There is something discernibly different about CRAFT TRATTORIA in Glenashley these days.
Not so long ago there was little visible life there in the early evening – so little, in fact, that I sometimes wondered if it had closed.
Now, driving past on a Friday and Saturday, the outside tables are full and there is a buzz.
That may be due in part to the venue’s new management – Guy Wood of Bean Bag Bohemia fame, and chef Brendon Newport, who worked with him there for years. They are actively promoting the indoor-outdoor feel of the restaurant, and their laid-back attitude is obviously attracting customers.
The two have come in to work with proprietor Neil Roake, and have tweaked the menu here and there. Guy said one area addressed was the male clientele, who felt there weren’t enough substantial dishes – hence the appearance of the likes of steaks and burgers on the menu.
Another drawcard, says Guy, is craft beer (“We at Craft drink craft”). They have added unpasteurised, preservative-free beers from Brewers & Union, Darling, Brewers Reserve, Boston and Standeaven, and ciders from Eversons.
I’ve tried Darling brewery’s Bone Crusher, but have to get round to Boston’s Van Hunks Pumpkin Ale … or the Naked Mexican.
I’m not sure what one would eat with that, but a fritto misto of calamari, prawns and zucchini sticks in a light batter, served with a very moreish basil mayonnaise, went down a treat with an Anura sauvignon blanc.
That is a dish well worth ordering, and I’d also like to try the wood-fired snails on ciabatta with curry and chilli, or garlic and parsley, or gorgonzola butters.
A new addition to the menu, pork and beef meatballs in a tomato sauce with parmesan and ciabatta slices, was tasty, but really too substantial for a starter. And as much as I enjoy the arancini – risotto “volcanoes” stuffed with mushrooms and mozzarella – the chilli sauce with them is fiery enough to blow the lid off Mount St Helens.
A fresh, more delicate note came in the form of a special: nectarines roasted in the pizza oven and served with a gorgonzola cream and prosciutto. It’s a creation of Brendon’s to look out for.
There are still snacky items like parmesan custards with anchovy toast and grissini with parma ham, plus heftier dishes like mussels with chorizo, paprika and tomato, and angel hair pasta with clams, fennel and lemon cream.
Salads include one with pear and gorgonzola, and a chicken Caesar, which is new.
As are fillet or rump steak with black olive tapenade or rosemary sauce, a wood-fired spatchcock chicken with rosemary and parmesan potato wedges, and deboned spareribs wrapped in prosciutto and served with a rich beef jus and butternut risotto.
The risotto was at the last moment edged aside in favour of the special of the day, ossobuco with courgette risotto. The person who ordered it wasn’t disappointed, though I prefer a more tomatoey version.
A new pasta – crayfish ravioli with a tomato and basil sauce – tempted, but when you hear that the kitchen makes gnocchi every day, it’s hard to resist. Not only will it be fresh, it means it’s good enough to sell well.
The little dumplings were commendably light, the blue cheese and walnut sauce absolutely perfect: not too rich, not too creamy, lifted by the nuts and a drizzle of balsamic. Something rare happened: I ate every last bit and almost licked the plate.
I felt positively sorry for the friend who ordered the spaghetti with prawns. It was tasty enough, but just not in the same league.
For the record you also have the three new burgers, an array of pastas including spaghetti with seafood, cooked in a paper bag, creamy spinach and chicken penne (a popular item at Bean Bag), oxtail and slow-roast beef ravioli and a prawn, pumpkin and saffron risotto.
The pizzas have a good reputation, and come in classic combinations and the more oddball, like snails with garlic and gorgonzola, or with chicken, sundried tomato pesto and avo.
And for dessert I might look to the cocktails list, and home-made limoncello with vodka and lemon zest, blended until icy thick. That could be the perfect antidote to a summer’s day.
By the way, Craft is holding a special evening on February 7, which will feature a five-course cook-off between Brendon Newport and Neil Roake. Guests will score the chefs and a winner will be chosen.
Price is R260 a head, which includes wines from Vondeling.
Prices: Starters R25 to R59; mains R39 to R120, with most items well under R100.
Opening hours: Lunch Friday to Sunday, dinner Tuesday to Sunday.
Telephone: 031 562 1951.