A huge thank you to all who voted for me in the 2010 SA Blog Awards – thanks to your fantastic support I am through to the final two blogs in my categories! Results will be announced this weekend and I will keep you posted.
Have you ever thought of the places that matter the most to you in the world? Some of them are fairly obvious: the house where you grew up; the farm where you spent your school holidays; or maybe the theatre where you met your lifelong partner. Other places may not immediately seem important but take on a special meaning long after you first discover them. One of my favourite places (as I might have mentioned once or twice before, ahem!) is Plettenberg Bay. Growing up, I spent almost every holiday there and it was there that I had my first proper pizza from a wood-fired oven. Cranzgots was something of a foodie revolution at the time (the early 1980s) as the only pizza I’d ever had was from an electric oven – suddenly here was this pizza with (gasp!) blackened bits… and it tasted good! For years, Cranzgots was the only place where I’d eat pizza, and then one day, Cornuti al Mare opened.
Don’t get me wrong – I will always love Cranzgots with its chunky bases and divine baby clam pizza and the best cheese salad in Africa, and the old tables where you were still allowed to carve your name when I was a student. But Cornuti al Mare was a whole different ballgame – a brand new building with a balcony overlooking the sea and concertina doors that fold back all the way on a summer day to bring the outdoors inside. Their pizzas were different too – they were also cooked in a wood-fired oven but had thin Roman-style bases, and whereas Cranzgots largely stuck to traditional toppings, Cornuti produced an array of flavour combinations that you never thought of putting on a pizza. But once you tasted them, you were hooked for life.
It was my mom who fell in love with Cornuti first. She loved take-away pizza from Cranzgots, but the venue itself was always too claustrophobic for her, whereas Cornuti al Mare felt open and sunny and breezy. She was in love. Soon Cornuti became a regular fixture of our family holidays and my mom would always have the same thing – the Pizza Tre Collori: a plain pizza that was baked before being topped with smoked salmon, dollops of sour cream and spoonfuls of caviar. In fact, here in London I have framed photos of my family, and in my mom’s photo she has a Cornuti Pizza Tre Colori in front of her. So now Cornuti has become not only a place where I like to go for a meal, but also a place where I can go when I miss my mom. As the first bite of her beloved Tre Colori crosses my lips, it is as if she is with me again, sharing slices of pizza and a bottle of wine and a good gossip.
Cornuti al Mare is indeed a lovely space comprising a champagne and oyster bar as well as the main restaurant with its mosaic-topped tables, wrought iron fixtures and chalkboard menus. In the summer, the floor-to-ceiling windows concertina right back to let the sunshine and sea breeze in, and in winter there is a fireplace to sit around and drink red wine. Although I seldom look past the pizza menu, there are many other things to like, including a great selection of antipasti, pastas and main dishes like steak, linefish and veal saltimbocca. The salads are uniformly excellent and substantial enough to make a good meal for one, or a sharing plate for more people. But as I said, I can seldom get beyond the excellent pizza.
Above you will see some of the family favourites (sadly, not my mom’s beloved Pizza Tre Colori - mea culpa!). My dad has the saltiest tooth I know and always goes for the Pizza Palermitana, a salt-fest of olives, feta cheese, anchovies and capers. Below that is one of my favourites, the Potato Pizza with creamed leeks, feta, wafer-thin potato slices and garlic. This is the first place where I ever had potato on a pizza – it sounded so wrong but it tastes so right! I also sometimes forsake the potato pizza for the Pizza Quattro Formaggi (Mozzarella, Provolone, Gorgonzola and Parmiggiano) or the Pizza Putana with bacon, feta, spinach and avocado pear while Nick regularly goes for the Pizza Verdure with artichokes, asparagus, olives, onions, mushrooms, green peppers and sun-dried tomatoes. But probably my favourite Cornuti pizza of all time is the Pizza Del Bosco topped with preserved green figs, Brie and smoked game meat (pictured above). Delicious does not begin to describe it.
The vibe is stylish yet relaxed – nobody will blink an eye if you turn up fresh from the beach in shorts and a bikini top for lunch (although things are a little more chic at dinner!). Service is always very friendly, although I have found it to be slow when the restaurant is busy. The restaurant is also very noisy when full as there are no soft furnishings to absorb the sound, so you may want to take hard-of-hearing relatives elsewhere for a treat. Pizza prices range from R55 for a basic Margharita to just over R100 for premium toppings; other mains range from R100 to about R150; salads weigh in at between R70 and R100; and desserts around the R50 mark. There is a good wine list and cocktail menu as well, with regular specials on cocktails.
Cornuti al Mare has become one of my favourite spots for lunch and dinner in Plettenberg Bay and although it may not assume the same importance in your life as it has in mine, I can bet that once you vist you will want to go back
Nick, me, my dad, my oldest friend Andréa and her dad enjoying our respective pizzas at Cornuti al Mare, Plettenberg Bay.
Cornuti al Mare
1 Perestrella Street
Tel: 00 27 (0)44 533 1277
Fax: 00 27 (0)44 533 1444
And don’t forget to get your barbecue and braai recipes to me by 23 September for the Braai, the Beloved Country event to celebrate South Africa’s Heritage Day this month!