I discovered Il Cappero Italian Restaurant earlier this week, in a most unlikely and hard-to-see location on Barrack Street in town. It is named after the caper, which a notice on the table says should be an essential part of Mediterranean cuisine, but I did not find many dishes with capers on the menu, or much in the dishes that have them. The owners are charming, and try their very best to please their patrons.
What was once the restaurant of the Parliament Hotel, plus one ex-shop added, has become a pure Italian, or more specifically Sicilian restaurant, run hands-on by husband and wife team Aldo Bezzicheri and Cetti Romano (she comes from Palermo). Aldo’s English is better, so he handles front-of-house, and does so charmingly, wanting to oblige all the time, while his wife Cetti is in the kitchen. They opened Il Cappero a month ago, and are slowly becoming known. The hotel guests eat their lunches and dinners at the restaurant, and this leads to one compromise, which is some non-Italian dishes on the menu, such as bobotie, Portuguese chicken, chicken curry, BBQ wings and lamb curry, all contained in a R75 – R85 price band, to cater for the hotel guests.
Aldo and Cetti have lived in South Africa since 2006, and they spent time in their previous career working on a yacht, he being the skipper and she doing the cooking. Aldo has also been a pilot. Cetti has taken the most amazing photographs of South African landscapes, which are mounted, and decorate the restaurant. They reflect their love for their new country. The choice of lilac for the walls is interesting and works, but does not give an Italian feel at all. The colour is picked up in unusual purple, natural and cerise raffia strips which are tied around the material serviette, giving it an unique and neat touch. Cutlery is contemporary, with a butter knife offered with the sideplate. Glassware is good. The chairs are covered with mock-ostrich. The tables have Olitalia balsamico and extra virgin olive oil bottles, as well as ‘extra bold peppercorns’ and ‘Atlantic sea salt’ in small attractive looking grinders from Cape Herb and Spice, which I have never seen before. Lavender glass candleholders are on the table. Airconditioning works well in the venue which has no natural ventilation other than the front door, especially on the south-easter days.
But the neatly bound black menu has more than enough to choose from for an authentic Italian and Sicilian experience. In fact, I knew few of the names of the dishes, other than lasagne and the steak. Aldo told me that Cetti goes to the market every day, to buy the fresh vegetables there, for the simple and healthy food that they serve. They want their guests to feel cosy and homely, and it works, as I came back a second time a few days later.
As a small taste, Cetti sent the Caponata di Melzane for me to try, being eggplants, tomato, capers and olives cooked in a sweet and sour sauce. The eggplant dominated, and as it is not my favourite vegetable, I did not enjoy it, especially as it was mushy and served cold. I did enjoy the crispy ciabbatta. Other starters, such as a parmesan cake, sweet and sour onion wrap, and a tuna and mascarpone mousse, were unknown to me. Starters cost R40 – R75. I ordered Frittura di Calamari, a generous plateful of calamari rings served for R75, which included a separate bowl of rice with red pepper pieces. The batter was delicate, and Aldo told me that Cetti lightly dusts the calamari with flour, and then fries it in hot olive oil to make it crispy. Pasta options include lasagne, carbonara, risotto of the day (the mushroom risotto was sold out by the time we came back the second time), pasta alla “Norma” (inspired by the opera), and a penne served with prawns cooked in Martini (R85), a definite for the next visit! Steak is available, as T-bone, sirloin or fillet, as is involtini di vitello alla Siciliana (stuffed veal rolls). No meat course costs more than R110. One can order side dishes, mostly for R20 each, for example patata alla Sicilana, described as “potato in casserole with capers, olives and onions”, which I ordered instead of the baked potato or chip options that come with the sirloin steak, but I did not seem to get anything more than cut-up potato with the capers, olives and onions removed – I had only wanted the onions removed). Five sauces are offered at R15 each, and the rosemary walnut sauce sounds interesting.
I liked the tiramisu (R40), served in a drinking glass, and obviously pre-made. It had a rich alcohol taste, which comes from the Sicilian Marsala which Cetti uses. It was quite compact and less creamy than I am used to in local equivalents. I liked the chocolate chips on top of the tiramisu. Cetti insisted that I take Cannolo Siciliano home with me, a crispy biscuit which is filled with ricotta cream and a citrus centre (R30). Malva pudding seems an ‘intruder’ on the menu, but probably accommodates the hotel guests. The cappuccino, made with LavAzza coffee, is very strong, but good, and is reasonably priced at R13. Peppermints as well as a mini-Lindt chocolate were offered with the bill.
For lunch a buffet is served, and is meant to offer office workers close by a quick and inexpensive way in which to enjoy a quality “eat all you can” lunch, at a most reasonable price of R75.
The winelist is small, and vintages are not supplied. I was impressed to see Brunello (at R380 for the bottle) on the list, and remembered how I nurtured a R75 glassful at a Tuscan restaurant about five years ago, it having been the most expensive wine I had ever drunk by the glass at that time. Many of the white and red wine brands I had never heard of before but most I found in my Platter’s (Cloverfield, Stellenbosch Drive, Meerhof, Belbon Hills, Umfiki – for the whites – and Gugu for the red). Seven wines-by-the glass are offered, none costing more than R30. Bellanda San Fermo Prosecco is the only sparkling wine served by the glass (R40), with “champagne’s” Pongracz and Pongracz Rosé both costing R150, which is a bargain for the latter.
Il Cappero has the most charming host in Aldo. I felt at home eating there. The waiter needs training about not stretching when placing the cutlery on the table, and his knowledge is still restricted about the Italian dishes, but he is very willing to be of service. Branding is not very visible from outside, and because the door has to be closed when the wind blows, one cannot see if the restaurant is open. I found the lighting inside to be too bright, and missed the Italian music on our second visit. The food is functionally presented, without any attempt at decorating it or the plate. There is ample parking outside at night. I’ll be back for the Italian hospitality.
Il Cappero Italian Restaurant, 3 Barrack Street, Cape Town. Tel (021) 461-3168. www.ilcappero.co.za Monday – Friday lunch 12h00 – 14h30, and Monday – Saturday dinner.
Chris von Ulmenstein, Whale Cottage Portfolio: www.whalecottage.com Twitter: @WhaleCottage