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Leefstyl | Lifestyle > Kos & Wyn | Food & Wine > Rubrieke | Columns > Paul Murray: Murray's Food Trails

The Italian Trilogy Food Trail

Paul Murray - 2006-07-07

The Rotunda on Beach Road, Sea Point is gone! Now the view really works. Stand on the site where it once stood and gaze over Table Bay. You can see the sea. Turn around and look in the other direction towards the mountain. You look straight at one of Cape Town’s landmark buildings that looks like a giant-sized fish tank - La Perla!

La PerlaThe restaurant is about to celebrate its Jubilee Year!

Recently, hotelier friends from Milan made their twenty-seventh visit to Cape Town. Dining all over in Cape Town for two weeks was an unforgettable experience. The request for our last night out together from Giuseppina … La Perla! Monsignor Bui, Commendatore (Lord) and Lady Maggioni and other friends, sat down for dinner. The delectable Italian antipasto platter filled half the table.

You might have thought it was carrying coals to Newcastle for the Italian guests, but no way! Energetic hand and face gestures were the stamp of approval. This was not just any uncooked, aged ham, but the real thing: San Daniele!

The Commendatore expounded on the noble origins of one of the Western world’s greatest delicacies. La Perla’s aulic dimensions turned into a lecture hall as he explained how, when the Bishop of Aqueleia established his residence outside San Daniele, he demanded that the taxes owing to him should be remitted in the form of ham.

The legs of ham came in those days just as they do today, shaped like a guitar.

Before long, the value of San Daniele ham gained currency as a commodity of great culinary value. The King of Hungary ordered it in great quantities and in order to guarantee its quality a stamp was placed on it, a feature of San Daniele to this day.

Our Italian guests at La Perla were in the good company of previous dignitaries to this restaurant, such as past and present South African premiers and presidents, Sting, Marlene Dietrich and Chris Barnard. Cape Town’s rich and beautiful people ascend on the place for cocktails, the cigar bar, and fine food. Not much has changed in almost fifty years, and judging by the energy and interest in the place not much will.

The menu of two hundred traditional dishes at La Perla caters for the taste of every person who walks through the lofty doors into an architect-designed dining space layered to create dimension and energy not rivalled in Cape Town. The long list of fine wines does full justice to the range of meat and fish dishes. The ambience is underscored by attractive works of art and décor.

Only an Italian proprietor would have lent so much consideration to scale – la misura d’uomo – when constructing the kind of Renaissance space for comfort. The freedom of looking, of voyeurism, of panoptica, is so greatly facilitated by the secret device of space created around and in front of you, making you feel relaxed, good, comfortable and inspired.

La PerlaEmiliano Sandri, the original proprietor, has carefully entrusted the “La Perla tradition” to Baylon, one of his two sons. Baylon is a graduate from the Bocconi School in fashionable Milan.

This all makes eating at La Perla a powerful experience, where Milan and Rome have come together in a place where every chair is a Caesar chair. How can you not feel like Caesar himself when dining there, seated in his chair, with your Cornelia by your side?

Go there regularly and the persons serving you will get to learn of your personal tastes and preferences, so service is alla persona. The staff will remember the last time you were there, what dish you ordered, or what cut of meat you had. Their close interest in the client’s fancy is truly remarkable.

Baylon not only has La Perla to care for but also Cape Town’s own Winelands right in the heart of Newlands. Wijnhuis Newlands is the latest addition to a longstanding family of restaurants including Wijnhuis Stellenbosch, established eight years ago in the heart of historic Stellenbosch and now run by Paolo, Baylon’s brother, and then La Perla in Sea Point.

At Wijnhuis patrons love the tactile, in-your-face feel of crates and bottles of wine as décor. The different, fine cultivars from South Africa’s leading estates are all there. It’s a suitable venue for wining and dining before or after cricket or rugby fixtures, with the two sporting stadiums a stone’s throw away. At the same time the views of the slopes of Table Mountain from the restaurant are breathtaking and serve as a suitable backdrop for the genteel art of sitting in conversation imbibing the fruit of the vine.

“In vino veritas” does not ring true more easily than here, especially on a rainy day on Cape Town’s rain belt, in the cosy library with lazy chairs and fireplace.

Wijnhuis Stellenbosch Wijnhuis Stellenbosch Wijnhuis Stellenbosch

In all three restaurants, Wijnhuis Newlands, Wijnhuis Stellenbosch and La Perla – a family of restaurants as it can be called – the menu is largely Italian, although there is a selection of international dishes. The wood-burning oven turns out pizzalata – a combination of Italian salads and pizza – as well as roasted chicken and fish dishes. The pastas are creatively presented.

Wijnhuis Newlands executive chef Brian Parker, trained in the USA as well as at South Africa’s top hotels, produces mouth-watering dishes such as Tagliata with mushrooms, artichokes and pine nuts, a personal favourite when dining with friend Dr Jacob Huisamen. A fine shiraz serves as the perfect accompaniment.

Wijnhuis Stellenbosch under Paolo provides the fine diner with a variety of spaces for seating: outside on street, in the gazebo upstairs, or in the well-appointed dining hall itself. The wealth of Stellenbosch’s history comes alive in this elegant working space in downtown Stellenbosch, fast turning into the town’s main vibey place to be seen, eating, browsing, reading or just sitting. I enjoy my dinner in the company of long-standing university friends such as Etienne, or with goddaughter Kathleen, daughter of former Helshoogte roommate Martin.

Wijnhuis StellenboschThe friendships, trends, vibes and experiences of our amazing university days live on in our conversation at Wijnhuis Stellenbosch, corner of Church and Andringa Streets. Our discussions have hardly changed. And to add to it all, the food is simply “to die for”. So said Kathleen and her friend Johannes Burger, when godfather Uncle Paul treated them there to a 21st birthday celebration just the other night! Kathleen was right: the baby beef tagliata, a landmark of all three restaurants, is simply “to die for”.

The Sandris have brought a new dimension to dining in Cape Town and Stellenbosch, stamping their high standards of fine dining authority on all three venues, creating a trilogy of places, each with its own special characteristics.

Maybe if you had to give all three a name under one banner you would call it, say, An Italian Trilogy, although each place keeps its own local flavour and is a seat of excellence, joy, entertainment and eating’s delight and pleasure. And above all, all three are pearls!


· La Perla, Beach Road, Sea Point, Cape Town. Tel +27 21 434 2471; fax +27 21 439 0817; email laperla@mweb.co.za; www.laperla.co.za.


· Wijnhuis Stellenbosch, corner of Andringa and Church St, PO Box 697, Stellenbosch, 7599. Tel +27 21 887 5844; fax +27 21 887 8078; email wijnhuis@mweb.co.za; www.wijnhuis.co.za.

· Wijnhuis Newlands, corner of Kildare Centre, Main St, Newlands, Cape Town. Tel +27 21 671 9705; fax +27 21 671 9718; email wijnhuisct@mweb.co.za; www.wijnhuis.co.za/wijnhuisnewlands/index.html.