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James Diack’s new Parktown North eatery, Il Contadino – reviewed

Il Contadino is the fourth of chef James Diack’s restaurants. Though one door away from The National, it looks and behaves very differently. The idea here is for less expensive, healthy and appealing eating. Diack’s rustic food is inspired by his travels in north-east Italy and the countrysides of Spain and France. Also important: Il Contadino everything is sustainable, seasonal, and has a traceable provenance.

The Caprese. Photo by Steve The Joburg Foodie.

Fast facts

Serves: Farm-inspired sustainable food
Best for: Hearty, more casual meals from morning to night
Cost: R145 average main course
Star ratings: Food and drinks 5, service: 5, ambience 3

Chorizo, eggs and cherry tomatoes at Il Contadino. Photo supplied.

Food

Oh, if only breakfasts could always be the rustic sort! Make hay while the sun shines here with golden-yolked eggs, bacon from the boars on the farm, freshly baked artisanal breads and croissants with farm butter. Also noteworthy are the pumpkin pancakes with burnt-sage butter and farm ricotta.

Wild boar ragu with papardelle. Photo supplied.

For day and evening meals, the eight or so starters will change, but hope you get to try the life-changing chervil sauce. It accompanies two pecorino-and-goat’s cheese soufflés. The dish that most impresses though is the spring onions wrapped in bacon and served with confit beef cheek, crispy trotters, and fine leek ‘hay’. The homemade gnocchi is extraordinary, with tomato mixed into the potato dough. The pesto bursts with freshness and flavour, as well as the confit tomatoes. It’s all served with local buffalo mozzarella. The pasta comes from its own section on the menu and exciting salads are seen on neighbouring tables.

Butter glazed sirloin with asparagus and parmesan risotto. Photo supplied.

The five mains will change too, so rush for the roasted pork belly that comes with an aniseed-spiked pear, deliciously tasty carrots glazed in sherry, the famous duck-fat fried potatoes and a fresh fennel salad. Another dish off the pasta part of the menu contains the most perfect ravioli, enveloping deeply tasty ossobuco.

The duck deserves high praise too – the confit thigh especially, but the slices of breast are good as well. It comes on a bed of truffle-infused parsnip mash with wild mushrooms; a mange tout and citrus-juice salad; and bitter-sweet naartjie pieces.

Woodfired heirloom pumpkin with pan fired oyster mushrooms sumac red onion bulgar wheat with nutmeg parsley cream. Photo supplied.

On the menu is also a selection of six thin-based pizzas and there are some other wood-fired dishes, including short ribs and a delicious-looking vegetarian dish. Though the menu is nice and short, there are also quite a few vegetarian options, thanks to the prominence of farm-grown supplies.

You may fall into the same trap of trying the homemade gelatos (with flavours like mulberry-and-basil or fig-and-ginger) and forgetting about the actual desserts. However, lemon-and-vanilla tart is unforgettable. Else try the dark-chocolate and citrus-zest beignets stuffed with ricotta.

The pâte grand mére with farm bread, mulberry chutney and truffle dressed micro salad. Photo supplied.

Drinks

After you’ve torn yourself away from the Aperol Spritzes and Black Jack beers on tap, there’s a wealth of interesting wines. If you’ve grown bored of sauvignon blanc, try the Trizanne version. And if you never touch red blends, look beyond the oddly amateurish label of the Swartland Kedungu and get a grasp on the magical mouvedre-cinsaut. Many wines can be had by the glass.

The rustic interior at Il Contadino. Photo supplied.

Service

Diack’s restaurants are always over-staffed and at Il Contadino everyone on the floor is well-trained and interested in your experience. Malcolm Rutstatsa is hard to beat. He’s the ultimate service wizard and adviser of the most interesting wines to pair with the dishes.

Situated on a busy corner, Il Contadino has both indoor and outdoor seating. Photo supplied.

Ambience

The food may be rustic and hearty in style, but it is very appealingly presented. The way it looks is how it tastes – treated with impressive care.

There is outdoor and indoor seating. Inside you’ll get a great view of head chef Rausharn Griffin and his team at work in the open kitchen. James Diack’s mom, an arty farmer herself, is responsible for the décor. The napkins are tea towels and the plates are those highly collectable enamel ones with stencil patterns. The tables and chairs are intended to look rustic, as is the bar suspended on chains. The restaurant is on a great but very busy corner, so it isn’t necessarily a quiet getaway.

The coq au vin breasied with white wine, pearl onions and black pepper mash. Photo supplied.

And…

The attention to detail and celebration of natural profound flavours is astonishing and sure to lure you back.

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

The farmer’s board with fresh meat and local cheeses. Photo supplied.

 

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