The opening of Bocca (meaning ‘mouth’ in Italian) Restaurant on Bree Street was eagerly awaited, having been held up by a last piece of paper to be approved by the City of Cape Town. Three weeks after opening the Italian-style restaurant, seating about 90, is packed to the rafters, doing more than 200 covers per day most days. Following a lunch last week, waiting for a car repair a block away, I enjoyed a special lunch with tastes of a number of the dishes on the Bocca menu on Tuesday. The restaurant had been introduced to me in August already.
I was invited by Five Star PR owner Janie van der Spuy, with freelancer writers Jenny Handley and Bianca Coleman, Mail and Guardian‘s Amit Raz and Brent Meersman, and Katharine Jacobs of Eat Out. We were joined by co-owners Neil Grant and Barry Engelbrecht, who opened Burrata at the Old Biscuit Mill in 2012. Having bought two pizza ovens from Naples when they opened Burrata, it was a long-term plan to open a second pizza restaurant in Cape Town. Pizzas bake at a temperature of up to 485°C. The two owners looked at a number of properties in the city centre, but the unusual venue on the corner of Bree and Wale Streets grew on them, allowing them space to add a mezzanine level, as well as an outside deck, which is already a hit, and attracts attention from passers-by. More space is available if they need more in future. Bocca is the only pizza restaurant on Bree Street. Natural oak wooden slats have been used throughout, from the exterior cladding, to steps into the restaurant, on the deck, and inside the restaurant, on its walls, and serving as banisters on the metal staircase, giving an ‘organic industrial’ look, write the interior designers INHOUSE.
When entering on one’s left, the orange wood-burning pizza oven surrounded by blue tiles, dominates visually, being fed pizzas by the dedicatedpizza staff. On the opposite side of the aisle is the kitchen from which Chef Annemarie Steenkamp prepares the non-pizza dishes, as well as the bar and coffee counter. Neil and Chef Annemarie are at Bocca for the opening period, with Matteo Guidone (right in the photograph below) the new manager of Bocca, who worked on the Residence on the Sea for eight years as Sommelier and Food and Beverage Manager. Steve Swanepoel is a dapper dresser and assists Matteo, getting teased by his colleagues for his stylish jackets and shirts. It is no surprise that his sister is our country’s leading international model Candice.
Neil welcomed us to Bocca, and said that it had taken a while to open, but that they feel that the restaurant is a great addition to Cape Town’s top food street Bree Street. He spoke about First Thursday, their first last week, and they served more than 200 guests that day, having had 60 bookings for dinner alone. They were prepared for the rush, and had ‘borrowed’ some staff from Burrata, to make sure that everything ran smoothly, which it did. They have served more dinner than lunch guests in their first weeks of operation, but Neil is confident that the lunch trade will grow as the staff of businesses close by discover the restaurant. Neil told us that they make their own bottled water, using a bottling system with a filter and adding gas for sparkling water, and is automatically refrigerated, which saves them valuable space, there being little storage space. They charge R15 for a bottle of water. Neil described Burrata as ‘slightly more serious’, relative to the more informal Bocca. Tables have Fortis cutlery, and thick paper napkins.
Matteo explained the menu and food style at Bocca to us as being sharing in a family style, making sure that we did not confuse this with tapas, a food style they emphasise they are not serving. Interesting is that they don’t slice the pizzas before sending them to the table, but they are served with a pizza slicing wheel which adds a touch of chic to the pizza board on which they are served. Pizza ingredient changes are not encouraged, as is the case at Burrata. It serves laid-back yet serious food. Barry is the pizza specialist and pizza passionate, having studied pizza-making in New York and Naples. He told us that they use wooden boxes to ferment their dough at 17°C, instead of plastic boards which they use at Burrata. He said they have come up with more ‘crazy combinations’ for the pizzas, which were conceptualised as a team effort.
We ate upstairs in the mezzanine level, and Matteo looked after us almost exclusively, bringing water, drinks, and the food, explaining it as he brought it, sometimes too fast for those of us taking notes. Chef Annemarie and her team in the open plan kitchen prepared various tastes for us to share, taken from the Bocca menu. Our first platter was ‘Finger Food’, which allows one to eat it by hand: Arancini (fried risotto) with aioli costing R48, and zucchini fries drizzled with herb mayonnaise (R30). Other Finger Food is Bruschetta with chorizo and cannelinni beans (R68), and lamb balls with marinara sauce (R59), as well as olives (R37), and a salumi (Italian cold cuts) platter (R110). In the Spoons section bowls of West Coast mussels (R79), orecchiette with peas, pancetta, ricotta, and mint oil (R65); and roasted aubergine with pecorino, basil and smoked chili oil (R49), are available, as is the ‘Spoon Food’ of spinach and artichoke risotto with vodka stracciatelle (R66), which was included on our platter, and was on the salty side.
On the menu the ‘Knives & Forks‘ section includes crispy pork ribs with chili and basil (R58), and tuna crudo with kale, olives, white anchovies, and semi-dried tomatoes (R56), which were served on a separate platter with lamb meatballs from the ‘Fingers’ section, offered with a light flatbread. The ‘Knives & Forks‘ section also offers beef carpaccio (R67), and cos lettuce salad (R65).
Two pizzas were brought to the table. In the Bianco section (no tomato base) seven options are available, and we tasted the Viola e Verde, with mozzarella, radicchio, capers, red onion, and provolone, an attractive-looking and tasty pizza (R75). Pizzas cost up to R118 in this section. There are seven Rosso pizzas, with a tomato base, and range in price from R69 – R118. We tasted the Lady Zaza pizza (the name was not explained!), with is made with kimchi, ginger, pork sausage, spring onions, and sesame seeds. Last week I ordered ‘The Commercial‘, with mozzarella, bacon, avocado, and feta (right), which was disappointing and was not completely covered with ingredients as I had been used to at Burrata (R75).
The highlight of our lunch was the most amazing grass-fed beef sirloin (400g) at R166, so good that I had a second slice. Chef Annemarie sent two of her side dishes, including wood-oven-roasted tomatoes, as well as the most delicious dish of butternut purée served with slices of baby-soft butternut. The steak is in the ‘Big Plates‘ section, which also include pork belly (R142), Bucatini with tomato sauce and Grana padano cheese (R96), home-made tagliatelle with prawns (R118), and rigatoni with pork sausage ragu (R104). The meat comes from Ryan Boon, and Neil emphasised that they are not prepared to compromise quality.
Last week I ordered a salad which sounded like a Caprese, with mozzarella, tomatoes, and basil, but I had not read the description of the heading, which said something about rabbit-food, but it did not warn me that the salad had more greenery than Caprese ingrdients (R65).
In sitting next to Neil, I got a feeling of how a smart restaurant owner operates. He could see the entrance to the restaurant from where he was sitting, and would call Matteo over regularly, informing him who the arriving patrons were and how they link to Neil (past patrons of Rust en Vrede or current patrons of Burrata), which must make an excellent impression on the arriving (unbooked) patrons. Neil is like an encyclopedia of his patrons’ likes and dislikes, recognising faces and knowing the names of his patrons, and knowing what they like.
To end the meal we had their unusual ‘Dessert Jars’, which contain hazelnut and cranberry biscotti, macaroons filled with ganache, and dark chocolate truffles which had been rolled in mixed nut shards. Prices range from R26 – R42. The dry cappuccino was perfect.
The winelist has imported San Leo Prosecco Brut (R50/R240), as well as Kleine Zalze Vintage Brut 2009 (R300), and Klein Optenhorst Rose MCC 2012, made by Pieter Ferreira (R350). The white wines are segregated by style (‘zesty‘ and ‘rich‘) as well as a ‘Rose’ section. Red wines are segregated by ‘Light’, ‘Medium’, and ‘Full’. Vintage and origin information is provided, and a number of the wines on the list are lesser-known.
After a broader introduction to the dishes on Tuesday, I was far happier, compared to my visit last week, when I clearly had ordered the wrong dishes. The sirloin is superb, and the pork belly good, so I will go back for those two dishes. The pizza combinations sound interesting and creative, and it will be worth testing some more of them.
POSTSCRIPT 14/11: The very proactive PR consultant Janie van der Spuy checked where the name of the Lady Zaza pizza came from – it was named by Barry as a ‘great, sexy, spicy sounding name with a great ring to it‘!
Bocca, corner Bree and Wale Streets, Cape Town. Tel (021) 422-0188 www.bocca.co.za Twitter: @BoccaCT Monday – Saturday lunch and dinner, from 12h00.