Piazza Italia appeared on our latest list of Restaurant Openings, and it was a Facebook message from Davide Ostuni, Puglia Cheese mozzarella producer by day and Chef at Piazza Italia by night, that encouraged me to try it out last night. The restaurant has two Italians in the kitchen, a genuine Italian menu (without pizza), and Italian patrons eating there, a vote of confidence in a restaurant which has only been open for a month.
The restaurant belongs to Theresa Pearman, who comes from the jewellery industry, and fashion designer Pietro Giannuzzi, who had a dream to open a restaurant in which they could welcome and entertain their friends, bringing their dining room to the restaurant. Neither of them have prior restaurant experience, giving them a refreshing approach to owning the business, and not having any preconceived ideas about restauranting. Pietro only recently met Davide, and Theresa described the two men as being ‘soul brothers’, having a ‘bromance‘ about Italian food. I have only met Davide briefly at Burrata some time ago, and have been to see the Puglia Cheese factory, shown around by Davide’s wife Ursula. I had forgotten that Davide and Ursula owned five Italian restaurants in London, before moving to Cape Town, Ursula’s home town. The two chefs have got on like a house on fire, and Davide does the evening cooking from Wednesdays – Saturdays, while Pietro does the lunch shifts from Monday – Saturday. To assist them in running the restaurant, especially with the large group that had booked for a birthday party last night, they call on former restaurateur Nino, who used to own Casanova, as well as Franco, who was the former Italian Consul and is a father figure to Pietro. They converse with the guests in Italian, and love being involved in the restaurant.
The restaurant was remodeled, having been the Pasta Factory and Ciao Deli previously, and its new shelving is filled with numerous types of pasta (e.g. lasagne, cannelloni, fusilli, ditali, tofe, spaghetti, penne, rigatoni, anellini, and more), tomato purée, gnocchi, couscous, Divella extra virgin olive oil, bottled mushrooms, capers, olives, red and white wine vinegar, balsamic vinegar, and anchovies, all imported from Italy. The fridges have just arrived, and soon they will stock and sell salami, prosciutto, Parma ham, and Puglia and other Italian-style cheeses. Davide used to sell his mozzarella via the nearby Mozzarella Bar, but no longer does so since Giorgio Nava sold the restaurant.
The restaurant was set up for the party of 20 Italian guests, which made the red and white check table cloths even more noticeable, and adding a strong Italian touch. Red or green check paper serviettes are offered, one of the few aspects one can criticise. On each table there is a very large bottle of olive oil, and a smaller container of balsamic vinegar, a pepper grinder, and tiny salt and pepper cellars. Cutlery is by Fortis Hotelware.
The waiter brought the two restaurant boards to the table, there not being a printed menu, as it changes weekly. The dishes are written in Italian, and he translated and explained each dish. For the starter I chose the most unusual Limone Al Forno (R35), a scooped out lemon filled with fior di latte and basil leaves, and wrapped in aluminium foil and then baked in the oven, giving the cheese a wonderful tangy lemon taste and aroma. Other starters are baby squid (R45), and pizzette fior di latte (R45). I chose a delicious sounding Goldoni Al Paté (R125), a more rare than medium-rare fillet steak topped with generous chunks of melting chicken liver paté, and served on a bed of spinach, and with baby potatoes and garlic butter, every bit as wonderful as its description. One can also order Spaghetti with clams and mussels (R110), Rotolo Ripeno, a pasta served with spinach and feta or with beef (R90), Gnocchi and Gorgonzola (R90), and Tagliata di Ricciola (R110), made with yellowfin tuna, but this dish was sold out. Theresa generously offered me a glass of Glera Veneto Prosecco, which they have available on tap.
For dessert I had my favourite Tiramisu, which is offered with mascarpone (R50), or made with ricotta (R40). I chose the former, and it was rich, creamy, with a good coffee taste, complementing my perfectly made LavAzza dry cappuccino. One can also order cassata, and panna cotta, both costing R40.
The ‘wine and spirits selection’ is neatly presented in a leather cover which is San Pellegrino branded. It won’t make the Diners Club Winelist Awards, not offering vintage details, and abbreviating wine styles to ‘Cab Sav‘ and ‘Sauv Blanc‘! Sparkling wines offered are ‘Pongraz‘ (sic) Brut and ‘Rose’ (sic), at R180 and R220, respectively, unfortunately without a per glass option. Imported Bottega sparkling wines are also available, from R180 per bottle and upwards. White wines range in price from R80 (Indalo Chenin Blanc, Place in the Sun Sauvignon Blanc, and Du Toitskloof Sauvignon Blanc) – R150 (Springfield Life from Stone Sauvignon Blanc). Diemersfontein Pinotage is the most expensive red wine, at R180 per bottle. The white and red wine per glass prices are reasonable at R25 – R35. Haute Cabriere and Kleine Zalze are also incorrectly spelt on the winelist.
Theresa came to sit down and chat, telling me that they had looked for a suitable restaurant space for two years. She explained that the food may take a little longer to come to the table, but she and the chefs came to chat and checked on my well-being regularly, a refreshing service orientation. She told me that they will serve food late, if a customer requests it, not having a fixed closing time for the kitchen. The waiter was irritating, not topping up my water, and coming across as arrogant. Luckily he was kept busy with the large group when they arrived. Breakfasts will be introduced, but in an Italian style. Theresa described Pietro as a perfectionist, coming from his fashion background, where every stitch has to be perfect.
The fact that almost all the patrons were Italian last night, and that local Italians are involved in the restaurant, both as hosts and as chefs, confirms that Piazza Italia is truly Italian. The restaurant deserves a nomination for Eat Out‘s Best Italian restaurant, but it may be early days for this year’s awards, and faces stiff competition, Nava receiving the award every alternate year for 95 Keerom! Prices are reasonable. The restaurant is unpretentious. The owners and support team are passionate about food. The winelist needs some attention. Parking on Park Road is a nightmare on a weekend evening, but one can call ahead, and the restaurant will organise parking behind their building.
Piazza Italia, 2C Park Road, Gardens (next to Rick’s Café Americain). Tel (021) 424-5025 www.piazzaitaliadeli.com (website still under construction). Twitter: @PiazzaItaliaCpt Monday – Saturday lunch, Wednesday – Saturday dinner.
Chris von Ulmenstein, Whale Cottage Portfolio: www.whalecottage.com Twitter: @WhaleCottage