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.