Restaurant review: Durban Bunny Den, Cape Town
By Daisy Jones, 30 July 2019
A month ago, Cape Town got its first authentic, dedicated bunny chow outlet.
Durban Bunny Den is not the only place you can get a curry-filled half loaf in Cape Town – but it is the only one with “bunny” in the name.
Rachel Puckree is serious about bunny chow, that’s why. She grew up in Chatsworth, Durban and has been cooking since she was nine. From 13, she started cooking for the family.
Puckree has a firm hand on the reins at Durban Bunny Den. She makes the meat and bean curries, the breyanis, the rotis and even the samosas from scratch.
“Why must I buy it when I can make it? It’s authentic.”
Puckree’s mutton bunny is a dream, the kind of meal that would get you through a week of hard labour, the kind of meal you might choose as a last meal. With a regular Coke and a spicy carrot salad, it’s pure soul food.
The first bite of curry is hot, oily, robust. The mutton is cooked as tender as lamb but this not a curry that is reverential to expensive meat cuts. The gravy is dark and thick, studded with mustard seeds, curry leaves, cinnamon sticks and star anise.
It makes sense to intensify a bunny-bound curry. A half or quarter loaf is a lot of bread. An intelligent and generous cook jacks up the meat, oil, spice and heat so that the curry taste isn’t lost in the dough.
The bean curry is just as punchy as the mutton. The beans have a smooth and soothing texture but the sauce is both earthy and fiery.
Puckree tells me that Indian curries and Durban curries are “completely different”. She points to the use of more whole spices in Durban, and more sweet spices, like cinnamon. A Durban curry is all about the spice. “If it’s right even a potato curry can taste incredible,” she says.
Puckree has her “own style”, though. One of its defining features is hard work.
“I cook as if I’m cooking for my own family.”
Puckree warms every curry portion for every bunny in a cast iron pan. She grates the cheese fresh for every cheesy bean bunny (her own invention). She fries every samosa to order. Take-away bunnies are “DIY bunnies” with the loaf and curry packed separately.
Durban Bunny Den has only been open a month and already Puckree’s bunnies are available on Uber Eats. The company approached her.
“They came to me. Because people love it. Not just Durbanites. You white people love bunny chow. It’s word-of-mouth. I have politicians here, policemen, security guards, all sorts. People even come and chill and eat bunnies here on Saturday afternoons.”
Durban Bunny Den, off Roeland Street, is well-located for a diverse crowd. Parliament is a block away. Cape Town High is up the road. There’s a satellite police station around the corner and The Book Lounge is within walking distance.
Bunny chow is arguably South Africa’s most unique street food. The hollowed-out half-loaf is an edible bowl and the dough is what a dumpling is to an English stew: both spoon and sponge.
“In Chatsworth, where I come from, there’s a bunny chow shop on every corner.” Puckree says Chatsworth is “the Mitchells Plain of Durban”.
“I didn’t want to open another one. Either I was going to sell gatsbies and salomies in Durban or I was going to bring bunny chow to Cape Town.”
I ask her if the president has visited yet.
“No, but we’re waiting for that!”
Durban Bunny Den: 084 798 1287 / 067 866 9054; Shop 7, 13 Hope Street, Gardens
- Daisy Jones has been writing reviews of Cape Town restaurants for ten years. She won The Sunday Times Cookbook of the Year for Starfish in 2014. She was shortlisted for the same prize in 2015 for Real Food, Healthy, Happy Children. Daisy has been a professional writer since 1995, when she started work at The Star newspaper as a court reporter. She is currently completing a novel.
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