Enjoying, the Assaggi way

May 23rd, 2011 § 0 comments

Without knowing that Assaggi was Italian for ‘to taste, try a little, or to peck at’, that’s exactly what I did when I was lucky enough to eat there. Owner Mario Guerini and chef Luca Toni graciously trimmed down the portions so that I could absorb as much of the menu as possible. I’d heard the food was brilliant and a girl has her limitations.

I’d also heard that the restaurant itself was not the greatest looker. And in particular that the setting was kind of juxtapositional to the food, which greatly appealed to me. It was day two of my Joburg trip and Mrs Garmin and I had finally started bonding so when she ordered me to park here, I did just that:


An unassuming little centre in Illovo, Sandton


I prefer my Italian restaurants family-run, with huge pride in quality and a pragmatic approach to decor. And such is the case at Assaggi.


Part walk-way, part restaurant


Not a Philippe Starck Ghost Chair in sight - YAY!


I’ll refrain from name dropping but during lunch I recognised quite a few VIPs… artists, ex-politicians, famously famous people… apparently Brett Kebble used to host his Monday night supper club here (if you’ve read the Kebble book the name should ring a bell) and may I add, with bloody good reason. Assaggi puts many a bastardized Italian joint to shame.

I’m inclined to gauge a restaurant by how they manage the simple things, like a little salad, plus I felt the need for a palate cleanser of sorts. So my first dish was a tomato and red onion salad. As simple as can be.


Why do I not eat this every day?


We spend so much time devising wayward combos and fusion-funk, when one could always have a humble tomato and red onion salad. Chances are you’ll be happier. This was an absolute stunner and I took note that the tomatoes were peeled. When next I make this at home, I’ll go that extra mile. Not that my guests should expect tomato roses any time soon.


Luganica con bruschetta


The gents at the next table had heaps of deep-fried zucchini ribbons that looked delicious, so I got a wee bruschetta with a grilled Italian sausage and lightly-battered zucchini worms as an inbetweener. The zucchini ribbons were rich enough to be lip-smacking, yet light and very much still vegetable.


Lasagna with fresh asparagus and brie cheese


I couldn’t resist their signature dish, a lasagna with fresh asparagus and brie. Thank you Luca for this downright dainty little portion. It was sublime. I have every intention of recreating this one at home… and in fact was planning on doing so tomorrow but asparagus out of season is hard to come by and shockingly expensive. It is a deceptively simple dish with hints of nutmeg and earthy asparagus in layers of fresh pasta and subtle cheese. A strong contender for best comfort food ever.


Sirloin of veal marinated in garlic, olive oil and rosemary


Their food is phenomenal and if I was going to have just one course, or perhaps two, I might not have chosen the veal marinated in garlic, olive oil and rosemary, served with roasted potatoes and tomatoes. But on this day I felt like clean flavours. Plus I’m a sucker for roast tomatoes. The marinated veal requires only a quick searing, so have it as per the chef’s recommendation.

No! she cried. How to resist a teeny taste of their most popular dessert – for the life of me I can’t remember the name – light and creamy with nuts and crunchy bits of biscuit drenched in a delicious liquor.


The final act


I enjoyed my meal with a glass of their house red, the Assaggi Private Bin 07. A blend of pinot noir and shiraz. Have you ever? I LOVE pinot noir (especially in summer as I’m not big on white wine) and shiraz is my standard go-to in winter, so this seemed like an interesting all-weather solution.


Assaggi Private Bin 07 (R125)


Lighter than a typical red – in the Italian easy-drinking way – yet more robust than a Pinot. I was very happy.


Chef Luca and owner Mario


Assaggi prides itself on quality ingredients prepared according to classic, traditional Italian recipes. Mario is friendly yet unyielding when he states that they refuse to South Africanize recipes to suit customer whim. And therein lies the beauty of Assaggi. By sticking to the classics, they’ve become one.

I’m reviewing Assaggi on SABC3 Expresso Show tomorrow morning at approximately 6.50 am.

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