Mon 24 Jan 2011
I have had my moments with Giorgio Nava, but must salute his bravery in zealously opening restaurants in Cape Town, in addition to the two established restaurants 95 Keerom Street and Carne. Last month he opened Down South on Long Street and the Mozzarella Bar on Kloof Street, and on Saturday Café Milano opened, higher up on Kloof Street. The Mozzarella Bar is run by charming Italians, and all its dishes, except the bakery items and desserts, contain a soft creamy mozzarella, offering good value for money.
Co-owner and interior designer, and friend of Nava, Matteo Amatruda, explained that Nava is trying to educate Capetonians about true Italian cuisine, and each of his restaurants, with the exception of Down South, focuses on a specific Italian aspect. Café Milano, for example, will focus on baking, and bakes the bread and makes the croissants for the Mozzarella Bar. Nava runs between all his properties, we were told, and we saw this, as he popped in as we were about to leave, having been there earlier in the morning already.
The manager Simone explained that special equipment was brought out from Italy for the manufacture of mozzarella cheese in Cape Town, and it is made from cow’s milk. This was a surprise, as my perception was that Buffalo mozzarella is the benchmark for this cheese. Matteo explained that Italy is divided in its preference for the type of milk used in mozzarella production, and the western and southern parts of Italy prefer mozzarella made from buffalo milk. It is the eastern side of Italy, and the town Puglia especially, that is known for the use of cow’s milk. The Italian mozzarella maker in Cape Town comes from Puglia, hence the name of the supplier is Puglia Cheese, which I subsequently discovered supplies most Italian-style restaurants in Cape Town. Nava’s restaurants are her main client base, Matteo said.
I had been to the previous restaurant in this location, A la Posta, also Italian style, once only, and it never quite took off. Little has changed, with a counter seating area around the food preparation area, and with interesting white bar stools probably coming from Matteo’s interior design store a+1 in The Foundry. What was formerly part of the previous restaurant, is now an art gallery upstairs, branded a+1, and private functions can be hosted here, with seating provided. The restaurant space is small, and probably can seat no more than 20 guests, if that many. But there is a constant flow of clients, and they all seemed to have an Italian connection when we were there. The kitchen staff wear I ♥ Mozarella T-shirts. Interesting looking wooden buttermilk ‘vessels’ have been put to decorative use on the walls behind the counter. Matteo told me that Giorgio had found these in a factory he had bought, and apparently some of them have been hung at Carne too. On one side is refrigerated shelving, selling imported buffalo mozzarella, and the locally made cow mozzarella. Pecorini is also for sale, as are olive oils and olives from Morgenster. One can also buy the proscuitto, but it is not pre-cut nor visible in the refrigerator.
Simone and Matteo are both charming, with Italian accents. Both are hands-on, and do almost all the work themselves, although there are more staff behind the counter and in the small kitchen preparation area. It felt as if there were more staff than customers. Most of the menu consists of cold dishes, which must make the food preparation much easier. The counter tops have holders with Morgenster olive oil and balsamic vinegar in them, and very cheap salt and fine pepper pots. The cheap ‘kitchen’ fork and quality serrated knife are rolled in a paper serviette. A pepper grinder is offered once the food is served.
Simone explained the menu to us as soon as we arrived, and it was a bit overwhelming, given that there are a number of different mozzarella styles to comprehend, and lots of Italian menu item names to contend with. Mozzarella is served as a trio of styles (Nodino - knotted, Affumicata - smoked, and Burrata- the cream-filled standard) for R80. Burrata mozzarella is served with parma ham, cooked ham, mortadella, air-dried beef, or air-dried tuna, at R65 - R80. I had the mozzarella served with the prosciutto, imported from Italy, and beautifully presented with rocket and the mozzarella, and drizzled with olive oil, and accompanied by crispy slices of toasted bread. The hot dishes are a deep-fried Mozzarella sandwich, and two styles of panzerotto, being tomato filled pastries, one with and the other without ham, all costing no more than R50. One can also order Rotolo, a “mozzarella sheet” or roll, with a vegetable, salmon or parma ham center, again none costing more than R50. A sandwich with mozzarella and parma ham costs R50. Salads naturally all contain mozzarella, and none cost more than R60. Only three desserts are offered: vanilla gelato made at 95 Keerom (R40), and a new addition to the menu, Chocolat ‘Foundant’ ‘95′ (R50), which took some time to prepare. Sadly, the restaurant had run out of tiramisu (R40) by the time we ordered.
Only five wine choices are offered, by Chamonix and Dalla Cia, Chamonix Rouge being the only red wine. Vintages are noted, and the wine character described. All are available by the glass (R23 - R 40) or by the bottle (R 80 - R170). Peroni is the only beer available (R16).
The LavAzza cappuccino, and other coffees, must be the cheapest in Cape Town, at only R10. This week the Mozzarella Bar will get its iced coffee maker from LavAzza, and Matteo says it will be the best in Cape Town - they will make it with espresso, cream and milk. Free wireless internet is offered, as it is at Down South, a clever service to offer. Overall, the Mozzarella Bar offers good value, and has the benefit that one can pop in to eat something and drink a good coffee throughout the day. For Breakfast only four styles of croissant are available - plain, with chocolate, with jam and with custard, a la Italian style. Don’t expect any cooked breakfasts!
POSTSCRIPT 2/5: As most restaurants in the city center were closed, I was grateful to find the Mozzarella Bar open. I had a beautifully presented Rotolo, a sheet of mozzarella into which is rolled rocket and parma ham (R50).
Mozzarella Bar, 51 Kloof Street, Cape Town. Tel (021) 422-5822. No website. Monday - Saturday 7h00 - 19h00. A food delivery and catering service is offered.
Chris von Ulmenstein, Whale Cottage Portfolio: www.whalecottage.com Twitter: @WhaleCottage