What a joy it is to dine at such a wonderful, easygoing establishment where the food is so comforting! Mastrantonio’s menu never disappoints. You can tell by the packed restaurant, filled with businesspeople and regulars. Tucked away in the top of a small Illovo shopping center, this hidden gem serves food that never ceases to tantalise the palate. Every item on the menu is inspired by classical Italian roots, using only the freshest ingredients. These include tender pasta pockets of panzerotti stuffed with roasted butternut and served with your choice of sauce; hand-rolled gnocchi with classic Napolitano sauce; and crispy squid heads and porcini (when in season), sautéed in butter and herbs.
Perfectly prepared risottos are a testimony to the exceptional skills of the establishment; the delicate saffron-and-prawn version should not be missed. For meat lovers, the crumbed veal chops or classic Florentine steak (prime rib), topped with herbs and garlic, is just mouthwatering.
Traditional desserts are a perfect ending to the experience. Try classic tiramisu or profiteroles filled with custard and topped with a hot-chocolate sauce – all made in-house and totally delicious.
The wine list is of a reasonable size, with a suitable selection of local and international red and white wines within most budgets. There’s also a good selection of beers and spirits.
Staff on the floor are always kind, friendly and helpful. They move around with great efficiency and purpose. Managers and owners are ever-present, ensuring you have a seamless experience. Booking is recommended.
The cosy restaurant has an authentic trattoria feel, with black-and-white pictures dotting the walls, crisp white tablecloths and well-appointed cutlery.
If you're curious about the workings of a professional kitchen, walk past the floor-to-ceiling windows running along an entire wall of Mastrantonio’s kitchen, and watch the chefs do their thing.
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Anyone with some curiosity about the workings of a professional kitchen can walk past the floor to ceiling windows running along an entire wall of Mastrantonio’s kitchen and watch the chefs doing their thing in the immaculate kitchen. Once inside, be sure to order a starter of crunchy, deep-fried squid heads in a quirky, retro brown paper cone. The Melanzane alla Parmigiana, served piping hot straight from the oven in an old-fashioned oval dish, further enforces the claim that good ingredients need the minimum intervention to be at their very best. A smartly constructed mozzarella roulade – a modern interpretation of a Caprese salad – presents tomato, rocket and avocado, rolled in sheets of mozzarella and sliced. Bistecca alla Fiorentina is a classic prime rib steak grilled – to perfection – with rosemary. A penne dish of tomato and vodka makes one yearn for more, and for those on a low-carb or no-carb regime, they offer a dish of linguine cut from fresh zucchini, served with a simple tomato sauce. Those who love good meat should not forego the rack of veal, cut into small, beautifully Frenched cutlets. To end a superb Italian meal on a traditional note, do not forego the profiteroles, panna cotta with berries or tiramisu. Mastrantonio has tapped into the huge market providing high-end food in the corporate environment. However one wants to view this development within the hospitality industry, this is one of the best examples of good old fashioned continental hospitality, and people that know how to entertain guests and make them feel that every cent spent there is worth it.
One would expect no less from such a high end Italian restaurant than two full pages filled with speciality Italian wines organised by region or province. In addition, there is a varied selection of single varietal wines from South Africa, including a few traditional Italian varietals made by SA wineries such as Sangiovese, Nebbiolo or Barbera. And for those who enjoy a cappuccino after the evening meal, they are as perfect as one would find them anywhere in Italy.
The bread basket, containing a selection of delicious breads baked on the premises (an amazing rosemary crisp bread that is tasty, flavoursome and thin as paper; ciabatta and olive bread) arrives at the table swiftly after arrival. Service at this branch of the Mastrantonio brand is confident, elegant and delivered with no-nonsense professionalism. Waiters are able to give details about the specials of the day as if they were personally in charge of the development and preparation of the dishes. Here the attitude is that one arrives as a customer, but leaves as a friend.
As Mastrantonio is one of a number of high-end businesses in a relatively small centre, it is no wonder that there is a round table topped with a fresh flower arrangement in the passage leading to the parking lot, and elegant white canvas blinds provide protection from the sun during the day. The restaurant is divided into various areas, some slightly more formal and a bit more private than others, while there is a large informal area at the entrance, flanked by shelves filed with Italian products. Pale cream walls and a few period black-and-white photos in black frames further sets the tone for a suitably smart but never stuffy restaurant.
They encourage patrons to take a stroll into their walk-in wine cellar to investigate wines not on the wine list. – Hennie Fisher
Do not expect standard Italian café food here. A rack of lamb is brought to the table on a white oval plate, looking like the lambs were purposely sourced to fit the size of the plate – about eight or ten neatly trimmed tiny rib bones with a perfectly cooked round of loin attached, served with beautifully prepared vegetables. (The seasonal selection may include beans, carrots and baby beetroot.)
A clear chicken broth, tortellini in brodo, takes 30 minutes to prepare; one should therefore be prepared to relax and enjoy a meal here to experience the authenticity. Other menu options include beef carpaccio, prosciutto and melon, and a fish carpaccio prepared from the fresh line-fish of the day and served with avocado, red onion and a vinaigrette.
Another dish that comes with a slight twist is the most amazing buffalo mozzarella – as fresh as if it was made a few hours ago in some Italian village and served au naturel with a few leaves, cocktail tomatoes and some avocado. Melanzane alla parmigiana – that lovely traditional warm eggplant starter – is done to utter perfection. Of course, there's a range of pastas and risottos (the saffron and prawn seems particularly popular) and a whole range of great Italian salads: Caprese, panzanella, fantasia and rustica, to name a few.
For dessert one would be hard pressed to find a better crème brûlée in Johannesburg, but other options include Italian crêpes or perhaps something slightly healthier – strawberries in port sauce.
There's an expertly compiled and extremely well priced wine list, obviously aimed at encouraging patrons to enjoy the evening and share more than one bottle of wine. Represented producers include Babylonstoren, Villiera, De Morgenzon, Nitida and Pecan Stream. There are a few international bottles thrown into the mix, as well as some super examples of wines made here in South Africa from Italian varietals, such as Idiom’s Sangiovese, Nebbiolo and Barbera.
Mduduzi Ndlovu, who greets everyone with a hearty ‘buona sera’ on arrival, and his service team make everything they do seem effortless. They deal as efficiently and faultlessly with a packed restaurant as they would if there were only two people dining. Water and bread appears almost as soon as you’ve been seated – the breadbasket containing beautiful dense olive bread, some ciabatta, totally addictive rosemary crisp-bread, and a little pot of butter covered with a round of greaseproof paper.
The restaurant is located on the first floor of the Illovo Square Centre and overlooks a central courtyard surrounded by high-end shops. The interior is elegantly simple with soft cream walls and a few Italian décor items. Quality dining-room furniture, terracotta floor tiles, smart crockery, starched napery and a general air of sophistication make for a very ‘grown-up’ restaurant.
There is a slightly more informal section adjoining the bar counter, but altogether the ambience is gracious. If you park at the back of the restaurant, you’re bound to catch a glimpse into the kitchen through the floor to ceiling glass windows/doors. It’s not many establishments that will have their kitchen open for such public scrutiny. It is a regimentally tidy, spotlessly clean and organised environment that any patron should feel totally happy to eat from.
This is one of those well-known secrets (despite its 18 years in business), the whereabouts of which the who’s who of Johannesburg’s business and social sets will hold close to their chests. It’s a convivial restaurant that, even though it probably seats 80+ people, manages to feel smart and still allows for some privacy. The space fills up quickly but service remains gracious and amicable.
A great Italian treat. A must visit.
We have been struggling for the last year to find a good restaurant in Johannesburg. We were gifted the Rossouw's restaurants guide 2012, so decided to give Mastrantonio a tr y- it has a 2 and a half star out of 3 rating.
I have one word - outstanding! We were greeted by the very friendly and happy staff. From start to finish it was an absolute pleasure. We had the two specials, Alaskan Crab Linguini & Grilled veal chop, they were delicious, tasty, served with a dash of speed. We savoured the flavours with smiles on our dials.
To finish off the meal, we did the dessert tester, might I just add, my husband is a serious food fundi and crit. The Creme Brulee was perfecto!
Thank you so much for restoring our faith in eating out again. We recommend you to everyone!