Shelley Seid goes to the KZN Midlands for Sunday lunch in the Italian family way
La Lampara, set in a restored dairy on a farm in the KwaZulu-Natal Midlands and filled with Italian bonhomie and an abundance of food, is the perfect place for Sunday lunch.
We were six adults and, I think, four children - it may have been more, but none sat at the table for more than 10 minutes at a stretch, so it was impossible to tell. La Lampara, being authentically Italian, welcomes children; it's about family after all. It's also about the grand tradition of Sunday lunch, a time-honoured affair among Italians. I read somewhere that if you are invited for an Italian Sunday lunch and ask what time you should arrive, you'll be told "l'ora di pranzo" (lunchtime).
This is how it is at La Lampara, where chef and owner Pino Canderle and his wife, Caroline, set up shop in 1998. They began in Norwood, Joburg, in 1978. When they moved to the KZN Midlands they chose the farm Boschfontein for their restaurant because it reminded them of Tuscany.
For Pino, Sunday lunch has always been a big meal with the entire family. "My mom Maria taught me many of the basics," he says. "It wasn't just lunch to her; it was a production. There was pasta made fresh that morning, and I'd make the chicken consommé for my favourite stracciatella [egg drop soup with tortellini]."
The menu, written in Italian on a blackboard, changes weekly and features dishes made with seasonal local produce. The kids are quickly sorted with pizza and pasta. The adults vacillate.
Torn between rolled pasta layered with cheese and spinach and my weekly weigh-in, I share half of it with Leigh, who in a moment of great restraint orders ostrich carpaccio. Kevin, the only resolute member of the party, goes directly for the mussels in a tomato base with chilli and wine, baked in the pizza oven and sprinkled with mozzarella. We only have his word that he hit the jackpot as he refuses to give anyone a taste.
Mains create similar dilemmas. The dieters at the table fool no one but themselves by ordering the Norwegian salmon (sublimely cooked) with a small side of sweet-potato gnocchi. I order the roasted duck that spent a happy life down the road in Dargyl, accompanied by a sauce made of oranges, Seville orange marmalade and Cointreau. It's an enormous portion which allows me to generously offer tastings all round. Gary is tempted by the roast leg of pork until he realises it won't be arriving on his plate in its entirety, so settles instead for a manly lamb shank. Kevin jumps in and takes the pork, once again selecting a winning dish. He's the date you want at the Durban July.
Post-mains, we sit in a comfortable stupor until stoical Kim of the salad and salmon pipes up. "I wouldn't mind a cassata. One day." Today was the day. Good thing too, because the cassata, made with farm ice cream from the Midlands, was as smooth as velvet. The kids, having run riot around the grounds, reappear and eat like wolves.
This is La Lampara, says Pino. "If people complain about the kids they are in the wrong place. We are Italian. Our children come to our weddings. When those kids grow up, they will remember the restaurants where they could go and be free, and eat and run and play."
Prices: The menu changes weekly, but as a rule starters range from R52-59, pasta from R90-R118, mains R139-R168. There's an ever-changing selection of wines, chosen directly from the wine cupboard.
LA LAMPARA'S ANATRA CON ARANCIA (DUCK WITH ORANGE)
1 duck, about 2kg
Salt and pepper
250ml (1 cup) fresh orange juice
100g (½ cup) brown sugar
25ml (1 tot) Cointreau or orange liqueur
1 orange, peeled and segmented
30ml (2 tbsp) orange rind
30ml (2 tbsp) orange marmalade
Rub the duck with salt and pepper and place in a preheated oven at 200°C on a tray with a grid to enable the duck fat to drip through. Roast for 30-45 minutes or until cooked and crispy. Remove from oven and rest. Reserve some of the fat from below the duck.
For the sauce, pour a quarter of the orange juice into a shallow pot on low heat. Add the sugar and stir. Do not burn. When the sugar starts to brown and caramelise, add the remaining orange juice, Cointreau, orange segments and rind. Simmer for 8 minutes. Add the marmalade and cook until the sauce coats the back of a spoon.
Halve the duck and remove the breast bone, then cut into quarters. Pour a little duck fat into a large frying pan, add the duck portions, pour over the sauce and heat through gently. Serve immediately.
La Lampara, D182 Old Caversham Road, Balgowan, KZN, 0824160195