imageFans of Locando, the Italian restaurant which opened five weeks ago at the über popular Italian food emporium Villa 47, may be disappointed with their second restaurant Stuzzico, which opened earlier this week.

The restaurant name is not visible from the street, the Villa 47 branding dominating. Even inside the restaurant one does not see the branding, it only being visible on the menu. Having been to Locando endless times since its opening (I was told that they served 7000 patrons in the first month), and having got used to the excellent service and ambiance of Locando, I found Stuzzico very different. First, it only opens at 17h00, which makes it a stop before and after a show, or a first level try out of Villa 47, or an alternative eating venue for those that did not think of booking dinner at Cape Town’s most popular restaurant! Secondly, it is very dark, and I found it difficult to read the menu, even though I had a sneak preview of it on Friday. The little candle on the table does not give enough light to read the one page, rather lengthy, introduction to the new restaurant. or its menu.

‘Stuzzico’ means ‘tantalize‘ in Italian. What I did love about our visit to Stuzzico imagelast night was that the Villa 47 hospitality extended to this restaurant as well. My favorite waiter Dean (below) was allocated to us, even though he works at Locando and had to look after an 8-seater table there too. This was a special treat. He knows how I like my cappuccino, and that I drink water, and he confirmed that I wanted one of each. Then Chad, the Locando manager, came to say hello, and checked that all was to our satisfaction. Both Michele Mirotto and Luciano Previtera, co-owners of Rialto, the owners of Villa 47, were in the house, and both came to greet us. Michele imagehas just returned from a Tabasco Flavour Lab conference in the USA, and came back enthused about the brand, and its use in cocktails and desserts! Luciano and his party sat the table next to ours, so he checked on us regularly, beyond the call of duty. Chef Clayton Bell made a brief visit too, but had to rush back to his busy Locando kitchen downstairs.  Our dishes were kept at the pass, and I was called when they were ready, the light being better for the photography. The service we received was beyond excellent. Nothing is ever too much trouble, and they try very hard to make one feel as if one is coming back home.

The menu introduction from Luciano and Michele welcomes one: ‘We are proud to welcome you to Villa 47, the natural continuation of a lifelong journey that starts with our family tradition of sharing the trusted, quality produce that we grew up with. Villa 47 is the gastronomic manifestation of our last 20 years of sourcing, selecting and delivering the finest ingredients and food brands from around the world to discerning palates such as yours. Our uncompromising approach on quality allows us to consistently enjoy exciting new taste experiences which we are now delighted to share with you and hope you share with your loved ones. We trust you will enjoy sharing in our passion and feeling for great food and the different ways to enjoy it, and we hope that this experience will inspire you to follow yours. Thank you for joining us. Buon appetito!’

Stuzzico has a large bar counter, as well as a large storage unit for wines, a design feature. Lights are imageattractive, even if not offering much light. Tables have dark wood tops, chairs are comfortable, and table tops have Cape Spice and Herb Company salt and pepper grinders. No cutlery is offered, one eating the shared small plate food by hand, perhaps not liked by all patrons. Serviettes were not at the table, and we had to request these.

The menu consists of twelve items, the majority costing R45 – R55 each. Platters are the most expensive, at R80, for the imported cheese and cold meat platters. One is offered a pen, and marks on the menu which and how many of the small plate dishes one would like to order. Dishes are created fresh by Chef Shaun Flaxman, previously of Willoughby’s and Frères Bistro. Between three of us, we ordered the following dishes, each of which had three portions, perfect for us to share:

#. image Char-grilled octopus and spicy chorizo skewers is an interesting combination of ingredients, which are drizzled with extra virgin olive oil. The chorizo dominates the octopus.

#.   Grilled prawn skewers, with togarashi-seasoned prawns with roasted garlic aioli. Togarashi is a imageJapanese spice.  It was so dark that I did not see the aioli. This dish was not well received at our table.

#.  Steamed edamame beans, served with dry Miso and flaky salt.

#. image Spinach and ricotta ravioli, tossed in a Grana Padano (Italian hard, slow-ripened, semi-fat cheese) cream sauce, was my favorite. Disposable mini forks were offered to eat these.

#.  Kudu Tar-Tar on bruschetta was prepared with mustard mayonnaise, Sriracha (a chili sauce), and lemon olive oil.

#.  Gnoccho Frito, described as light pizza dough and ‘flattened and fried for extra crunch‘, according to the menu, was not as crunchy as we expected. When we fed this back to Luciano, he organized that some of the downstairs Frito be brought to us, delicious and crunchy asimage well as warm.

#.  Assorted imported cold meat platter of delicious prosciutto in the main, with slices of salami, a fig, and olives.

imageOther small plate options are spicy pan-fried chicken livers, polenta chips, a sweet and sour aubergine salad on bruschetta, deep-fried Panko-crumbed risotto balls in a spicy tomato sauce, and an assorted imported cheese platter.

While the service was excellent, the food quality did not match this last night. I am confident that our feedback, as well as that from other patrons, will be evaluated and necessary changes made, to be true to its ‘tantalizing‘ promise. We will return to try some of the dishes again. Stuzzico offers value for money shared meals in a convivial environment.

Michele told us that the second floor third Villa 47 ‘non fine dining‘ (he emphasised) The Restaurant will open in June. It will offer Italian Japanese fusion food, with open-fire cooking on coals.

POSTSCRIPT 2/5: I returned to Stuzzico, to take better day-time photographs today, and have replaced them with those which I took on Saturday evening.  Operations Manager Peter Douglas kindly accompanied me, and told me that our feedback above is being considered, especially the low lighting.

Stuzzico, Villa 47, 47 Bree Street, Cape Town. Tel (021) 418-2740 www.villa47.co.za  Twitter: @Villa47onBree Tuesday – Saturday from 16h00.

Chris von Ulmenstein, WhaleTales Blog: www.whalecottage.com/blog  Tel 082 55 11 323 Twitter:@WhaleCottage  Facebook:  click here Instagram: @Chris_Ulmenstein