Nonna’s Italian Kitchen
Where: 141 Florida Rd, Windermere, Berea
Open: Sunday to Thursday noon to 9.30pm, Friday and Saturday noon to 10.15pm.
Ingrid Shevlin and I are trying the new kid on the Florida Road block, Nonna’s Italian Kitchen. It has opened on the site of the old Benjamin Hotel which is being substantially renovated. It’s still pretty much a building site, the verandahs being finished and workmen and ladders everywhere. But inside it is an oasis of cool – thank goodness for the air conditioning.
It’s a smart, modern restaurant with a semi-private dining area and a bar, which serves a range of mocktails, to the side.
Nonna’s boasts online about being an authentic Italian restaurant, started some 97 years ago by an Italian couple. And using nonna (grandmother) helps add the authentic feel. The legend doesn’t say where, but suggests Johannesburg. It’s now obviously been taken over and franchised or chained (there’s one in Gateway too). It is also halaal, and bears the certification on the door.
Which somehow goes against the authentic story. I think of the small number of Italian dishes I make. Few don’t contain wine somewhere in the cooking – even if it’s only to deglaze the pan. Many of the famed meat dishes of Italy start with pancetta, if only to render the fat to cook the vegetables. And then there are the great salamis and cured hams of Italy that are obviously going to be missing. I dread to think what has happened to the tiramisu.
So the word authentic is always going to be a stretch, about as plastic as the grass that decorates some of the walls.
Starters include crumbed mushrooms, zucchini fries, fried calamari, gnocchi and vegetable risotto balls. There is a minestrone soup, but items like crumbed chicken strips in chilli mayo give the game away.
We decided instead to share a pizza as a starter. Ingrid’s grandchildren could finish it off at home. I thought the pizzas were expensive. A pizza is, after all, just bread with a few bits and pieces chucked on top. I know from making them at home that if you use three pieces of salami and five olives and four cherry tomatoes, it’s a lot. The most expensive ingredient is probably the cheese, but it’s not like one’s using imported Gorgonzola or something.
Here your basic Margherita (misspelt as Marghorita – it’s named after a person, Queen Margherita of Savoy) pizza is R150, with most of the others in the R200 and over range – a price tag I can’t understand. We opt for the Caserta named for the city just north of Naples which boasts mozzarella, Nonna’s pomodoro sauce, mushrooms, pepperoni, artichokes and olives (R200). It sounds like a typical four seasons, although in reality a pizza from Caserta would likely be a foldover calzone, but pepperoni would be the key ingredient. I assumed this would be a beef-based version of the classic Italian meat.
Well, instead of pepperoni we got peppers, nicely roasted, but not quite what was advertised. There was little evidence of the artichokes and it needed salt, but perhaps the most disappointing thing about the pizza was the soggy bottom. Either the oven wasn’t hot enough or it had been put into the oven on a cold plate or there were too many wet ingredients to cook the bread to a nice crisp. Pity.
Mains take in a range of pastas with Napoli, arabiata, pesto, aglio olio or cream-based sauces. There’s meatballs and beef Bolognaise, chicken alfredo, which of course has no authenticity in Italian cooking. There are also a series of oven-baked pastas and a selection of ravioli.
There’s a small grills section that includes a selection of steaks, lamb chops, burgers, surf and turf, grilled prawns and calamari and chicken Parmagiana. There’s also an exclusive section at the bottom of the menu which just seems to cater for those who like expensive food: a tomahawk for R850, a wagyu sirloin for R950 etc. We would stick with pastas
Ingrid went for the frutti di mari (R225) on linguini, a compilation of mussels, prawns, cherry tomatoes and calamari in a tomato sauce with a hint of chilli. She found the sauce a bit heavy and had been hoping for a much lighter, fresher tomato sauce. I appreciated the hint of chilli.
I ordered the prawn ravioli (R185) in a napoletana and cream sauce. This was decidedly odd in that there were no prawns in the ravioli, just ricotta, which themselves were cooked on the chewy side of al dente, and instead the prawns were in the sauce. It was pleasant enough – just never going to be authentic.
We decided to skip desserts. There is a tiramisu, but I am not going to try a non-alcoholic one – you just know it will be disappointing. Nutella puffs might be interesting, while I might have tried pistachio panna cotta had I seen it on the menu at the time.
Service: 2 ½
Ambience: 3 ½
The Bill: R712 for 2
Independent on Saturday