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Sat Nov 29 07:00:50 SAST 2014

The Restaurant: Nearly Napoli

Food Weekly | 27 November, 2012 09:43

For some of the best wood-fired pizza south of the Bay of Naples, try Woodstock, writes Nikki Werner

Burrata is not just another pizza joint. It's a restaurant as particular about pizza as the Neapolitans and run by a sommelier, Neil Grant, who is determined to enhance your supper and prove that less formal does not mean less excellent.

Dinner at Burrata takes me back to the south of Italy. It's not the name, which describes a cream-filled mozzarella ball; it's because, like other starry-eyed Elizabeth Gilbert devotees, I travelled to Naples to order pizza at Da Michele - the pizzeria referenced in her bestseller Eat, Pray, Love. It awakened a yearning that, until Burrata opened, couldn't quite be satisfied.

I came home changed, no longer happy with fax-machine-thin bases that shattered like flatbread and wanting a base with pull and resistance; wanting milky pools of buffalo mozzarella and one shimmering basil leaf contained by a swollen, flame-licked crust.

The Associazione Vera Pizza Napoletana (Real Neapolitan Pizza Association) demands, among other things, that dough be shaped by hand and cooked in a 400°C wood-fueled oven. Burrata fulfils their criteria. Cold-fermented dough is stretched into rounds and the crust bears desirable black spots which Grant calls "leoparding" from 90 seconds at 480°C.

Then there's the Nerello by Tenuta Delle Terre Nere on the wine list. A Sicilian label I last tasted after clambering through their ancient, terraced vineyards, my feet blackened by Mount Etna's volcanic soil.

It doesn't surprise me Grant stocks Terre Nere. Not for the obvious reason, that as chairman of the SA Sommeliers' Association his true love is wine. Simply, he's determined casual dining shouldn't preclude pouring something a bit special.

His wine list has a South African bias and is purposefully devoid of descriptors in the hope that diners will engage, and he might share some discoveries. Having recently explored white wine with white pizza, he loves serving a full chenin blanc with the truffle-spread Delre pizza.

"If you take away tomatoes, there's no acidity, it doesn't fight with the wine. People always say pizza and beer, that's the true combination, but this is phenomenal," says Grant. He's right.

The brazen indulgence of the Delre's topping - prosciutto, mozzarella and mushrooms - won't check out with pedants who know the southerners responsible for inventing the base are hard-up; but it's a delicious dance with the Oldenburg chenin.

The ethos at Burrata values correct technique but not splitting hairs about "correct" combinations if this stands in the way of enjoying something good.

Take the free-form "lasagne" with smoky aubergine and sweet onion purée, most surprising and possibly my favourite offering from the main kitchen, where Annemarie Steenkamp (ex-Le Quartier Francais) is in charge. Its only rival might be the bruschetta with crisply sautéed slices of chorizo and courgette striped with charred smokiness.

When I looked (reluctantly) past the pizza and ordered a risotto that could have fed a small family, the surface was covered in a sea of fine, wafery pork crackling - a touch of genius - that was countered by Granny Smith when I dug in. Bear in mind I'm one of those pedants mentioned earlier: fruit in my risotto would ordinarily bring on an unattractive puckered expression.

I first met Grant when he launched Rust en Vrede with David Higgs. Grant's intention with Burrata is to bring a certain quality to the mid-range; he explains that we have fine dining, or steak and pizza, but not a lot in between.

Open Tuesday to Friday noon-10pm, Saturday 10am-3pm and 6.30pm-10pm. Closed Sunday and Monday. Average price of a pizza is R85, average price of a main course is R115.

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Burrata, The Old Biscuit Mill, Albert Road, Woodstock, Cape Town, 0214476505, burrata.co.za

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