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Farm-to-table Italian at La Stalla in Melville – reviewed

La Stalla on 7th Street is the reinvented version of chef James Diack’s previous restaurant in the same space, The Federal. Eat Out’s Johannesburg restaurant editor, Kholeka Kumalo, goes to investigate.

Fast facts

Cost: The average price of a main course is R120
Parking: Streetside
Food type: Italian
Best for: A leisurely lunch or dinner and some people watching
Star ratings: Food and drinks 4; ambience 4; service 4

Food

Chef James Diack’s latest restaurant venture, La Stalla, is the new home of his previous American-inspired eatery, The Federal. He’s no stranger to the Joburg restaurant scene: his flagship Coobs is, of course, known to discerning food lovers, and following the success of a farm-to-table approach to dining at his Parktown North restaurant, Il Contadino, he has now opened this smaller version in Melville.

The produce used here comes from his family-owned farm, Brightside, in Magaliesburg, so rest assured that farm-fresh is no exaggeration. La Stalla focuses on rustic Italian fare and the keyword here is simplicity in choice of ingredients, flavour combinations and presentation. The menu offers small plates, pizza, pasta, meaty mains and salads.

After catching sight of the pizza oven, however, it’s hard not to head straight there on the menu. The pizza topped with homemade bacon, farm feta, fresh mozzarella and wild rocket (although it could always do with a touch more bacon), and the barbecue chicken pizza with ricotta, mozzarella and zucchini flowers both pack a juicy, flavoursome punch. Vegetarian pizza topping combos include pumpkin, ricotta, mozzarella, red onion and rosemary and a classic margherita.

Once you spy a bowl of pasta passing your table, you’ll want some of that too. All pastas are homemade using free-range organic eggs and stone-milled flour, and servings are almost big enough to share. The alfredo features tagliatelle, roast chicken and field mushroom in the creamiest of parmesan creams. And the grass-fed beef bolognese is an unpretentious mound of spaghetti comfort, with all the strands of pasta tossed in sauce.

To end off, where better for a serving of gelato than an Italian restaurant? Choose your three scoops from flavours like vanilla, Belgian chocolate, peanut butter, coffee espresso, pistachio, hazelnut, honeycomb and Seville orange. On warmer days, there’s also a refreshing pomegranate or granadilla sorbet.

Drinks

You’ll find your usual soft drinks, cordials, beers, ciders, spirits and liqueurs on offer at La Stalla. More unusual options can be found under the wine list, with an interesting and relatively affordable selection of local boutique wines. Classic cocktails include a perfectly mixed Aperol spritz, margarita, old fashioned or negroni.

Service

Friendly and fast. You’d expect a slightly longer wait with food being as fresh as it is, but that’s not the case here.

Ambience

The pizza oven to the corner of the open-plan kitchen, around which a section of the first floor of the restaurant is shaped, generates instant warmth – much appreciated in the chilly months. Pasta is served in enamel bowls and napkins are checkered dishcloths, which adds to the general tone of easiness.

And…

This is an industrial-chic pizzeria in one of Melville’s busiest roads, so it’s also ideal for a spot of people watching.

Have you been to La Stalla? Write a review and we’ll feed a hungry child. Do it now.

Eat Out critics dine unannounced and pay their way in full. Read our editorial policy here

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