The making of an icon: Magica Roma – where Italian tradition meets South African hospitality

I grew up in the garden city suburb of Pinelands in Cape Town – and it took me all my life to visit its hidden gem: Magica Roma. 

Much like the quiet, often described as sleepy, suburb itself, Magica Roma is unsuspecting. I often frequent Central Square where the restaurant is situated, but more so for the supermarket, even the local fisheries, which is more visible than the traditional Italian eatery.  

But I always knew the fact that I could never find parking couldn’t be for the stores surrounding the restaurant. They close relatively early anyway, as the residents in Pinelands tuck in just after dark. 

When I made my way into the warm Magica Roma for the first time, however, it was buzzing, with a few diners who didn’t make a reservation already waiting when they opened their doors for their dinner service. When you know, you know. 

Magica Roma was opened in the late ’80s by two Italians whose business was to open restaurants and then sell off the shares. Franco Zezia, originally from Brescia in the northern Italian region of Lombardy, bought the first share in 1989, and Ezio De Biaggi, born in Piedmont, Italy, bordering France and Switzerland, joined him in 1993 buying the final share of the original partnership. The two together make up Magica Roma as it is known today. 

I notice how many diners are regulars – with Franco and Ezio greeting every single one of their guests, new and old. 

When asked what they think is the most important thing when it comes to keeping customers happy – and coming back for more – Ezio tells Eat Out:Service, consistency, and creating and maintaining a homely atmosphere where everyone is welcome and embraced like only we Italians can do! 

“We insist on maintaining a delicate balance of importing Italian goods and also harnessing local ingredients for the menu.” 

Franco adds: “It is this honouring of Italian tradition whilst respecting local South African fare that we believe keeps our customers coming back for more. Plus, there is nothing better than being greeted by name, and having one of us indulge a meal that was made especially for you, if requested.” 

“We believe in being involved in every aspect of the restaurant,” Ezio chimes in. “We will always be the first in and the last out.”  

Why sleepy, quiet Pinelands, though, I wonder? 

Ezio explains that it’s that very peacefulness that drew them in – and they wanted to be part of the particularly family-orientated community.  

“We also wanted to create a restaurant that did not need advertising – it relied completely on positive word of mouth, good experiences and a high level of service,” he says, while Franco adds: “We have always believed we are as good as our last table served.”  

At Magica Roma, you’ll immediately feel as though you’ve been transported to “a quaint Italian ristorante”, from the minute you’re greeted by the wonderful Lisa Veck, the restaurant’s hostess, and escorted to your table. But the food! Buono!  

We tucked into the black muscles in cream and garlic before our spaghetti aglio olio e peperoncino (spaghetti, tossed in garlic, olive oil and chilli) arrived. Even the simplest of dishes are elevated at Magica Roma. And the Mediterranean pizza (grilled calamari, chilli and garlic) tasted even better the next morning. 

But my words don’t do justice to all that Franco and Ezio have created in their quiet little corner between the shrubbery of my hometown. 

So I asked them to describe a customer favourite dish. 

“Made up of the Tricolore salad, grilled Mediterranean vegetables topped with grilled baby calamari tubes and Parma ham,” says Ezio, is their “special antipasto platter”. 

“Fondly known to us as the 1,2,3,” he says, “it has no official name, other than perhaps the Ezio or Franco special starter platter. But when customers know, they know.” 

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