CAFFÉ Bijoux is tucked away at the end of one of the winding canal roads in the seaside village of St Francis Bay, atop the Big Time Taverna that has been serving Greek fare for many years.
It’s the new culinary home of Mauro Nettl, the talented chef and serial restaurateur perhaps best known for his original Ristorante di Mauro in Newton Park in the ’90s.
As well as serving fabulous pizza, the top-floor eatery has one of the most picture-perfect views over the water of the canals and is a stunning spot for a cocktail and few tapas.
The restaurant below opens out onto a rim-flow swimming pool, which children enjoyed on the warm autumn day we were there. As Big Time Taverna and Bijoux are connected, this must make a magic party venue come the summer months.
The food though is what we were there for – Bijoux advertises sushi, pasta and pizza – and after sampling each we could not fault the food, setting or service.
There is a surprisingly broad variance in prices on the menu, with pizza, burger and pastas ranging from R55 upwards and a fillet steak for R169 .
To start, our waiter, Luke, made the salmon roses (R68) sound like the most juicy morsels with plenty of meaty salmon wrapped round the filling. When they arrived, jewel-red and delicious they were, but not so different from those served at other establishments in Port Elizabeth.
The Italian-styled starters we chose were more of a hit, being panzarotti: plump pasta pockets stuffed with shredded crayfish in a subtle creamy sauce, and melanzane: a rich little dish of baked brinjals layered with cheese and tomato sauce.
Luke was equally eloquent on the main courses, in particular the crayfish thermidor (SQ).
Unpersuaded, we chose the more modestly priced pizzas – two to share between three, R79 each.
It turned out that magic-tongued Luke had a pizza named after him, with chicken, caramelised onions, peppadews and mushroom. If that sounds an unlikely combination, you haven’t heard Luke in action.
The pizzas were the highlight of the meal, the dough alive, fresh and light, obviously not pre-rolled hours before, and neither too thick nor too thin.
We voted the pizzas – one a Regina, one a Luke – the best we have had in years, even toppling Mangiamo, Leonardo’s and Charlie’s from our hit parade. Not only that, but all the food was served at just the right temperature, Goldilocks would have been delighted. The fourth in our party picked linguine with a sauce of garlic, olive oil and parmesan – chilli optional (R69) – and it was simple yet sublime.
A chilled glass or two of rose wine – Newton Johnson Rose (R85) – matched the holiday vibe and the bill for four came to R587, excluding tip.
We loved our meal and hope Caffé Bijoux will still be rocking by the time summer rolls around. Mauro has had quite a checkered culinary career so I hope it is not unkind to recap: he moved Mauro’s to the beachfront in 2002 and then re-launched it as Casa Bianca a year or so before the 2010 Fifa World Cup. That did not last and his plans then to start a boutique hotel in Walmer in 2009 were dashed when neighbours complained (rather ironically, as Sixth Avenue in Walmer is now swarming with eateries).
It was reported that Mauro threatened to say “ciao” to Port Elizabeth after these disappointments but fortunately for foodies he only went as far as Lovemore Park where he opened La Casa Restaurant at the ill-fated Lavender Barn. Sadly, La Casa flooded in 2012 and so he moved on to the Elephant Walk Restaurant.
Then, in November last year came the most recent move and this time I sincerely hope it works out for Mauro at Caffé Bijoux – the perfect setting to match his glamorous Italian style.
Not only that, but desserts like tiramisu, panna cotta, gelati, affogato sound like they deserve a return visit!
Caffé Bijoux, (042)294-0006 is in Mayotte Circle, St Francis Bay.