I had heard about new restaurant Lizette’s Kitchen in Hermanus from a review by JP Rossouw and tried it a week ago with my colleague Carole.  It is a refreshing addition to what is generally an average collection  of restaurants in this seaside village.

The restaurant opened three months ago, and  is cleverly located on the traffic circle as one enters Voëlklip, a historic house built around the 1920s and was the first farmstead in Voëlklip, which everyone who has been to Hermanus will know.  It is a large property, which was lovingly renovated by Lizette Crabtree and her fiancé Scott, following prescriptions of the Heritage Council.  They did not use any decor design service, they said proudly, and it is one of the smarter restaurant interiors we have seen in Hermanus. The building is also the home of Scott and Lizette, laughingly telling us that they sleep in the garage.  The off-street parking area is neat and spacious.  The seating space is large, inside and outside, and the doors are stacked back so that the two merge.  One faces the traffic circle, with greenery behind it, and it has a very peaceful aura.  The roof has been newly thatched, and some interior walls must have been removed to create the open space.  One section has a bar counter, and further down one can see a lounge area with a fireplace.   At the till there is a Buddha, next to a vase of proteas.  There is a lot of wood – on the floors, the table tops, and the (rather uncomfortable) café style chairs.  Outside sheets of corrugated iron have been cleverly used to make planters in which jasmine is growing.  The waiters wear black shirts and pants, with a Hermanuspietersfontein branded apron.

Scott and Lizette met in Vietnam, where she worked in the kitchen of a large top hotel. They managed a $10 million boutique chain resort, but decided to come back to Lizette’s home country, although she never previously lived in Hermanus.

Outside a bar counter has been made from wooden crates, and Creation gets a plug, its branded crates having been used.  We were told that three wine estates have a special home at Lizette’s Kitchen, Boekenhoutskloof being prominent, its winemaker Marc Kent having a soft spot for the restaurant, and he has made umbrellas and other support available to the restaurant.  Interesting was a new Boekenhoutskloof brand Le Cap Maritime, which we heard about from Scott, which is served in Business Class on Emirates flights, and is now available (Sauvignon Blanc 2011 – at an inexpensive R25 per glass/R90 per bottle, and Shiraz 2010 – at R25/R100) at the Hermanus restaurant, having been made from grapes from Hermanus, and the label describing the brand as ‘A coastal venture by Boekenhoutskloof’. Lizette had met Marc a number of years ago, having worked as chef in Franschhoek at La Petite Ferme, and at Monneaux Restaurant, when Chef Reuben Riffel had left to open a restaurant in the UK. Lizette left for Vietnam, taking 20kg of Springbok as her luggage, and a case of wine each from eight Franschhoek Vignerons was shipped over. She hosted a South African promotion in that country, most of these wines now selling well in Vietnam.  Other favourite wine brands the restaurant supports are Creation, and Hermanuspietersfontein.

We were welcomed by the waiter Astin Jangle, and I asked him if he could print out a copy of the menu,  so as to not have to write down the whole menu.  He seemed very unsure about my request, and had to call on Scott for permission.  Scott initially was hesitant, saying we should see the menu on the website, as it changes so often.   When I mentioned the Rossouw review, he opened up, and told me that they did not know when JP visited the restaurant. They appeared annoyed that he had called it a Vietnamese restaurant, not having got the concept right, they felt.  Our Franschhoek connection, and knowing Boekenhoutskloof, helped to relax Scott, and he relented on providing a copy of the menu.   The menu is described as being Afro-Asia fusion, to describe Lizette’s South African roots and the influence that Asia, and more specifically Vietnam, has had on both their lives.

A nice touch was the rolled facecloths brought to the table, with a fresh fragrance, which the waiter could not identify.  Carole and I were both undecided about what to order, and had a lot of catching up to do, so Lizette volunteered to bring three courses to the table, our only proviso being that it should not contain chilli or be too hot.  Lizette suggested that we share the three dishes. Commendable was the black material serviette, although there are no table cloths, with only a cheap-looking place mat.  Carole ordered an alcohol-free Mojito, the Mosquito looking beautiful with a slice of watermelon and a piece of sugarcane.  We started with Saigon Summer Spring Rolls (R65), a combination of fried spring rolls with a bite, and fresh (i.e. raw, as we discovered, and therefore tasteless) rice paper rolls, served with three dipping sauces, being chilli jam, peanut, and Hoisin.   This was followed by the best dish, being Paprika Squid served with Tabbouleh, which was sautéed with lemon, and was served on broken wheat salad with Spanish onion and tomato (R65).

The third dish was Bun Cha, a traditional North Vietnamese dish offering three variations of pork, being pork rashers, pork patties, and (once again) pork spring rolls, with which came cold rice noodles, fresh herbs, and the Hoisin dipping sauce again (R75).  This was the order we had placed, and therefore we asked for the bill. The waiter begged us to try the dessert, being a very delicious lemon curd served with home-made shortbread and a slice of apricot (R30), even though we had not ordered it, and made it sound as if it was a special ‘gift’ offered by Chef Lizette.  Only when checking the bill that evening did I see that we were charged for this ‘gift’!

The menu introduction explains that it is varied, reflecting ‘our journey from Africa to Asia’, and that ‘the flavours are fresh and pronounced’, and that only the best local produce is sourced.  The Asian dishes are made using traditional recipes, and no seasoning has been added commendably, allowing the diner to add fish sauce, herbs, sprouts, soya, lemon, and more, to suit one’s preference of a sweet, sour, or salty taste.  One is wished ‘Chuc ngon mien’, a wonderful meal.   Most dishes are Vietnamese, but with some Thai and North African dishes too.  There is a bread and cheese section, a plate of mezzes costing R75; Pita wraps are available with fillings of beef, chicken and lamb, at R55; Artisan Flatbreads are served with options of chicken, pork ribs, lamb, goats’ cheese, and tiger prawns, at R52 – R65; salads are unusual, including Lamb Kofta, and Moor Lamb Kibbeh, both containing lamb patties (R78);   Noodle Bowl dishes, served with prawns or beef red curry, cost around R75; Tom Yum soup is R70 and a Vietnamese Pho Bo beef broth R50; Moroccan lamb shanks cost R130, and are served with Tabbouleh and a Greek salad; Thai style steam mussels in coconut and sweet chili cost R70; linefish steamed in bamboo, prepared with sesame, ginger and soya, costs R84; and a Vietnamese Heo Kho To interestingly contains braised pork belly stew with quail eggs R75.  The dessert list contains a mix of very basic South African treats (ice cream and Bar One sauce, brownies, cake) as well as Che Chuoi, a traditional Vietnamese warm sago, banana and peanut pudding, all very reasonable priced in a range of R22 – R35.

The wine list is part of the menu, and wines are listed under quirky headings, more creative than those used in the 100 Women 100 Wine’ so-called competition! So, for example ‘Refreshing, zingy wines’ are La Petite Ferme’s Sauvignon Blanc 2012 (R165) and Beaumont’s Hope Marguerite Chenin Blanc 2011 (R200). ‘Rosé, not just for the girls’ lists Hermanuspietersfontein’s Bloos 2012 at R108, and Sir Robert Stanford Rosé 2012, at R135. The ‘Fat Cat Selection’ offers the Sir Robert Stanford Shitaz 2009 at R195, Boekenhoutskloof The Chocolate Block at R320, and Bouchard Finlayson’s Hannibal 2008 at R350. Wines by the glass are very reasonably priced, ranging from R21 for Sir Robert Stanford’s Cutter’s Cove Chenin Blanc  and Helderberg Wijnmakerij Cabernet Sauvignon at R21, to Creation’s Syrah/Grenache R35/R145.  ‘Bubbles’ by the glass are by Krone (R30/R160), and Domaine Des Dieux Rose of Sharon (R150), and Bollinger Special Cuvee Brut NV costing R850 are also on offer.

While the waiter was very helpful and friendly, he disappointed when we wanted to leave in a hurry, to make a 14h00 meeting, and he told me that he could not bring the credit card machine to the table due to the portable one not working, which meant that I had to go to the bar counter.  When I got there, an older lady expressed surprise, saying that the credit card machine had been fixed that morning, and should have been brought to the table.   The duplication of foods in what we were offered, the raw spring roll, and the forced acceptance of a dessert we did not order were off-putting. The presentation of the dishes is very attractive. Conservative Hermanus and tourist palates may find the menu too Asian, with too few familiar dishes.  The venue itself is attractive, barring the bathroom, offers enough parking, and is not as crowded as the seafront restaurants in the village.  The food and beverage prices are reasonable, and it would be a great meeting place for out of town visitors to Hermanus, staying in Voëlklip in particular.

Lizette’s Kitchen, 20 on 8th Street, Voëlklip, Hermanus.  Tel (028) 314-0308.    www.lizetteskitchen.com. Daily from 11h00, lunch and dinner.

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