The place to be or not to be – Aarya

It takes a lot more to make a restaurant successful than having a great chef, as many great chefs (and their customers) have discovered to their cost.

But at Aarya, the new restaurant at Montecasino which formed part of the prize won by Deena Naidoo in the M-Net Masterchef series, he’s in partnership with the Tsogo Sun group, which owns numerous restaurants and hotels around the country.

Aarya was previously the MondoVino restaurant at the SunSquare Hotel, which means important elements were already in place: an excellent location, trained staff and established systems. Naidoo’s TV profile contributes branding and he gives input into the concept and menu, which will be updated from time to time.

He’s decided to keep his job as an IT specialist at a bank in Durban, which means he’s working full time, commuting to the restaurant regularly, and is also a family man with two young daughters (after one of whom the restaurant was named). Surely he’s exhausted?

“At the end of the day,” he says (it’s a favourite phrase) “few people get to live their dream. I’ve always wanted to cook for people who enjoy food but running a restaurant intimidated me because I didn’t have the knowledge and experience for it. Now I’ve got the best of both worlds. So, working hard? My dad was a building contractor, he worked 10 times harder.”

Naidoo doesn’t want professional training as a chef, but would like to travel the world and learn about different cuisine.

Aarya isn’t an Indian restaurant, though the menu has a couple of Indian dishes, including the butter chicken that became Naidoo’s signature dish in the series. You can also have butter chicken on a pizza. Odd, but why not?

It’s not an overambitious menu but it offers something to please most palates, including those who don’t like spice. There’s standard fare like potted snoek or black mushrooms as starters; kingklip, burgers and pasta dishes for main courses; and desserts like the deconstructed milk tart that featured in the series, and malva pudding.

Naidoo says the menu is designed to celebrate the best of SA food. Prices are midrange, at R80 and upwards for main courses.

What we tried on the launch night was excellent. The butter chicken is spicy, though not fierce, and the tempura prawns and chicken kebabs were subtly flavoured. The strawberry and rhubarb crème brûlée was perfect, a light custard with a very delicate crunchy topping, not the slab of hard toffee that blankets some restaurants’ attempts at it.

One week after Aarya opened, it is already fully booked for the rest of this month.

Where: Montecasino

Mood: Elegant dining with a topical twist

Bookings: Need forward thinking – 011 557 7007

Financial Mail – Charlotte Matthews