“In Italy, if you put cheese on the fish, the police will put you in prison,” Giorgio Nava reputedly told fellow guests at his table at the 2011 Eat Out DStv Food Network Restaurant Awards. Later that night, Giorgio won the award for Best Italian Restaurant, for his restaurant 95 Keerom.
Italian food, after all, is about simplicity: beautiful meat, the freshest tomatoes and the perfect mozzarella. To help you find your pasta nirvana, here is our shortlist for the best Italian restaurants in the country.
Try: Lasagne di asparagi e brie, a homemade lasagne with fresh asparagus, brie, Parmasan and bechamel sauce.
Try: Veal ravioli with porcini mushrooms
Price: R120 – R150.
Ciao Baby Cucina
Try: Pasta scoglio, made with prawns, mussels, clams and calamari cooked with white wine, chilli and tomato and then baked in the oven.
Try: Scallopine di collo con verdure, a dish of chicken scaloppine flash-fried in garlic and butter, served on al dente mixed greens with a dash of lemon, and then topped with basil pesto and fresh pea tendrils.
La Cucina di Ciro
Try: Fresh fettuccine with wild porcini.
Try: The menu changes seasonally, but pasta remains the most popular dish. Choose from sauces with porcini mushrooms, artichokes or pesto.
Price: Ranging between R80 and R120.
Try: Salmone scottato con crème di limone a capperi. (Seared salmon in lemon caper cream.)
Try: Lumacone, a dish of pasta shells stuffed with veal, spinach, ricotta and mushrooms, then baked under a mozzarella and Parmesan blanket.
Try: Bocconcini alla Romana, a dish of veal slices topped with grilled mozzarella and Parma ham.
Try: Gamberi alla padella, eight prawns smothered in pan-fried sauce.
Try: Cacciucco, a traditional seafood soup from the town of Livorno.
Price: R130 for full portion.
Try: prawn and vongole (clams) linguine made with four prawns, clams, chilli and cream.
Try: Pork fillet escallops with saltimbocca, Parma ham, provolone or chardonnay risotto.
Try: Chopped bacon, marinated peppers, a dash of cream and chilli, cooked in Mamma’s tomato-based sauce.
Try: Pescatore, a pasta dish made with calamari, red peppers, cream and Napolitano sauce.
Try: Butternut and ricotta ravioli with sage butter.
Try: Tagliolini ai Fungi e Tartufo, handmade tagliolini tossed with marinated and wild mushrooms, with fresh rocket and white wine, then topped with truffle oil and Parmigiano Reggiano.
Try: Grilled medallions of beef fillet with oven roasted tomato, rocket and a honey mustard cream sauce.
Try: Pasta con ricci, sea urchin raw pasta.
Il Leone Mastrantonio
Try: Prawn pasta. It’s not on the menu, but they serve it every day so just ask for it. Shelled prawns sautéed in chilli, garlic and white wine. Tossed with cherry tomatoes, fresh rocket and roasted pine nuts. Served with linguine.
Try: Saltimbocca, a dish of veal topped with Parma ham and sage, fried in butter with white wine. Served with spaghetti, olive oil, garlic, chili and parsley.
Try: Medallion of beef Magica Roma. Medallion of beef fillet with mozzarella, garlic and soy gravy.
Try: the burrata (mozzarella stuffed with fresh cream) with roasted peppers, bagna cauda (a Piemontese sauce made with butter, oil, garlic & anchovies) and home-made soft foccacia.
Try: spaghetti scoglio in Carta Fata, a spaghetti dish made with mixed seafood, fresh cherry tomatoes and chilli and placed in an imported paper wrapping (Carta Fata).
Try: Spaghetti vongole, a dish of clams with a touch of garlic and olive oil served with spaghetti.
Grazia Fine Foods
Try: Vitello al limone, a dish of veal in lemon juice.
Try: Homemade tagliatelle with gorgonzola cheese, prawns and leek sauce.
Try: Pizza al fresco, an olive oil-based pizza topped with mozzarella, cherry tomatoes, rocket, Parma ham and fresh grated parmesan.
Price: R79 for a single serving size.
Try: Fish Enrico, an old Italian recipe of whole fish baked with olive oil, garlic, white wine, herbs and passion (according to Enrico himself).
Try: Stuffed whole artichokes with portabellini mushrooms and goat’s cheese, baked in the oven and served with fresh chef’s salad.
Cucina da Giovanni
Try: Veal piccata, a dish of veal in mushroom and cream sauce.
Pane e Vino
Try: Spaghetti alla carbonara, a dish from Rome prepared in the traditional way, with real Romano pecorino cheese.
By Katharine Jacobs, Kelly Pluke and Adel Groenewald
Haven’t seen the full list of winners yet? Click here.