Durban's Caffè Italia is back (& it's better than ever)
The food at the recently re-opened Caffè Italia is fantastic and authentic - with one exception, writes Shelley Seid
When Caffè Italia opened in 2011 in a little shopping centre off Umhlanga Ridge it immediately became my go-to Italian restaurant.
It didn't matter that it overlooked a car park or that it was the size of a telephone booth. It had sexy decor, a charming owner and fantastic food.
It was so wonderful that a day after returning from a trip to Italy I wanted nothing more than a bowl of gnocchi and a chinwag with the charming owner.
Then one day I popped in to get a takeaway melanzane parmiggiana and the shopping centre had disappeared.
Pulled down, along with Caffè Italia, Indian Summer and a Chinese takeaway. It was as if the UN had been napalmed.
It's taken Milko Conte, the charming owner, 18 months to find a new space, which is a long time to go without home-made tagliatelle.
But, like childbirth, you forget the pain when you look at the new-born restaurant. It's much bigger, but still has a sexy, intimate vibe, and a large veranda with a panoramic view of the sea, which is a vast improvement over a row of SUVs.
The food, thankfully, has not changed. The menu has some new items but I wanted my old friends back - gnocchi with lamb shank ragu, delectable thin-base wood-oven pizzas, spaghetti alla puttanesca and Gorgonzola prawns.
I went last weekend in a party of six women, and had a few anxious moments thinking I may have oversold, but no, there stood Milko, looking charming in a waist apron, bragging enthusiastically about the oxtail ravioli he was busy creating as that evening's special.
Of course making a good impression goes both ways. I wanted my party to come across as urbane, well-travelled connoisseurs of authentic Italian food and culture.
There were orders for grilled rock cod in a garlic, chilli and olive oil sauce, for melanzane, for lambshank with gnocchi - and then there was an order for a pizza Pompeii: a topping of banana, pineapple, feta and avo.
Early this year the president of Iceland said that if he could, he would ban pineapple on pizza, calling it "a world abomination". Here it was, at our table, together with its tropical soulmate, banana.
Milko was the soul of discretion. It's not something an Italian would eat, he admitted, but, on the other hand, the recipe was invented by his very South African girlfriend, and had proved a winner.
And a man in an apron who can charm a banana onto a pizza and make the best porcini sauce in town is worth his weight in tagliatelle.
NEED TO KNOW
When to go: It's open seven days a week, from noon to 9pm. Friday until 10pm.
What not to do: Pineapples and bananas aside, chocolate sprinkles on your pizza may be a step too far.
What to drink: There's a decent wine list and the lunchtime special (at the bargain price of R130 for three courses) includes a glass of house wine.
How much do you need: Large pizzas range from R62 for a Margherita to R79 for the Pompeii. The fabulous lamb shank goes for R170 and the homemade tiramisu is R55.
Address and contact details: Rooftop Eastmans Spar Centre, Ashley Avenue, Glenashley, Durban. Book on 031-562-3007.
• This article was originally published in The Times.