APPARENTLY, it is whale season in Hermanus. I say “apparently” because I have the rottenest luck when it comes to spotting these beautiful creatures which arrive annually from about June till November to calve and frolic.
I can sit all day with binoculars, scanning the bay, and I’ll not spot anything more exciting than a rock. But when I get home and check social media, there will be dozens of posts about record sightings of massive pods, pics of breaching whales, aerial shots of mothers and babies in clear blue sea…you get the idea. My recent trip to the coastal town was no different, even with a front row seat at La Pentola.
However, a very long lunch with great company made up for it, to the point I barely gave it a thought, especially after head waiter, Dumisani Mangena, pointed out what he assured me was a baby whale (I would still have gone with “rock” but I accepted his experience and knowledge in such matters).
La Pentola has an interesting menu, created by chef patron Shane Sauvage, who takes the concept of fusion to entirely new levels. He’s written three books about it, and the restaurant’s menu is an eclectic journey for the tastebuds. For example, the spring specials menu of starters and light meals includes waterblommetjie spring rolls with lamb gravy (or tomato for vegetarians). Hell yes, I absolutely wanted to try those. Another interesting combination is grilled halloumi with fresh strawberries macerated in sugar, olive oil, lemon and fresh mint. You’ll find it under the starters but I reckon it could make a jolly nice dessert too. I’m always a fan of sweet and savoury combinations, as you’ll see below.
Shane made our lives a bit easier by taking the decision-making out of our hands, and serving a huge selection of starters; eventually there wasn’t space for one more plate on the table. The pro: we got to taste a lot of different things which we might not have ordered if left to our own devices, and we now know which are our favourites for next time. Con: there was so much to eat, we barely needed to have main courses. Or dessert. But we did because Shane looked crestfallen that we might not try the chocolate fondant he’d made specially for us.
There was a slight crossing of lines with dietary requirements, and he’d prepared a gluten-free, sugar-free cake with vegan ice cream. In this instance, the proof of the pudding was literally in the eating, and its lesson was that restrictive diets and lifestyles don’t need to be dull and tasteless. The ice cream was creamy, and the cake with its liquid centre was not too sweet, which we all appreciated at the end of a lavish meal.
That was all at the end though. First we had to get through the starters. The spring rolls were definitely something different. I really enjoyed the baby marrow/courgette carpaccio – paper thin ribbons dressed with lemon, olive oil, coriander and a touch of chilli, dusted with parmesan and feta, then baked. My ultimate favourite was a surprise because I don’t think I would have ordered it based on the menu description: “smoked duck off the bone, pan-fried with mushrooms, red onions doused with vintage port, bound with cream and reduced, then wrapped in phyllo pastry sprinkled with brown sugar and black pepper, baked till crisp.”
Yeah…no. But it turned out to be delicious, and I loved the slight sweetness of the pastry and the tiny sugary crunch against the savoury filling, and the combination of textures. We also had basil and port livers (pan-fried with butter, onions, mixed peppercorns and garlic, a touch of tomato and fresh cream and flavoured with basil) and Angel Snails – wrapped in bacon, pan-fried with red onions, black pepper and butter then steamed in Chardonnay, bound with cream and flavoured with fresh oregano. Both are house specialities, which is always an excellent cue when choosing what to have.
That’s what we did with our main courses. My friends have eaten at La Pentola before so they knew the dishes. Diets ordered the hake with red onion and tomato, basted in butter and its own jus (speciality) and Andre had honey mustard pork fillet, sliced and fried in butter with peppercorns, bay leaf and red onions, flamed in brandy sweetened with honey and wholegrain Dijon mustard then bound with cream. I had another speciality, Santorini chicken. Tender breasts are dusted with flour, pan-fried in butter and served with a white wine, lemon, oregano and fresh cream sauce. The dish is topped with feta and slivered almonds. Main dishes are served with vegetables and potato croquettes.
La Pentola serves abalone – another house speciality – tenderised in white wine and lemon juice, dusted with flour and lightly egg-washed, seasoned and pan-fried till golden. It’s served on black squid ink spaghetti with lemon butter. Flip, that sounds incredible. It carries a fairly hefty price tag of R385 so I hope those overseas tourists come clutching plenty of Euros. If your tastes are more conventional, try the seafood pasta, Nonna’s spaghetti bolognese or a Thai veggie curry which is gluten-free and vegan. Even so, anyone could enjoy the flavours of lemongrass, chilli, garlic and green curry paste, coconut cream, and rice noodles sprinkled with black sesame seeds.
Desserts we did not have but caught my eye include a pancake wrapped around halva, white chocolate, honey, almonds and vanilla ice cream; and a trio of dark, milk and white chocolate terrine. For young diners, there’s a lovely menu of options that are not fish fingers and chips.
For more information, click here.
PHOTO CREDIT: BIANCA COLEMAN ©