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.
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