If you’re a believer of Johannesburg’s fast-evolving food scene, then you’ll know that Chef James Diack is the driving force behind three of this beautiful city’s most popular eateries: Coobs in Parkhurst, The National in Parktown North and La Stalla in Melville.
With the opening of Il Contadino last year, Diack solidified his position as one of the city’s beloved bistro boys.
“My wife always said that if I opened a fourth eatery it would have to be called ‘Divorce’ or ‘The Singles Club’,” laughs Diack. “Instead, I’ve decided to call it Il Contadino, which means ‘the farmer’ in Italian and really embodies the spirit of our season-focused, farm-to-table style.”
The menu is Diack’s tribute to the rural or ‘peasant’ food from the Spanish, French and Italian countryside – some of his favourite places.
Diack’s restaurants are all part of the Brightside Group.
This restaurateur and food pioneer was raised in Magaliesberg, on Brightside Farm, which is managed by his mother, Janet, and provides 95% of the produce served at each restaurant – thus, the name The Brightside Group. “Over zealous about seasonality and sustainability, the Brightside team is devoted to traceable provenance, by providing a world class root-to-leaf dining experience”, affirms Diack.
Il Contadino is one door away from The National in Parktown North, though it looks, feels and tastes very different. The concept here is rustic, health-conscious and fresh, picturesque eating. If you’re in the mood for robust Mediterranean flavours with ingredients of unsurpassable freshness, this is the spot for you. The Farmers’ Board starter is one of the best way to sample these fantastic flavours: think bread straight out of the oven, to be spread with a variety of meats, preserves and cheeses.
Make hay while the sun shines here with golden-yolked eggs, bacon from the boars on the farm, freshly baked artisanal breads and croissants with farm butter. Also noteworthy is the breakfast pan with chorizo, eggs, cherry tomatoes, basil and toast with a refreshing glass of OJ.
The starter that impresses me most is the spring onions wrapped in bacon and served with confit beef cheek, crispy trotters, and fine leek hay. The homemade gnocchi is extraordinary, with tomato mixed into the potato dough. The pesto bursts with freshness and flavour, as well as the confit tomatoes.
The mains will change seasonally too, so rush for the butter-glazed sirloin with asparagus and parmesan risotto, the coq au vin chicken braised with white wine and pearl onions served with black pepper mash, broad beans, baby spinach and sherry reductions, and the oven roasted short rib with fresh bread, horseradish served with a micro salad.
There is also a selection of thin-based wood-fired pizzas and although the menu is sweet and short, there are also quite a few vegetarian options, thanks to the prominence of farm-grown supplies. Try the pumpkin and ricotta pizza with sage and (local) buffalo mozzarella.
Il Contadino is on a great but very busy corner, so it isn’t necessarily a quiet getaway, however the attention to detail and celebration of natural profound flavours is astonishing and is sure to lure you back!
WATCH: Everything you need to know about Il Contadino in 30 seconds.
WATCH: Everything you need to know about Il contadino in 30 second. Video: Supplied.