A Hermanus restaurant space with one of the most beautiful views must be the new La Pentola (The Saucepan), previously the home of Mediterrea and Grilleria, on Marine Drive close to the Marine Hotel. Lunch yesterday, to celebrate the 16th anniversary of Whale Cottage Hermanus with our Manager Carole, was made all the more special with a school of dolphins escorting whales across the majestic Walker Bay, which La Pentola looks on to.

Carole had been to the restaurant before, having met Chef Shane Sauvage when he was at La Vierge restaurant on the Hermanus Wine Route. La Pentola opened a few months ago when Grilleria vacated the premises. Chef Shane also owns a restaurant with the same name in Pretoria, which he opened in 1995 and is now run by his sister.  Chef Shane told us that his father is of French origin and his mother came from Seychelles, yet he does not speak French.  He worked at Italian restaurants before opening his own restaurant, and this inspired the love for Italian cooking, and hence the Italian name of his restaurant.  Chef Shane impressed by being on the floor regularly, chatting to his clients, and hugging those he knows. He is proud that he started as a ‘bus boy’, fetching plates, to being the owner of two restaurants today.  He talks about the ‘fusion cuisine’ which his restaurants prepare, being French, Italian and Mediterranean dishes made with South African produce.  The website emphasises that Chef Shane uses real butter, cream and fresh herbs, as well as olive oil, and that no MSG and artificial flavourings are used in their cooking!  Only grain-fed beef, duck, and chicken is sourced.  The dietary requirements of lactose intolerant and diabetic clients are catered for.

Chef Shane has already published two cookbooks: ‘The Edge of Fusion’, and ‘InFusion’, the latter book winning him a Gourmand World Cook Book Award in 2009. He proudly brought his books to the table to show us, and they are are available for sale in the restaurant.   ‘InFusion’ focused on the ‘infusion of South African produce, liquor and lifestyle’, says its introduction, and contains Forewords written by Good Food & Wine Show owner Christine Cashmore and restaurant reviewer Victor Strugo, with beautiful food photography by Sarie Pretorius.  Chef Shane is described by Strugo to stand for FRESH: Fruit, Real, Emotions, Seasons, Herbs.  Alcohol is used in the preparation of most dishes.

The restaurant has wooden tables without tablecloths, and the chairs are covered in tan mock leather, the walls are painted in yellow/gold and tan, covered with an odd collection of paintings. The windows can open and are stack-able, allowing one to enjoy a superb unobstructed sea view over the bay, an ideal location for photography of the visiting whales.  A new lounge-style seating area has been added in one corner of the restaurant. The tables have material serviettes, but an ordinary salt cellar and a cheap black pepper grinder.  The menu and winelist are covered in black plastic, and both disappointed in their presentation, the menu just being a typed list of items with a hand-correction, and the winelist containing diagrams of the wine districts and regions, and of the Aroma Wheel, which probably were copied from coloured sources, but lose their impact in black and white.

The menu has ten starters, and Carole enjoyed her Mussels Provencal (R48), a hearty portion served with muffin-shaped rolls containing mushrooms, capers and oregano.  Every menu item is described in detail in terms of all of its ingredients, and how the dish is prepared, rarely seen on menus.  Outback Crocodile and Springbok Carpaccio are the two most expensive starters, at R60.  Other interesting sounding starters are Angel snails (‘Spanish snails wrapped in bacon, pan fried with red onion, black pepper, butter, steamed in chardonnay, bound with cream and flavoured with origanum‘, the menu describes), Basil and port livers, and Afro Parisian pastry (smoked salmon, apple, served with phyllo pastry parcel filled with brie and mango pickle). Chardonnay fig and honey and African mampoer sorbets cost R10 each, and can be ordered as palate cleansers.  The main courses range in price from R85 for Santorini Chicken to R 165 for seafood fillet (fillet steak with seafood, tawny port and basil and cream sauce) and Mozambican Prawns (served with a beer cream sauce).  I enjoyed the kingklip prepared with red onion and tomato, basted in butter, served with ‘cream rice’ dusted with parmesan cheese, carrots and beans (R120), less complex than many of the other dishes in its ingredient combination.  I was impressed that it came with a fish knife, seldom offered.  Other main courses include a fillet flamed with 10 year old KWV brandy and served with Dijon mustard and green Madagascan cream sauce (R145), and Crocodile pastry (crocodile tail in curry cream sauce wrapped in phyllo pastry, R125).  Pasta dishes are made from Overberg flour and Locke Stone farm organic eggs.  Impressive is that the children’s dishes are healthy steak, fish and chicken, served with potato croquettes and vegetables (R45 – R50).

Desserts are affordable, none exceeding R50 (Strawberry Flambé with Belgium chocolate ice cream).  Carole loved the Crème Brûlee, a deep rich yellow colour, served with a strawberry sorbet, while I had the chocolate terrine served with cream, with an excellent cappuccino. Chef Shane sent two glasses of coffee liqueur to the table, but I declined, having to drive back to Cape Town.

The winelist states that BYO costs R30, explains the Aroma Wheel, and identifies the wine districts and regions in South Africa. Most wines offered are from Hermanus.  Bollinger is offered at R1200, Van Loveren Christina NV costs R220, Goedverwacht Crane Rosé Brut R130, and Bonnievale NV R120. Few wines by the glass are offered, costing about R45.  Vintages span more than one year, to save on reprinting the winelist, one would suspect.  Three Shiraz wines are available: Reyneke Organic ‘2009/10’ (R140), Val de Vie ‘2008/9‘ (R360), and Porcupine Ridge ‘2011/2012‘ costs R135.

Chef Shane’s menu is interesting, most dishes unusual.  His willingness to connect with his clients on the floor is a strength few chefs bother with.  The presentation of the menu and winelist could be improved, to match the food, and the fantastic view offered in the restaurant.  Service was not perfect, but our waiter was friendly.  The website seems overwritten in its accolades.  The most impressive part of our visit was the understanding by Chef Shane when we had to rush back to the guest house to check in guests just after we had ordered our food.  Our order was placed on hold and our table was kept for us until we returned.

La Pentola, first floor, 87 Marine Drive, Hermanus.  Tel (028) 313-1685. www.lapentola.co.za. Tuesday – Sunday lunch and dinner.

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