Last night my friend Whitney Wentzel and I enjoyed a very generous dinner at Burrata, losing track of the number of courses we enjoyed. I had been invited to hear from co-owner Neil Grant what exciting developments are planned at Bocca, which will open on the corner of Bree and Wale Streets in mid-September, as well as longer term at Constantia Uitsig, when they take over the former River Café, with a name change.
Bocca (means ‘mouth’ in Italian) will seat 70 diners on two levels inside, as well as a further 23 on a deck extending out of the restaurant on Bree Street, which has an extra-large pavement. Neil and Chef Annemarie Steenkamp will open Bocca, with the assistance of Matteo, a sommelier who has worked on the cruise ship The Residence at Sea. He in turn will have a sommelier supporting him. The Bocca kitchen is smaller, Chef Annemarie said, but she is excited in having designed most of it herself. A sister pizza oven to the one at Burrata, also sourced from Naples, has been installed, in orange. Space has been allowed for a bar counter. Seating is at counters, as well as at custom-designed tables and chairs. There will be more colour in the interior, and less industrial design, than at Burrata. The interior design was done by INHOUSE designers, who also designed the interiors of Burrata, The Test Kitchen, The Butcher Shop & Grill, and Carné. A number of locations were considered for the new restaurant, including the former Rhapsody’s space on Main Road in Green Point.
Neil and his business partner Barry Engelbrecht are delighted that they found the Bree Street space, on the ‘Foodie Street’ in Cape Town. There are no restaurants serving pizza on Bree Street, and Bocca will serve similar Neapolitan-style pizzas as served at Burrata, with some new ingredient combinations designed by Chef Annemarie. The menu will differ from that at Burrata, in being small food plates, with a few larger ones, meant to be shared amongst a group of diners at a table, Neil emphasising that these will NOT be small tapas portions.
The dinner was an opportunity to get to know more about Neil, and he told us that even as a student he was an entrepreneur, helping to open the first Mugg & Bean when the second wing of the V&A Waterfront Mall opened. He and a friend became partners in a muffin production company, supplying the Commodore Hotel, The Table Bay hotel, Zerban’s, and other restaurants. A holiday spent in the USA became a seven year stay, Neil working at Walmart before working at a wine company with two sommeliers in San Francisco, which created a taste for learning more about wines. Here he met his wife Carrie. On his return to the Cape, he was introduced to Chef David Higgs by Mike Ratcliffe of Warwick, and the two went to see Jean Engelbrecht at Rust en Vrede to talk about opening a restaurant at the wine estate in Stellenbosch, a fortuitous partnership which led Neil and Chef David to win number one Eat Out Top 10 restaurant for Rust en Vrede in 2011. First Chef David left for the greener pastures of Johannesburg, and then Neil saw the opportunity to fulfill his dream of owning his own restaurant, which became a reality when he met Barry via a mutual friend. The rest is history, as they say in the classics, and the business partnership will see the opening of a new restaurant at the former River Café (with a new name) too, some changes to the building being made once the plans are approved by the City of Cape Town. There is no opening date yet, as the building plan approvals are still awaited, given that it is a heritage building over 60 years old. The wine tasting centre will be close to the new restaurant, and the Constantia Uitsig wines will be sold in the new restaurant.
Chef Annemarie prepared a number of dishes, to show the evolution of her Burrata menu, driven by seasonal availability of ingredients. Her shoes at Burrata will be filled by Chef Stephen du Bruyn, while Spencer will remain the Restaurant Manager at Burrata. We started off on a high note with Tuna Crudo, a rare tuna starter served with chick peas, thin slices of green olives which added a crunchy texture, pickled cucumber, and a tomato consommé jelly. This was followed by porchetta, finely chopped pickled aubergine, preserved lemon and caper cream, topped with crostini.
The cappelletti pasta dish is brand new, and was jam-packed with delicious lamb shank, and served with celeriac, kale, lemon preserve, and a horseradish cream. I loved the roasted duck breast main course, served with Jerusalem artichokes, marsala cream, gremolata, radishes, and fried capers.
Last but not least was the ‘Pick me Up’ dessert, on the current menu, which is an attractive deconstructed ‘Tiramisu’, consisting of dark chocolate mousse, coffee, brandy, and mascarpone gelato, a dessert I have tried before, and which was served with a good strong Origin dry cappuccino.
Neil and his team were gracious hosts, with good service in looking after my water glass, and our wine glasses, and even picking up the parking tab. Bocca is sure to be a great success, with good food promised, Neil and his team of sommeliers offering a good selection of wines, and the service being of a high standard. Burrata has staffed up already, training the new Bocca staff at Burrata until they open in town. Banters will definitely not find cauli-base pizzas at Bocca or Burrata, Neil assured us!
POSTSCRIPT 14/11: Bocca opened three weeks ago. We were invited to try the new restaurant with other food writers.
Bocca, corner Wale and Bree Streets, Cape Town. Tel (021) 422-0188 www.bocca.co.za Twitter: @BoccaCT Monday – Saturday lunch and dinner.
Burrata, Old Biscuit Mill, Albert Road, Woodstock. Tel (021) 447-6505. www.burrata.co.za Twitter: @BurrataSA Tuesday – Saturday, Lunch and Dinner.
Chris von Ulmenstein, Whale Cottage Portfolio: www.whalecottage.com
Twitter: @WhaleCottage Facebook: click here