I had heard about Bella Lucia Ristorante Italiano, which had opened in chic Chelsea in Wynberg in April, from my friend Mark, who raved about the new Mediterranean restaurant.    It serves excellent food and wines at very reasonable prices, and is an asset for the Southern Suburbs, which is not blessed with many good restaurants.

The restaurant belongs to Nicola Gross, who bought the restaurant when it was called Lippo’s.  She named the restaurant after her beautiful daughter Lucia.  She added the space of a neighbouring hairdresser, doubling the size of the restaurant, and added a deck section upstairs which will become home to a cocktail bar in the next two weeks.  The restaurant looked as if it had only two tables when I first peeked through the door, in-between its lunch and dinner opening times.  The second section is much larger, and a total of 60 patrons can be seated.  Decor is minimalist, and I loved the large decorative silver knife, fork and spoon on the wall, embodying in a focused manner what the restaurant is all about.  The words COOK and EAT on the wall are part of the decor, and there is nothing else on the walls.

The restaurant has a clean, smart yet friendly look to it, all in white furniture with red seating, and white tablecloth-covered tables.   Elegant olive oil and balsamic vinegar bottles are on the tables.  The cutlery and glassware is of good quality, but the paper serviette was a disappointment.  The waiter Keith was most friendly, and very proactive – he noticed a slight wobble of the table, due to the grooves between the floor tiles, and brought a remedy to stabilise it.

The menu is a mix of Mediterranean dishes, and others.   The starters are mostly Italian, including parma ham wrapped quail (R70), mozzarella and artichoke salad (R65), potato gnocchi with pear, blue cheese and leeks (R60), and duck risotto (R65).   Mains range in cost from R70 – R105, commendable in keeping so close to the R100 mark, and include confit duck leg, sirloin streak, braised lamb shank, fish and chips, a Bella Lucia Pie, and more.  I ordered the wonderful Wild Mushroom sauce and homemade  Pappardelle pasta, drizzled with truffle oil, and presented with rocket and large shavings of Parmesan cheese (R65).  I was in-between appointments, and had been badly held up by road works on the M3, and therefore time did not allow me to have anything additional than a perfect frothy cappuccino, at a total cost of R 81.  Desserts include Amarula pannacotta, tiramisu, chocolate pot with mascarpone, caramelised lemon tart and more, none costing more than R50.  A new lighter summer menu will be launched next week.

David Winton is the chef, and was previously at Salt Restaurant at the Ambassador Hotel.  David told me that the neighbourhood is very supportive of the restaurant, and that an increasing number of regulars come back to host special celebrations at the restaurant.   David and his team are offering good food and a relaxed atmosphere.

The winelist is on the reverse of the laminated menu, and simply classifies the wines as “Bubbles”, Whites, Reds, and Dessert wines.  Vintages are specified but the region of origin is not.  Bubblies range from Pierre Jourdan Brut Sauvage (R205) to Guy Charbaut Premier Cru (R650).  Seven wines-by-the-glass range from a reasonable R35 (R90-95 per bottle) for Petit Chenin Ken Forrester, Waterford Pecan Stream, Groote Post Old Mans Blend and Slow Wine Rosé, to R60/R150 for the Constantia Uitsig Unwooded Chardonnay.  A good and very reasonably priced red wine selection is available, with six wines-by-the-glass (Waterford Pebble Hill, KC Cabernet Merlot, Landskroon Paul de Villiers Shiraz, Beyerskloof Pinotage, Sterhuis Merlot and Terre del Capo San Giovese) ranging in price from R40/R95 - R50/R140.  It clearly is better value to order a bottle than a glass of wine at Bella Lucia. 

I cannot wait to go back in two weeks’ time, when I return to the Southern Suburbs, to try the new summer menu.  

Bella Lucia Ristorante Italiano, 19 Wolfe Street, Chelsea, Wynberg, Cape Town.  Tel (021) 762-3855.   www.bellalucia.co.za (The website is as minimalist as the restaurant decor, but has lots of lovely photographs in its Gallery, and contains the menu as well as winelist.  It is the perfect benchmark for a restaurant website).  Tuesdays – Saturdays.  11h30 – 14h30 and 16h30 – 21h30.

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