Hermanos opened as a new restaurant in a revered restaurant space previously called Joubert, in Hermanus, about three months ago.   Rave reviews from Whale Cottage Hermanus guests about the restaurant attracted Whale Cottage Hermanus Manager Carole and I to try it 10 days ago.   Our expectations were high.

The co-owner and chef Wayne Spencer came to our table when we arrived early at 18h30, and gave us a friendly greeting.    He told us his background, and then went off to the kitchen , where he cooks almost on his own, with the help of only two staff.  

“Hermanos” is the Spanish word for brother, and symbolises the relationship between Wayne and his brother, who is a financial partner in the business but does not live in Hermanus.   Wayne trained at the Silwood School of Cooking, and has worked at the Phinda Game Reserve, Birkenhead House in Hermanus and La Residence in Franschhoek, and ‘The Mandarin’ at the Port Palace Hotel, a one star Michelin restaurant in Monaco.   The menu is relatively small, and Wayne closes bookings at 50 persons, even if the space could accommodate more clients.   He believes in “local is lekker” in supporting local wine estates and suppliers, and recognises that his two house wines do not meet this stated belief.

While the interior of the restaurant has not changed much, it is whiter and cleaner than Joubert was just before closing down.  We could not sit outside in the fairylit courtyard, due to the rain, which is the best spot, it is said.   Our table for two was small, and at one stage we had to put the bread basket on the floor, as we ran out of space.  

We were disappointed with our waiter, whom we lost early on when we talked wines – the La Couronne Menage a Trois and Brandvlei house wines were not to our liking, and we were disappointed that there was no other choice.  Also, for a winelist that prides itself on Walker Bay wines for wines, the non-Hermanus wines-by-the-glass were an oddity.   We then had to order a full bottle, and this is where the waiter showed that he was not trained on the wine side – everything we asked for he had to communicate to a colleague who was running the bar, just three steps behind our table.  He would then communicate back to us, all via the third person, who never came to our table for a direct conversation.   The waiter did not know what the word “vintage” meant.   We settled on the Raka Biography, and declined it when we were brought a 2008.  Miraculously a 2007 vintage was found, and we could be served the wine, after a long delay on this alone.  By this time we had lost confidence in our waiter, even though he seemed to exude self-confidence, and so we asked the waitress to take over.

The restaurant filled up quickly, and Carole recognised many of the diners as locals, which will ensure that Hermanos survives the winter months.

The menu has 5 starters, including the flagship tiger prawn and avo stack (R52), asparagus and parmesan risotto (R45), Halloumi salad and fish koftas (both R42) and Carpaccio (R 48).   The prawn and avo stack looked attractive, and was served with melba toast slices in-between.  It was a little hard to eat, as the melba toast does not cut well, and the stack soon collapses.   The avo was sliced too thinly for my liking, and Carole did not like the knife shape digging into her palm while using it to eat.   The 8 main course choices are beef fillet hot rock (R 120), signature rib-eye steak (R 112), Karoo lamb rump (R 98), pork loin (R 94), Chicken Ballantine (R 82), linefish (R 90), Norwegian Salmon (R 125), and Crespella di Verdura, a tasty sounding dish of slices of crepe filled with butternut and spinach.     The rib-eye steak and pork loin could not be faulted, except that the steak was a touch too rare for the “medium rare” ordered.

The dessert choice is creme brulee (R 38), vanilla bean ice cream (R 32), chocolate tart (R 42) and a cheese board at R 62.  Carole enjoyed the creme brulee, and I my cappuccino.   While the service from the waitress was better than that of her colleague, she made no effort to really connect, and just asked the standard “is everything ok?” question, without making one feel that she was really listening or interested.

Hermanos stocks a wide selection of wine varietals, with about three brands per variety, and offers a good spread of Hermanus and Hemel-en-Aarde Valley wines.  So, for example, the Shirazes are Wildekrans (R 135), Raka Biography (R 165) and Sumaridge (R 225). The Cabernet Sauvignon comes from Benguela Cove (R 185), and from Jakob’s Vineyard and Raka, both costing R 175.  Chardonnay comes from Bouchard Finlayson (R 160), Domaine des Dieux (R 160) and Ataraxia (R 267).   The Sauvignon Blancs come from Jackson (R90), Hermanuspietersfontein (R 120) and Southern Right (R 137).   Methode Cap Classique bubbly is stocked, from Wildekrans (R 160) and Domaine Des Dieux (R 215).

There was no music to create atmosphere.  There was no relationship formed between diner and staff, to make one look forward to coming back, except for the short interaction we had with Wayne on our arrival.  When I first wrote about Hermanos, without having visited, Wayne said that he wanted to come out of the kitchen and connect with his clients, but he is so thinly-staffed in the kitchen that he is unable to do so.  The waitress does not seem senior enough to guide and manage the seemingly untrained colleagues, which could be the downfall of Hermanos.

Hermanos has great potential if it gets its wine-by-the-glass choice and staff quality right, appoints a manager, and opens over lunch.  The food is of a high standard, in a town that is not blessed with any outstanding restaurants.   

Hermanos, 3 High Street, Hermanus.  Tel (028) 313-1916, www.hermanos.co.za  (menu not up to date)   Tuesday – Saturday evenings.

Chris von Ulmenstein, Whale Cottage Portfolio: www.whalecottage.com