Acclaimed sommelier-turned-restaurateur Neil Grant has cornered the modern Italian sector of Cape Town restaurants. First was Burrata situated at the Old Biscuit Mill in Woodstock and, after its indisputable success, Grant quickly followed it with a city version named Bocca.
Clearly inspired by the mantra “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it,” not much has changed about Bocca since its opening – neither the menu nor the décor, and this is a good thing. Bocca has carved a loyal following, the trendy Bree Street corner location gets hefty foot traffic and regulars see it as their local meeting place for quick lunches or early convivial dinners.
The contemporary split-level space is designed around a giant pizza oven, which is the restaurant’s calling card and churns out irresistible Neapolitan-style pizzas with sparingly topped thick chewy bases. While the extensive menu boasts traditional plates – such as the slow-roasted pork belly or the house-made rigatoni with lamb meatballs, sugo and parmesan – and exciting tapas morsels are offered in the afternoon, it’s the pizzas that beckon my return.
Pizza lovers are spoilt for choice as they get the option to choose between two classic Italian ways of pizza making – the better known version with tomato base, or the lesser known but equally addictive Bianco, where toppings are placed directly on the base without a tomato base.
For traditionalists who prefer the tomato base, look out for the Di Mare of the Sea. The elastic base is topped with prawns, squid, garlic, coriander and chilli aioli. My other favourite is the Felino bianco topped with gooey mozzarella, Gorgonzola, Kalamata olives, salami and mint pesto. It’s a climactic combination of gooey textures and salty flavours. Now pair this with a light Pinot Noir from the Neil Grant-curated wine list and it’s the closest you’re likely to get to an authentic Mediterranean eating experience in all of Bree Street.
More Mediterranean flavors are celebrated at Bocca, such as the roasted aubergine with goat’s pecorino, smoked chilli oil and basil, and the fried green olives served with an aioli.
In this age of calorie-counting, the idea of desert jars is a clever one. Everyone wants a taste of something sweet to end off a hearty feast without having to contend with a bowl full of pudding. Order a few for the table to share. Be sure the Amaretto passion fruit zabaglione with pears and honeycomb is one of the items ordered – you’ll thank me later.
Having a former sommelier for an owner means the wine list is superbly curated, offering a range of options from well-known reputable farms to lesser known jewels from independent producers. To aid in pairing with your food and mood, the wines are further broken down by profusion of notes and palate weight.
Service is lively, with the staff all well appointed to run between several tables, which becomes a skillful dance during peak hours. A charming manager coupled with a great air of camaraderie amongst the staff means everyone is happy to swoop in and bring you what you may need.
The ambience is lively and cosmopolitan. An approachable and beautifully pared down space with a minimalist use of light wood and linear lines – a modern design approach for an Italian eatery. The upstairs section can get noisy and hot.
The place to be during a balmy summer’s evening is the wood-clad outside deck overlooking the bustling Bree Street/Wale Street intersection.
Eat Out critics dine unannounced and pay for their meals in full. Read our editorial policy here.
Opened during the height of the Bree Street renaissance, Bocca, a split-level restaurant on the corner on Bree and Wale Streets is co-owner and former sommelier-turned restaurateur Neil Grant’s other city restaurant. Fresh, clean lines and a solid menu that hasn’t changed much since opening invites a steady stream of business and pleasure diners through the doors. Classic Neapolitan-style pizzas, with thick chewy bases are a Neil Grant signature (his restaurant Burrata made them famous in Cape Town).
Pizzas here fall in two categories – with and without a tomato base and no topping substitutions are allowed. Opt for the Bandera – chorizo, red pepper, red onion and mozzarella. Bocca is known for its tapas that come in a variety of sizes: small plates or larger plates with sides. The zucchini fries with garlic aioli are consistently good though sometimes greasy. The tuna crudo (the Italian ceviche) with kale, white anchovies, sun dried tomatoes and Kalamata olives spells a kiss from the Mediterranean. The ever-popular crispy pork ribs with chilli are just enough for two to taste. The big plate of succulent grilled sirloin goes well with the creamy polenta. Dessert is on the slim side but the biscotti suit a post-prandial espresso.
A tight but superbly curated wine list, as you would expect from Neil Grant, it’s a showcase for gorgeous South African wines. An affordable Italian Prosecco should get you in a festive mood. Still and sparking water are bottled in-house and charged for.
Service at Bocca is efficient, attentive and consistent. No bookings here so arrive before 7pm.
The fresh wood-clad deck and interior lends the space a mod-Scandi feel and the minimalist design keeps the focus on the food. It does get very crowded at peak times and hot upstairs in summer. Sitting on the deck on a warm windless night is a rare city delight.
There’s a small lunch menu between 12- 3pm of panini and salads that are a quick, healthy option if you’re on the go.
Eat Out critics dine anonymously and pay for their meals in full. Read our editorial policy here.
As with its bigger sister, Burrata, the Neapolitan-style pizzas are a highlight here: the thin, chewy crust ever-so-slightly blackened by the striking 450° oven that dominates the kitchen space. Choose between Bianco (no tomato on the base) or Rosso, with both classic and adventurous options on the menu. The simple Margherita is reliably good, while the Lady Zaza will dazzle your tastebuds with kimchi and ginger pork sausage. Beyond pizza, the menu offers a tempting array of small plates, cleverly divided into how they should be consumed: ‘Spoon’ runs to fried gnocchi with ricotta, and delicious roasted aubergine and pecorino, while the arancini and crisp zucchini fries are all about getting stuck in with ‘Fingers’. Beef carpaccio with grana padano is the standout if you’d prefer ‘Knives and Forks’. While there are ‘Big Plates’ on offer – the bucatini with prawns tossed in a chilli garlic oil is delicious – this is food made for sharing, so gather a group and order plenty.
Owner Neil Grant is a top sommelier, and it shows in this cleverly composed list that categorises each wine according to the broad style it’s made in: aromatic, zesty, full-bodied etc. The list focuses on boutique estates, with a handful of overseas wines to pique your interest. Prices are extremely fair considering the wide selection and excellent stemware.
Casual service matches the hipster Bree Street locale. Waiters could be more confident, but they get the job done.
It’s a sleek and stylish space with Nordic wood offsetting the industrial-chic feel. The ground floor tables and bustling terrace on Bree Street are ideal for people watching, but can feel too busy. If so, rather head for the quiet mezzanine area, where you’ll find sexy booths and counter seating with views into the kitchen.
At lunchtime the delicious paninao sandwiches, stuffed with anything from pork belly to roast butternut, are ideal for a taste of Bocca on the run.
Linda Scarborough and Katharine Jacobs
Tongues began wagging even before construction got underway at Bree Street Italian spot, Bocca. Sister restaurant Burrata took home the award for Best Italian restaurant in 2013, and it’s safe to say that Capetonians were pretty excited to see what sommelier-turned-restaurateur Neil Grant and business partner Barry Engelbrecht would produce next.
We watched in anticipation as builders constructed a clever wooden deck raised above street level, and amazement as that deck filled with chardonnay-swigging Bree Street locals approximately 20 seconds after it opened. (Who are these people and why don’t they have jobs?) Eat Out’s resident gingers, Katharine Jacobs and Linda Scarborough, donned their sunhats and set out for that very deck to find out why it’s drawing such crowds.
A highly recommended starter (in the ‘fingers’ category of the menu) is the dish of delicate, battered zucchini fries, which comes with achingly tasty herb mayo. You could share this, but rather than test the limits of your friendship, just get your own.
The ‘spoons’, ‘small plates’ and ‘large plates’ can be rustic and robust, too: try the crispy pork ribs with chilli and basil, or the meatballs in a fragrant, tangy tomato sauce. The adventurous could order inventive pizzas like the Lady Zaza, topped with kimchi, ginger and pork sausage, but this is some of the best pizza in Cape Town and it’s almost a shame to obscure the flavour of the beautiful crusts that are baked to perfection in a matter of seconds. A simple margherita or the option with prosciutto, mozzarella and rocket gets our vote.
The dessert menu is somewhat brief – and our saffron panna cotta with seed crumble is not quite as delicious as everything else (saffron has a slight hay-like taste that doesn’t work for everyone) – but we’ll be back to try the macaroons, biscotti and dark chocolate and amaretto truffles.
The wine list is expertly constructed – as you might expect from someone with Neil’s background – and well-structured for those of us lacking that kind of training into categories for ‘zesty’, ‘aromatic’ and ‘rich’ whites, and ‘subtle’, ‘medium’ and ‘full’ reds. Options are predominantly local (we fall in love with the Vondeling Babiana), with a couple of Portuguese, Spanish and Italian options (including one prosecco).
The emphasis at this vibey city-bowl location is on sharing, and the set-up works well to encourage this attitude. A few stacked side plates await your arrival on each bare table – unencumbered by fiddly centrepieces or fussy linen – inviting you to stretch across to get a slice of this or spoon of that from your neighbour. The pizzas are served on wooden boards with their own cutting wheels, which is a great little touch – cut your slice any way you like! Outside tables on the deck are perfect for watching Bree Street go by, but if that feels a little too frantic, you can climb the stairs to perch at the counter overlooking the downstairs section, slide into a cosy booth or just grab a table. It can get noisy upstairs, but this is a place for sociable get-togethers after all, so order another glass of wine and turn your volume up a notch.
Service is informal, but well-paced. Neil himself is often present, a fact which helps to ensure a good quality of service and a general feeling of being looked-after.
There’s also a lunch menu with a range of paninos and salads from R48 to R67.