It may be located on the Mother City’s hottest restaurant strip – Bree Street – but with low lighting and stylish, understated signage, Palma is easy to miss after dark. But walk a block or so down from Orphanage, and you’ll find an authentic new Italian spot, run by a family from Portofino. Palma is the child of mother (or rather ‘mama’) restaurant Palma in the Santa Margherita Ligure in Genoa, and as such serves up a Ligurian menu of pastas, poultry, red meat and fish.
The concise, considered menu is prepared by bona fide Italians. Appetisers are large: the melanzane alla parmigiana is tasty with sweet, tomatoey sauce that’s balanced by a sprinkling of parmesan. The carpaccio di manzo – beef carpaccio, plenty of rocket, tomatoes and parmesan – is a lighter and more subtle way to start.
As in Italy, the pasta dishes are offered as a second course, and are worth pausing for. The tagliatelle palma is a bowl of broad tagliatelle cooked satisfyingly al dente, in a rich tomato and basil sauce with red wine, beef sausages and glorious, salty olives.
There are just four mains: langoustines in a beautiful lemon and white wine sauce (a tad pricey for R180); breaded veal, which has great depth of flavour but is actually incredibly simple, served just with a squeeze of lemon; chicken breasts in olive oil and balsamic; and a platter of grilled meat and veggies served on a hot stone.
The desserts are spectacular. The large chocolate mousse is very slightly granular with real chocolate, and the panna cotta is beautifully light and creamy, sweetened with a drizzle of syrup.
This is not your neighbourhood trattoria; prices are perhaps more suited to a special occasion than a weeknight supper.
Staff are charming and largely Italian. We’re here during a load shedding blackout, but the staff handle the darkness with grace, even though it’s hard for them to see whether their tables have finished dining and might require something.
Kick off with an Aperol spritz – the sour orange Italian spirit is beautiful and refreshing blended with prosecco – or opt for a Rossini, a cocktail of strawberries with prosecco. The wine list is concise – just five whites, five reds, three rosés and some bubbles – but there are decent quality options like Tokara chardonnay and Diemersdal pinotage available by the glass. Four Italian wines are also available for a slight premium. Finish the meal with a tot of limoncello or a fortifying shot of grappa.
Outdoor tables, which spill out onto a quieter section of Bree Street, are lovely in the evenings. The interior, with charcoal walls and oversized but dim light bulbs, is rather dark, but very stylish. Separate rooms break up the interior space, helping to create an intimate feeling. It could work as a spot for a meal with friends, or date night with someone you already know very well. (The atmosphere is perhaps a little intense for a first date!)
They stay open during load shedding, offering most menu items save for fries, which aren’t prepared on the gas oven. They’re also open for lunch on Tuesdays and Fridays.