, but the prawns it was topped with came either overdone or still raw! 😱 We sent that back and I didn’t have the heart to also send back my picanha after we had already asked they redo the salad. I intended to speak to the manager after we paid so it didn’t look like we were just there to score a freebie.
Re: the salad, where the menu specifically indicated “dressing on the side” they had taken liberties and doused the salad for us. Sadly, we had ordered it specifically because it said “dressing on the side”. Then we had to watch as a manager went to inspect the menu to see if we were correct. When it came back, it was mostly a pile of lettuce. Halfway through my wrecked picanha, I couldn’t force it anymore and just stuck to my beer. I did something I have literally never done in my adult life: I left half the steak uneaten and did not take it as a doggy bag. I hate food wastage but I just couldn’t.
We waited for a manager to come speak to us so we could highlight the issues but they sent a junior instead and the managers just looked on, apparently uninterested. We were offered new prawns or a coffee or dessert. We declined. Shortest meal of my life. All I can say is that our waitress tried her best and was very friendly but could not save the kitchen from abysmal failure. We paid and will never be back. I hovered at the door, hoping one of the managers would get his act together and come talk to us but no. You have been warned.
We also headed to Nando’s Gateway one night for a slightly cheaper meal option. Nando’s is one of the only takeaway type restaurants I will generally eat at and I usually find the fair decent. We ordered to dine in and struggled to find a table. Not one, not two, not three but SIX tables were stacked with dirty dishes and had not been cleared. We chose a clear table but had to request it be wiped as the entire surface was a sticky mess. The Gateway branch definitely needs some attention. My livers and casa pap was fine but TDH struggled with his quarter chicken. It almost appeared as if the chicken had slid off the plate because sauce was smeared all along one side of the plate. He didn’t enjoy it as much as he usually would, since it seemed the sauce had been added late in the game and none of the flavour had gotten into the chicken. All in all, he was very disappointed and a little angry at the thought that his chicken might very well have been dislodged from his plate and just put back on again, without even the attempt to hide the evidence.
But despite the food dramas in Umhlanga, we had an exquisite long weekend in Umdloti and would definitely recommend the accommodation as a lovely spot to enjoy a relaxing, quiet weekend away. Rory, the owner, is warm and welcoming and always up for an amiable chat.
Sunrise in Umdloti
Photos of Mei Pen Lai