Last night I attended the soft opening of The Restaurant at Villa 47, the cool contemporary restaurant on the third floor of the triple restaurant building, which has been long-awaited over the past six months. It was a lovely evening with new friends made, and reconnections made with the past.
I invited private chef Fianna Swainston to join me to the dinner, and it was fortuitous, as she knew the Rialto co-owners Luciano Previtera (right) and Michele Mirotto, and speaks Italian, even though the new restaurant is not Italian in style and food, unlike Locando on the first floor, and Stuzzico on the second floor. We were debating late last night what a good overall description of the restaurant style could be, and settled on words like cool, contemporary, and accessible. It serves both contemporary dishes as well as Asian influenced food. Villa 47 does not want to describe its new restaurant as ‘fine dining‘.
At our table too were two directors of Rialto holding company Libstar, Robin Smith and André Naudé. It was an absolute surprise to meet up with André again, whom I had last seen about 15 years ago. My market research consultancy had worked closely with André and his Tiger Brands marketing team on All Gold and KOO. I was interested to hear that Libstar has interests in a number of food brands, including Denny mushrooms, Lancewood dairy products, nuts, granola, herbs and spices, and imported Italian foods. Woolworths is a major customer.
The decor is very simple, African masks decorating the walls. One section has a heater with flames, adding colour and warmth. Open ceiling trusses are dark wood, matching the colour of the wood-top tables. Lighting is quite low, from overhead hanging lamps, which some of the guests at our table struggled with, using their phones to read the menu. I was told that the size of the type on the menu was found to be a little too small, and will be replaced to make it more readable. I was grateful to be able to photograph the dishes at the pass, over which Executive Chef Clayton Bell presided.
I was blown away by the crockery, especially the black French Revol porcelain, with a slightly rough feel, which also supplied the sugar holder, and the small salt and pepper holders. They also use Villeroy Boch plates, and cups and saucers, as well as a Japanese range for their Asian dishes. Even more special was the beautiful Villeroy Boch cutlery, the first time that I have seen this brand in a restaurant! Napkins are beige, and there a no tablecloths. Napkins were placed on our laps by the waiters. Trendy new lemongrass oil pop-up cloths that expand are offered for one to wipe one’s hands as one starts the meal, were seen by most for the first time. The kitchen is open plan to the restaurant, and one is not aware that most of the cooking is done on a charcoal fire.
Our waiter Miguel was knowledgeable about the menu, and looked after us with perfection, my water-glass being filled up regularly without requesting it. Wine was topped up, and I had the Catherine Marshall Pinot Noir 2013. Miguel suggested that we share dishes, and André’s wife made sure that we didn’t duplicate our orders, so that we could try each other’s starters and main courses.
Unusual black bamboo ash buns were served with butter, followed by an Amuse Bouche of asparagus soup, with smoked salmon, crème fraîche, and an asparagus spear.
We shared starters of chargrilled octopus arm which was finished on the fire with olive oil (below); a tartare of langoustine and papaya, with wasabi cream, walnut oil, and salmon roe; prawn wontons wrapped in Parma ham, with a very spicy Togarashi mayonnaise (left); and crayfish gazpacho, with flame-grilled crayfish tail, and strawberry balsamic gazpacho (below).
Other starter dishes are barrel-aged feta salad made with Greek feta, wild rocket, tatsoi, baby spinach, and tart tahini dressing; ceviche of fresh fish of the day marinated in Leche de Tigre; seared balsamic cured salmon, with smokey tomato relish, cucumber gel, and Srirache pearls; and Midori salad, of warm broccolini, mange toute, edamame beans, and Villa 47 dressing. Starters range between R90 and R220.
Chef Clayton sent out a palate cleanser of apple sorbet with fennel.
Main courses range in price from R160 for Asian style pork riblets prepared sous vide and chargrilled, to R530 for Miso black cod, served with pickled daikon (right). Flame-grilled prime cut Wagyu beef served with Korean style kimchi, at R450, was discussed at our table, but Luciano assured us that a specials board will offer a linefish of the day, as well as sirloin steak, both being more affordable options. Luciano also shared that pork belly will be added to the menu, as will be quail, and mango will replace papaya when in season.
Main courses which we shared at our table were kudu loin, served with apricots, garam masala, and three textures of sweet potato (left below); charred duck breast served with a Japanese apple and ginger dipping sauce; and the Wagyu beef.
Other main course options are Korean lamb cutlets, with sesame, and lightly pickled cucumber; Asian style pork riblets; and crispy fried lightly smoked tofu, served with marinated mushrooms, seaweed, grilled pak choi, and black bean guacamole. Sides offered are unusual: grilled cos lettuce with avocado, cherry tomatoes, and creme fraiche; grilled tenderstem broccoli with lime and Parmesan; grilled asparagus, with lime and Parmesan; and Parmesan truffle fries. All sides cost R55.
I met new The Restaurant at Villa 47 Head Chef Joachim Miele, who was previously at Myoga, and for a short while at Café Paradiso. We spoke German. I heard him praised by his colleagues for his energy and enthusiasm.
Chef Joachim prepared the dessert dishes, a plate each of the three desserts being sent to each table. The dessert list only has three items: saffron sushi rice pudding, accompanied by a burnt white macaron, lemon curd, and Italian meringue (right); banana chocolate hazelnut soufflé with smoked papaya purée, and pistachio frozen yoghurt; and white chocolate financier, dark chocolate sorbet, orange ice cream, and drunken oranges.
Coffee orders were taken, and a plate of friandise was served, with Italian biscotti, lime chantilly cream, and chocolate truffles.
The Restaurant at Villa 47 will become as popular as its Locando restaurant, and serves a broader spectrum of dishes, none of them Italian focused. I was impressed yet again at how hands-on co-owners Luciano and Michele are, in walking the floor, and regularly checking on us and requesting feedback course by course. Despite it only being the second day of operation, the service was slick and very professional, a strength which Villa 47 has demonstrated from day one.