I don’t want to be bitchay…

March 28th, 2011 § 0 comments

But that’s how you pronounce the restaurant name – Bice – like Beetchay. In the Hyde Park Southern Sun Hotel with panoramic views of Joburg’s Northern suburbs. Unlike the other restaurants that I’ve reviewed for SABC3’s Expresso Show every Tuesday at exactly 6.50 am (copy that), I admit I have mixed feelings about Bice. I very much enjoyed the others. They are all very different yet true to what they’re supposed to be… and therein lies the problem, me thinks. Unlike most Italian restaurants that I’ve encountered, this is not a family affair. Not directly. Bice is an international chain of restaurants, still owned by the descendants of Beatrice ‘Bice’ Ruggeri who established the first restaurant in Milan in 1926, but with 45 restaurants around the world there’s no little Italian lady to back peddle into a cupboard when service is over.

The interior is suburban sanatorium chic – sparse and somehow receding as if the good doctor doubled up on your chill pills – plus they’ve incorporated the Northern suburbs culinary must-have, the ubiquitous sushi bar. Under license from Daruma, this is not a bad thing as they make excellent sushi and offer reasonably priced Milano-Kobe set menus. But I’m beginning to think that kugel hell must be a sushi-free zone… I thought the Italian side of the menu was rather expensive. I love Caprese salad and immediately ordered one.

Caprese with imported buffalo mozzarella

Part of the appeal of Bice must be that it is an Italian chain with a celebrated Italian chef at the helm, globally, to oversee and maintain standards. When it comes to certain essential items, only the finest from Italy will do. Local producers like Morgenster supply olive oil and wine, and resident head chef Danny Fabris thinks our produce is fantastic. The mozzarella is imported. Which is why this little Caprese costs a whopping R120… Now, at the risk of revealing what a food buffoon I am, and how little time I’ve spent smacking my lips through Italy, I really like beautiful juicy ripe tomato with my mozzarella. I don’t care how creamy it is. And three quarters of a little roma just doesn’t do it for me. Yes, the mozzarella was very creamy. Is it worth R120? I’m not sure. I think I’ll swing past the new Mozzarella Bar in Kloof Street tomorrow after the show and see what R120 can buy me. Just to be fair. So more on that later.

The average starter costs R80, pasta mains are R90 and meat or fish mains are R130. Chips and veg on the side, add another R30 each. I chose the seafood pasta at R120.

Seafood pasta

All the pasta is made on the premises. And perhaps it’s the Japanese influence but the crayfish tail was a tad al dente and hard to remove from its shell. Apart from that it was a decent seafood pasta. I love apple anything so decided to try their apple pie, made to Bice’s original recipe (R60).

Torta di Mele della Bice

Very spicy… almost like Christmas mince. On a sweeter note, chef Danny Fabris is a lovely guy who is passionate about classic Italian cuisine. I waited until after service to chat to him, which perhaps wasn’t the best thing. There’s a brilliant Afrikaans saying: As die muis dik is, is die meel suur. Loosely translated, when the mouse has had its fill, the flour turns sour. I started noticing the unpressed linen, scuffed menus, tired slip covers, waiters-in-the-making, and… the dirty floor. It was a Wednesday. In case you’re wondering.

Fabulosity fatigue, doll?

I don’t mind a crease or a dog-eared menu, provided the vibe and/or food or something makes up for it. I think a bit of patina is almost obligatory in a good Italian restaurant, but in this minimalist hotel space – and at these prices – it’s a bit jarring… According to Danny the place shines at night. Sunsets must be amazing with the floor-to-ceiling views. And there’s a suave cigar bar on the same floor for pre- and post-dinner drinks. So it’s probably a corporate lunch or glitzy dinner place. I kind of hit it in the grey light of day.

So yes, for once, a mixed review. What a conundrum. I’m too much of a Calvinist to bitch on live television… and the view IS awesome.

Maybe I’m just missing the Italian mama at Bice. Ironic, isn’t it?

Ciao bellas

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