Nothing mad about good Italian food
The Secret Diner
The Mad Italian
Where: 66 Adelaide Tambo Drive, Durban North
Open: Daily noon to 8.30pm
Call: 031 573 2938
I’ve always loved the name – The Mad Italian. It has a certain jaunty “offbeatness” about it.
You think of maybe a pot-throwing chef or barefoot waiters dancing around with carafes of wine or even an opera-singing maître d’, with lots of bonhomie and large plates of pasta constantly flowing from the kitchen, all under Nonna’s watchful eye.
In the times of Covid-19, the atmosphere was somewhat subdued, although we did enjoy sitting out on the terrace in the afternoon sun, enjoying a beer or, in my friend’s case, a chocolate milkshake.
I think the Mad of the restaurant’s title doesn’t refer to any offbeat characters that may inhabit the space, and it certainly doesn’t apply to the decor, which features tablecloths of romanticised colour drenched portraits of Italy’s top tourist attractions under plastic. Ours was the Colosseum. It also doesn’t refer to the menu, which is the conventional Italian fare we all know and love.
Possibly the Mad refers to its very reasonable prices that make it an ideal go-to family spot; a midweek meal when you get home and don’t feel like cooking and it won’t break the bank.
Pizzas, pastas and some grills feature in an extensive menu that has something for everyone.
For starters, we shared a good crisp traditional focaccia (R39) with garlic and herbs, which we mopped up with olive oil. But we might have enjoyed bruschetta or mussel soup or garlic roquefort snails or chicken livers in butter, sherry, garlic and tomato sauce. Baked Camembert wrapped in Parma ham sounded good, while I will try a traditional melanzane alla Parmigiana next time.
Pizzas take in a number of toppings you would expect, plus you can also build your own, although there is one that takes in feta, basil pesto and Mediterranean roasted veg, and another that uses a butternut puree instead of the traditional tomato sauce base.
Mains could include chicken flatties or kebabs, possibly in a combo with prawns or calamari or a fillet flamed in brandy with black mushrooms, rosemary and garlic or even a pizza burger – I shuddered.
Pastas can be made with spaghetti, penne or fettuccine, although there are options with gnocchi and gluten-free penne. Alfredo and bolognaise are popular, although I opted for the day’s special of prawns and chorizo (R138) in an arrabiata sauce, that had a good spike of chilli and a dash of cream. I enjoyed the good comfort food.
My friend went for the pasta Malibu (R118) of chicken strips and zucchini tossed in chilli and flamed in a Caribbean sauce of coconut liqueur, with coriander and cream. It’s not something I would have chosen and I could certainly smell the coconut when it arrived at the table. Not a fan, he had asked for the zucchini to be left out. It was a pleasant if somewhat bland dish.
For dessert, we shared – I’m not sure we should admit to that in these times of Covid-19 – a crème brûlée (R45) which, while properly topped with a fine crust of burnt sugar, the custard tasted a little of the shop variety. I enjoyed a decent double espresso.
The Independent on Saturday