A full house on a rainy Tuesday in winter is powerful evidence that a restaurant must be doing something/ a lot right. And what Il Leone does about as well as any restaurant in Cape Town is serve good size portions of authentic-seeming food at a favourable value-to-price ratio. That’s why so many diners walk out determined to visit again and to tell friends and colleagues about the experience. The menu is large and contains most of what punters would expect from an Italian restaurant. The meat and fish carpaccio starters are generally excellent, as are the bruschetta and fried calamari. The Caprese is notable for a better quality mozzarella than is usually the case in franchised restaurants. There is a lengthy selection of short, long and filled pastas, with the linguini Portofino – prawns, cherry tomatoes, rocket and pine nuts in a white wine, olive oil, garlic and chili sauce – being a particular favourite. There is also a bounteous selection of fish, chicken and meat mains – with the veal dishes exciting particular approval. The tiramisu and crème caramel are both made on the premises and both finish the meal with not-to-sweet aplomb.
The wine list is extensive and interesting. There’s a good selection of Italian wines as well as some South African rarities at fairly elevated prices. The selection offered by the glass is a little uninspired, though.
The staff are all well-trained and very personable, always watchful for the need to top up a glass or clear a plate.
Il Leone is almost always full, and so pulses with energy and conversation. Décor is simple and stylish and the for sale paintings on the walls add visual interest.
There is a good selection of aperitifs and digestifs to enjoy at the bar if you want to prolong the evening.
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You’ll get all the popular Italian classics at this vibey Green Point eatery, and generally well-prepared. They are renowned for their carpaccio di pesce made from whatever available fish is freshest. It’s very good, as is the Parma ham with spanspek which is served with an (over-)generous portion of rocket. A criticism, though, is the coarseness of the presentation – it doesn’t always match the quality of the food on the plate. A case in point is the panzotti – a very tasty pasta parcel with artichoke and risotto – swims rather unattractively in an excess of butter and sage sauce.
Another one of the specialties of the house is the linguine Portofino – perfectly cooked pasta smothered by a scrumptious mélange of prawns, cherry tomatoes and pine nuts in a chilli, garlic and white wine sauce. It all hangs together perfectly. There’s short and long pasta, open and closed; with all the traditional fillings.
There’s also no shortage of options for the non-pasta community. Fish of the day, chicken breast done various ways, and veal, lamb and beef done as you would expect. The grilled veal rack is legendary. For the gargantuan appetite, the 700g Costata alla Fiorentina awaits. Tiramisu provides a satisfactorily traditional end to the meal.
There is a decent selection of local and imported wines available. It would be interesting if there were a greater effort made in sourcing the increasing number of wines made locally from traditional Italian varieties. More wines by the glass would also be welcome.
The waiters are generally well-trained and hospitable.
It has an intimate feel despite an upstairs and downstairs sprawl. Tables are spaced sufficiently apart to allow easy conversation despite the convivial hubbub. The ‘for sale’ paintings on the wall add a bright touch.
Use the opportunity to explore the world of grappa. There are some very good examples behind the bar.
Eat Out reviewers dine anonymously and pay for their meals in full. Click here to read our editorial policy.