The authentic tastes of Italy take centre stage in this homely restaurant. Food heaven among the starters include the melanzane parmigiana (layers of brinjal, Napoletana sauce and mozzarella cheese baked in a wood-fire oven); sliced wild Boletus mushrooms sautéed in olive oil, garlic and parsley; artichokes baked in the wood-fired oven with parmesan cheese and garlic; and grilled Patagonian calamari tubes and tentacles seasoned with garlic and fresh lemon for a sea freshness and saltiness, leaving the senses calling for another serving.
Pasta dishes cover the gamut and are rich, soul-embracing dishes dripping with cheese, tomato, garlic and fresh herbs or creamy white sauces. The pizzas are thin-based slices of pleasure – the dough is crisp and fresh, the toppings equally fresh, and the combinations delicately balance salty and savoury, with opulent lashings of cheese. The prawns served with the marina pizza deliver on the expectation for fleshy plumpness, while the inclusion of artichokes on several options will throw the undecided into angst.
The Natal pizza – topped with ham, prawns, chilli and banana – pays homage to local cuisine amid the more common Italian homage of Napoletana, Veneziana, tre colore and capone.
Fresh whole fish and seafood, baby chicken, veal and meat dishes round out the dining options.
There are also five children’s dishes on the menu strictly for patrons under 12 years old and dinner can be concluded with tiramisu, cheesecake, Italian kisses or cassata for the holistic Italian experience.
The comprehensive wine list covers South Africa’s outstanding wine industry from the smaller boutique producers to the mass market options known to the majority. Mark-ups are on the heavier side, but there is a wide selection of wines by the glass. The restaurant also supports local innovation, retailing the Poison City Brewing craft beers, and there’s a selection of after-dinner drinks for those squeezing the last moments out of an outstanding evening.
From the welcome on arrival to the friendly but not overbearing attention and willingness of the waiters to the final farewell, service is handled with professional slickness.
Designed to flow seamlessly between the outdoors and inside, the ambience in Al Firenze suits the tropical heat of Durban. Tables are widely spaced for intimacy even in a large restaurant and there’s an area that can potentially be booked out for a private function.
A romantic dining experience on a special occasion that blows the budget or a gathering of family and friends.
Eat Out critics dine unannounced and pay for their meals in full. Read our full editorial policy here.
For many, this is a favourite for special occasions. Plus regulars abound, drawn by the Italian-style café’s upscale-casual neighbourhood vibe, stellar reputation and perpetually good food. It’s unlikely you’ll find a buzzier or livelier eatery anywhere in Durban than lunchtime here on a Sunday.
Tempting starter options include the luscious and flavourful roasted brinjal slices marinated in olive oil, vinegar, garlic and a touch of chilli; the plump and juicy mussels steamed with garlic, fresh herbs and creamy white wine sauce; the exotic trifolati mushroom dish comprising three different varieties, sliced and sautéed to succulent perfection in olive oil, garlic and parsley; and the juicy and nicely chewy octopus, oh-so-tasty and garlicky baked with olive oil, olives, fresh herbs and peppers. Ask and you might be told the secret of the tenderness of the octopus: they pop a wine cork in the water while simmering it.
There’s a good selection of salads and soups that will make vegetarian diners happy. In fact, “V” options are sprinkled throughout the menu, including classic Italian pasta dishes and thin-based pizza options, many of which are tweaked with creative flair.
If you opt for a seafood platter and you’re having a couple of starters first, you might be advised that a platter for one is ample for two people. Expect the linefish of the day, juicy queen prawns, plump langoustines, tender garlicky calamari, and firm and flavourful mussels and clams. All are prepared with olive oil and infused with garlic and herbs. They’re served on a bed of rice and are finger-sucking fabulous.
Meat-lovers will likely be happy to bite into the tender grilled fillet with creamy balsamic vinegar and Parma ham, or the thinly sliced prime rump topped with fresh rocket and Parmigiano shavings.
The dessert stand-out is their classic Italian house-made tiramisu, sublimely light and ambrosial with its layerings of mascarpone cheese, biscuit and espresso.
Wines are well-chosen and include several easy-on-the-pocket South African favourites and also some imported varietals. Corkage is R40.
Efficient, no-nonsense and runs like a well-oiled machine when the place is busy. Expect the friendly restaurant manager to willingly make suggestions and answer questions.
The restaurant is difficult to find if you don’t have clear directions. A few streets up from La Lucia mall, this red-checked tablecloth tratorria is often abuzz with family, friends and conviviality. Tables spill out onto an open verandah.
There is a “Bambino” menu for children aged 12 and younger. This offers a choice of three pastas, three pizzas or crumbed chicken strips and chips. Junior portions for junior prices.
Eat Out critics dine anonymously and pay for their meals in full. Read our editorial policy here.