I visited the new Harbour Bay market last Sunday, and was so disappointed with it, that I decided to try my luck for a table at Massimo’s in Hout Bay, which re-opened about two months ago, after a ten month closure.

The restaurant was previously called Pizza Club, and operated from the same venue, but shared the space with the Scarecrow restaurant previously.  Owners Massimo and Tracy spent a long time in finding an alternative venue for their restaurant in Hout Bay.   To keep brand presence alive, Massimo Tweeted a lot, and ran competitions about their new location.  It was a surprise to read that they had decided to return to their old location, but no longer share with Scarecrows.  I loved the new interior look, painted in a soft green, which is the corporate colour too.  Previously a lot of red dominated, from the Scarecrow identity.  Massimo has put up photographs of his Italian childhood, and the rooster is visible in the restaurant too, being their new logo, even imprinted on the tables.  The staff wear black branded T-shirts, much smarter than the previous red, and the service has improved markedly, being new waiters, and not the ones they had shared with Scarecrows previously.  Tracy and Massimo are hands on, which is commendable, in that Tracy helps to take orders and chats to customers, while Massimo is the pizzamaster, very much in action at the pizza oven.

I stopped eating pizzas almost a year ago, but wanted to try the ‘new’ Massimo’s, ordering a ‘white pizza’ (no tomato sauce on the base) with mushrooms and mozzarella cheese, which was charged at R54, the base prize of a marghareta.  Previously my favourite pizzas were from Col’cacchio (but not their service!), and therefore I find the Massimo pizzas not covered enough generally, and a substantial part of the pizza at the ends is not covered at all, making it taste very doughy.  Unlike Col’cacchio, one is not encouraged to make up one’s own pizza, and any deviation from the options on the menu is linked to a menu item in price and what is added or removed.  There are numerous options, listed on the menu under headings such as Vegetarian and Fish (R72), and Meat, mainly costing R84, for interesting sounding pizzas such as boerewors, chorizo, coppa, and pancetta, and R98 for parma ham.    One can order soup at R42, with two options on Sunday – roasted red pepper, and spiced carrot and lentil.  Salads cost R44, and are unusual: couscous and roasted vegetable, and a delicious sounding rocket, coppa, grape fruit and avocado salad.  Bolognaise costs R68, and pasta with mushrooms R58.  Italian sausage with polenta and tomato sauce costs R68.  A number of starter options range from R42 – R68, including chicken liver parfait, baked cheese dishes, and a cheese board.  One can order sweet pizzas too, quite expensive at R72 – R84, for chocolate, bananas, and chestnut and ricotta pizzas.  Desserts cost R32, and I loved the Tiramisu, the only Italian dessert on the menu.  Other options are baked cheesecake, pear tarte tatin, apple and berry crumble, and chocolate and almond torte. One can also order a Volcano, which is a good sounding ice cream with chocolate liqueur sauce and a lit sugar cube, at R18.  Good LavAzza cappuccino costs R18.

Massimo’s is quite strict, such as not offering much leeway on one’s own ingredient combination, in not cutting the pizza in slices, unless requested, and in stating its rules on the menu: no outside bought food may be brought into the restaurants (this would be an obvious no-no), a 10 % service fee is charged for tables of 8 or more, no smoking is allowed inside or outside under the canopy, and welcoming “families with well-behaved children”.

I liked the green approach to Massimo’s extending to the herb and vegetable garden, which I saw in containers and in a wheelbarrow outside.  Massimo’s is fortunate to have come back with a bounce, and to be so popular, despite its ten month absence and the poor economy, but it shows that what they offer is what the Hout Bay locals want – good value pizzas in a friendly, cosy and homely environment.

Massimo’s, Oakhurst Farm Park, Hout Bay.  Tel (021) 790-5648. www.pizzaclub.co.za (The website has menu, winelist, a blog, reviews, and a gallery that has more interior shots than food ones.  Interesting is that a supplier list is to come.  The old website address for the Pizza Club could cause confusion).  Open lunch and dinner, Wednesday – Sunday.

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