Iconic eatery back with flavours of the Med

Louise Liebenberg

WHAT was once an iconic Port Elizabeth restaurant has reopened in the city – and both nostalgic diners and newcomers are flocking there.

Le Med, which did a roaring trade in Parliament Street in the 1990s, closed down after one of the owners, Struan Cumming, became ill and later died.

But, thanks to backing by Royal Delhi owner Krish Pillay and businesman Corne Botes, Cumming’s former partner, Tony Jones, has been able to resurrect the restaurant at the corner of Stanley and Moffat Streets in Richmond Hill.

In its new, much smaller spot on the “strip” Tony has been joined by another renowned restaurateur, Maria Frangopoulos, of The Ranch acclaim.

Those who remember, will know Le Med of old had a lure of its own. Though we were never quite bold enough to dive into its indoor plunge pool, my husband Salvelio and I remember many a fun meal there, most of which would last long into the night.

Our very first date was at Le Med at the end 1996 – and when I think back to that unforgettable night I still remember my order of creamy mussels served in a huge cast-iron pan (among other things!).

Being welcomed by Tony and Maria at the new Le Med last weekend felt simply wonderful. Each is a legend in their own right and their sincere attention made our night so much more special.

Many of the recipes were picked up by Tony and his late partner while travelling in the Mediterranean back in the day. Quite a few of the original menu items have been retained, though I did miss some of the North African dishes from the original establishment.

Our meal kicked off with citrussy mussels (R55) for me, though these were rather more unusual (but probably just as delicious) as the ones I had back in 1996, as a naive 22-year-old! The segments of orange and ruby grapefruit coupled with red onion and steamed mussels made for an innovative combination, something I’d imagine my favourite TV chef, Rick Stein, putting together on a Mediterranean odyssey.

Tony and Struan first had this dish in Morocco, he told us, though it is apparently also served in Palestine.

Salvelio’s Lebanese starter of grilled aubergine with pine nuts, garlic, rocket and parmesan (R45) was simple but successful and, as we tucked in, memories of the original Le Med came flooding back.

Our main courses, too, were delightful: for me, a marvellous Moroccan lamb tagine served in the traditional clay dish on couscous; meaty richness elevated by the unctuous sweetness of dried apricots and figs.

At R140 it was far from cheap, but for a dish of this quality and flavour I will happily pay.

Salvelio was just as impressed with his lamb youvetsi (R115), a traditional Greek lamb dish with tomato and herbs, served on pasta rice or orzo.

Dessert-wise I was bowled over by the olive oil and rosemary ice-cream (R32), a combo I’d only read about in gourmet magazines and which epitomised the flavours of the Med in a single, genius dish.

Salvelio’s chickpea-flour crepes stuffed with honeyed figs (R39) were a perfect end to what, for us, had been a thoroughly enjoyable trip down memory lane.

Le Med is on (041)585-1306. Bookings are advised. This review visit was unannounced and paid for in full.

Many of the recipes were picked up by Tony and his late partner while travelling in the Mediterranean back in the day

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