THE name Madame Zingara conjures up alluring images of circus tents, acrobats and high-wire feats. But there’s a down-to-earth branch of the Madame Zingara family: the evergreen, child-friendly Café Paradiso.
Here stars are not in the ring, but on the plate. Food, neither fancy nor overworked, takes centre stage, backed by a pared-down but interesting wine list. Wholesome and appetising dishes capture the flavour and freshness of greens, Sassi-certified line fish and free-range chicken, with prime beef the mainstay of mains.
Magic-touch Madame Zingara director Richard Griffin has always respected icons and architecture, and believes in preserving both. So when Kloof Street’s landmark café became available, it was a natural acquisition.
The kitchen, “baking for 26 years with farmhouse butter and a whole lot of love”, supplies fresh bread and pasta daily to all Madame Zingara restaurants, and a lamb salad, introduced 25 years ago, is still a Café Paradiso favourite. Simpler than I remember, it’s as memorable.
The restaurant is rustic and relaxed, with up-close views of Table Mountain from the terraced front garden, dramatic when the mountain is floodlit. The cool interior extends into a sheltered small courtyard, fragrant with herbs.
Ambience is warm and geared for families. Richard’s aim was to create a haven where children were not only welcomed but could play safely. Hence the boiled eggs and soldiers on the breakfast line-up (breakfast is served till noon); the kids’ projects and menu, where red-sauced linguini and chicken nuggets vie for top spot. Judging by the next table, the “party trick” is to grab a fistful and aim for an open mouth. We relocated.
Parents wanting to shed responsibilities and enjoy a quiet meal can, during certain hours, offload their offspring into the care of a genuine granny. They’ll be fed stories under the trees or beside the fire as they toast marshmallows, then allowed into the kitchen where (till 8pm) they can learn to bake treats like cupcakes with butter icing and gingerbread men – and, best of all, eat them.
Portions are generous and menus change seasonally, livened by regular chef’s specials. Descriptions enhance the pleasure of ordering: who, save vegetarians, could resist “ripped carpaccio of charred beef”?
Though my one disappointment was a too-thin phyllo parcel, starters are enticing. Salt and pepper squid with spiced mayo, and a fresh mint touch to the chilli dressing, deserves its best-seller status.
Freshly-made pasta comes piping hot and linguini puttanesca with capers, anchovies, olives, tomatoes and prawns, is both flavour-packed and picture-perfect.
Having been tempted by starters and pasta, we balked at the thought of a main course, but I’ll be back to try classic grilled sirloin with Café de Paris butter, served not with traditional hand-cut chips but with grilled black mushrooms, rocket and parmesan. (Chips are extra).
Unlike my guests, I’m no dessert fan. While they lingered blissfully over moist and sticky malva (one portion is two enormous slices) I indulged in a sophisticated after-meal option: home-baked, butter-rich shortbread, presented in a glass.