Eat Italian with Italians: A feast at chef Theo Penati's Pierino Penati

images: Courtesy Pierino Penati

Entry into Pierino Penati is tailor-made for Instagram. The staircase leading to the second floor offering of Villa 47's Emporio Italiano on Bree Street features a marble staircase and face-brick walls that complement glass and mahogany wood panelling, beautifully considered mosaic floors, light fixtures and furniture.

More interestingly, on arrival, one is welcomed by an Italian-accented host. Seated, one is greeted by an Italian-accented waitron. Around me I heard diners speaking in Italian... It felt like I had been transported to a fine dining restaurant in Italy, and, upon meeting Theo, to a restaurant in Viganò. The inimitably elegant second floor space coaxes you to relax almost instantly, and a combination of ambiance, attentive service and distinctive food ensures you have an evening to remember.

Pierino Penati, with owner Chef Theo Penati, a third-generation Michelin-star chef of the family restaurant group of the same name, is the first Italian-starred chef to open a restaurant in South Africa. Introducing Cape Town to the concept of Italian fine dining, his philosophy is one of creativity and sustainability. Using fresh ingredients, the focus is flavour, innovation and authenticity; a balance of mind and body, and a contagious passion for food, cooking and flavour.

Introduced to Cape Town by Rialto Foods, Villa 47 Emporio Italiano was opened to create a lifestyle experience to accompany the imported food offering. "The products are well known, trusted brands in Italy, the brands that we grew up with,” says co-founder Luciano Previtera. Intending to create more than simply a product offering, Luciano and partner Michele Mirotto have created an experiential Italian food and wine destination at 47 Bree Street. Offering three different restaurant experiences, it's the recently reformatted Pierino Penat that is creating a stir. 

The first Pierino Penati opened its doors more than 70 years ago; today, it's still situated in the beautiful Italian town of Brianza, at the foot of the Italian Alps between Lake Como and Milan. Established by Theo’s grandfather, the restaurant has remained in his family ever since, with all three generations of chef-owners attaining Michelin-stars.

Our visit to Pierino this week was timeously planned, as Theo, who jumps between his restaurants in Brianza and Cape Town, was in the kitchen. Along with resident chef Michelangelo D’oria (who has also received a Michelin-star), the restaurant and kitchen were a soothing bustle of pots, pans and aromas. With Michelangelo at the kitchen's helm, and with Theo frequenting the restaurant from Italy every three months, diners can expect a changing seasonal menu that reflects and adapts to seasonal demand. Choose from the simple yet well formulated à la carte menu, or opt for the five-course Menù Degustazione (with or without wine pairing). Expect unique Italian dishes and concepts, matched with local ingredients and variations and paired with wine recommended by the well-versed sommelier, Dominic Bodenstein. 

ALSO READ: Reviewed: Locanda at Villa 47

Taste the Perfect Egg, with asparagus and liquid Parmesan made caprese style with zucchini; Vertical Salad featuring emmental, mixed greens, nuts and raspberry jelly; Tagliolini with prawn, broccoli and N'Duja spicy sauce; Roasted duck breast, carrot puree and leaks; Basil risotto; and Slow cooked lamb thigh with cauliflower queen, kale and lamb jus. For dessert, chocolate lovers will enjoy the Come una Foresta nera, a chocolate sponge, chocolate cream, cherry sornet; while the Warm Zabaione and Tiramisu offer Italian classics. Wines on the list feature local Western Cape wines, like Thorne & Daughter's Copper Pot Pinot noir 2016; Momento Grenache 2016; and Catherine Marshall Semillon 2016; while we enjoyed a delicious Grenache, Cinsault, Syrah Blend, the Follow the Line by Savage Wines. There are also Italian import wines, some known and some newly discovered.

Due to the concept being fine dining, prices are on the steeper end. Starters begin at R100 while mains are between R180 and R220, with the Menù Degustazione being subject to change and availability (R630; or R830 with wine pairing). 

Our curiosity drew us to just how "Italian" it felt, not just the food or the passionate Italian chef, but the Italian staff and diners too. Between the two restaurants on separate continents, staff from Italy are able to experience the Cape Town food and dining scene (and everything else), as Theo, Michele and Luciano create a platform for food, knowledge, ingredients and passion to be exchanged.

It really is a wonderful Little Italy in the Mother City.  

ALSO READ: 13 South African delis that put the "art" in artisan