The opening of Burrata at the Old Biscuit Mill (in the previous B-Lounge) at the beginning of the month had been eagerly awaited, with its owner Neil Grant coming from 2011 Eat Out Top 10 Restaurant Rust en Vrede (he was the sommelier when he ran the restaurant with chef David Higgs).  Burrata is not a pizzeria, and it’s not an Italian restaurant, and not all its dishes contain Burrata mozzarella! It is a unique, friendly, and welcoming restaurant, which with its neighbours The Pot Luck Club and The Test Kitchen make the Old Biscuit Mill and Woodstock an increasingly exciting restaurant destination.

At night, most of the restaurant is not brightly lit, and therefore the red pizza oven imported from Naples catches one’s eye immediately.  It is unlike any pizza oven seen locally, with a more modern design, weighing 2,6 tons, and having necessitated the widening of the doors to get it inside the restaurant.  It is lower in size, concentrating and therefore intensifying the heat inside the oven, at about 460°C.  Logs are stored inside the black-tiled pizza oven stand, as well as against a window in another section of the restaurant, creating an interesting circular design effect, letting in light from outside, but giving diners inside some privacy. The pizzaiolo, one of the new names I learnt, being the male pizza makers, use peels imported from Italy: the loading peel is used to stretch the pizza, to create the correct shape and to place it in the oven; the turning peel turns the pizza around once it is in the oven, to ensure that the pizza is equally cooked, explained Cameron.  Burrata backer Barry Engelbrecht is a pizza aficionado, and has attended pizza-making courses around the world, and he trained the staff in pizza-making, none of them having come from a pizza restaurant.  Interesting were the wine bottle lights, with LED lighting inside, which Neil had made from a design he had seen overseas.

Mozzarella, and the Burrata (a mozzarella which is shaped into a pouch filled with left-over bits of mozzarella and cream), are sourced from local Italian-owned Puglia Cheese, the cuputo pizza flour and tinned tomatoes are imported from Italy, the prosciutto comes from a  Johannesburg supplier and Neil Jewell in Franschhoek, and other ingredients are sourced from the Wild Peacock Food Emporium in Stellenbosch. The pork belly came from Sachs butchery.

The red pizza oven creates the decor colour foundation, and the use of red and black extends into the staff uniforms, Maxwell Williams salt and pepper grinders, material serviettes into which the Forum cutlery is rolled, the sugar bowls, and on the menu and winelist covers.  Beautiful Italian Luigi Bormioli glasses made in Parma enhance the special wines served. A red meat slicer has a place of honour inside the restaurant.  The kitchen is open plan, behind glass, and visible to diners.  There seemed to be a large staff complement, almost as many staff as diners.  A charming front-of-house hostess is Swiss national Isabella Immenkamp, who was a sommelier at the Grande Roche previously (her partner Joakim Hansi Blackadder recently won the Bollinger Sommelier competition, and has taken Neil’s job at Rust en Vrede).  She was very attentive, and European in her service delivery.  Neil came to the table regularly, almost timed to coincide with a next question I had! Chef Annemarie Steenkamp comes from Le Quartier Français, where she spent five years.

The menu and winelist are each bound in fine Burrata branded black leather, printed on quality paper, with the striking red Burrata branding.  Starters start at R28 for olives marinated with oregano, garlic and chilli, peaking at R125 for a shared antipasti platter served with pizza bread.  My son ordered  bruschetta with prosciutto, rocket and grated walnut (R58), and the two slices were generously covered with the ham.  Puglia burrata is served with olive oil, oryx desert salt with crostini (R55).  The four pasta options are unusual, and range in cost from R78 (fried auricchio gnocchi with peas, fine beans, green olives and baby spinach) – R98 (pappardelle slow cooked short rib, roasted red pepper and crispy onion).  Five main courses include risotto with caramelised onions, bone marrow, and lemon (R68), pan seared line fish (R125), roasted rib eye (R135), chicken polpette (R84), and the most tender Tuscan-spiced braised pork belly with butter roasted cauliflower and glazed brussel sprouts (R115), but which did not overwhelm me, from its lack of colour and taste.

Pizzas make up almost half the menu.  They are introduced as follows: ‘at Burrata, we strive to create the best possible neapolitan style pizza.  this style of pizza has a puffy, flame blackened crust with a light crispness.  we use only the the very best quality ingredients including flour and tomatoes exclusively imported from Italy. our italian oven cooks our pizzas at 480°C in less than 90 seconds.  The menu explains that to maintain quality standards, ingredients cannot be changed nor ordered ‘half-and-half’. The ingredients are interesting. Tomato-base pizzas start at R52 (Marinara, with garlic, oregano and olive oil), and the Di mare pizza costs R109, with prawns, squid, garlic with coriander and chilli aioli. The prosciutto e arugula pizza sounds good too, with fresh mozzarella, parmagiano reggiano, prosciutto and rocket. Pizza bianca (i.e.without tomato sauce base) include Ficci (mozzarella, gorgonzola, fresh figs and prosciutto), Delre (with a truffle spread, mozzarella, mushroom, and prosciutto), at R98.  My son’s Delre pizza base was burnt, and Isabella immediately offered to redo it.  It was much better the second time around.  Four dessert options are peach and amaretto tart (R42); Lime Zabaglione with fresh strawberries and blueberries was served with Madeira cake which jarred in its dryness (R44) and a most attractively designed Forum spoon; sweet honey pizza with ricotta, caramelised apple, honey and roasted almonds sounds delicious and costs R58; while cioccolato pizza comes with a homemade chocolate and hazelnut spread, banana and treacle sugar (R64).  Coffee is by Origin.  Burrata’s lunch menu is slightly reduced relative to the dinner menu, with one item removed per section.  No pasta dishes are available over lunch.

Tap water is served in a wine bottle, a clever touch. The winelist is extensive, and lists very neatly the region, country, and vintage of each of the roughly 100 wines served by the bottle, with an additional 14 wines by the glass. Grant writes in his introduction to the winelist: “welcome to burrata, where we pay mutual respect to food and wine. you will notice that our wine list does not contain any descriptive notes. one of our sommeliers will gladly assist you throughout your experience with us.  i hope you will take pleasure in browsing through the list and please feel free to ask any questions you may have”.  Champagne brands Pol Roger, Philipponat, Salon, Torresella, Billecart Salmon, and Jean Veselle range in price from R195 – R3500.  Only two local MCC’s are served: Silverthorn (R60/280) and Colmant (R230).  White wines by the glass cost R30 – R45, and red wines R33 – R68.  About ten wines per variety are offered. Shiraz prices range from R195 (2008 Tamboerskloof) to R950 (2008 De Trafford).  The winelist cautions that wines and vintages ‘are subject to availability‘.

Burrata is friendly, welcoming, with reasonable prices, and a most impressive winelist.  After eight days since opening, things ran smoothly, with the exception of the pizza.  The service and personal attention is exceptional, the best we have experienced in a very long time.  There were speakers on the wall, but no music, which would have been a good finishing touch.  The very new team, who have never worked together before, will gel over time, and the menu will evolve.  The dissonance between menu and wine list will probably be reduced over time, the exceptional and extensive wine selection dominating the relatively more ordinary menu.

POSTSCRIPT 7/4: Enjoyed the mozzarella, fig and prosciutto pizza at Burrata on a rainy pizza-eating Easter weekend Saturday, the best pizza I have ever eaten!  The pizza base is good enough to eat without the topping.  Exciting news is that a 3-course food and wine pairing menu will be launched in the next two weeks.

POSTSCRIPT 14/4: Back at Burrata, and tried the Delre pizza, with prosciutto, mushrooms, and mozzarella. It became a three hour lunch, in the (unplanned) company of Ursula and Davide Ostuni of Puglia Cheese.  They supply Burrata with mozzarella cheeses, and were most complimentary about the pizzas at Burrata.

POSTSCRIPT 21/6: Lovely evening at Burrata, with guest house colleagues Rainer and Greg. The charcuterie and cheese platter was a good match with the pizzas.  Delicious chocolate mousse, vanilla panna cotta and lime.

POSTSCRIPT 9/7: What amazing news: after only having been open for 4 months, Burrata has been named the Middle East/Africa winner of the Birra Moretti Best Emerging Italian Restaurant Award, ahead of Ristorante Armani in Dubai and Carne, also in Cape Town!  What makes the Award even more prestigious is that it is affiliated to the World’s 50 Best Restaurant Awards.

Burrata, Old Biscuit Mill, Albert Road, Woodstock.  Tel (021) 447-6505.  www.burrata.co.za Twitter: @BurrataSA   Tuesday – Saturday, Lunch and Dinner.

Chris von Ulmenstein, Whale Cottage Portfolio: www.whalecottage.com Twitter:@WhaleCottage