On the corner of 4th and 7th avenues in the embers of the beloved Parktown North Spaza Shop — and a short-lived pink patisserie that no one really knew or cared about — now stands il Contadino. The fourth in the almost never-ending series of Chef James Diack’s restaurants is the most rustic of the lot, and attempts to bring the charm of Italian-style family cooking to suburban Johannesburg. In other words, expect your food and coffee to be served in enamelware on a gorgeous open terrace on one of Jozi’s busy, yet charming streets.
Like Diack’s previous restaurants, this one sources almost all its food from his mother’s family farm, he has sworn to make this one his most sustainable yet. Each dish has been designed wholly with ingredients available from the farm. The very little that Diack’s mother does not grow herself is brought in from neighbouring farms in the immediate community just outside the city in Magaliesburg.
When it comes to said dishes, we will be the first to acknowledge that the starter selection is among the best we have sampled in a long time: we are still day-dreaming about the twice-baked goats’-cheese and Pecorinoe soufflé, and the chargrilled spring onions wrapped in crispy, home-made bacon, served with confit pork cheek, crispy trotters, and leek hay. I mean, wow.
However, the mains are a bit hit and miss. While the wild boar ragu pasta was delightfully moreish, the beef bolognese was “fine”. Also, it was hard to pay R160 for a plate of pumpkin — even when it’s coal roasted with oyster mushrooms. Word on the street is that il Contadino’s pizzas also lack consistency in quality execution.
But overall: when everything goes right, it is fantastic. The breakfasts are amazingly delicious and shockingly reasonable, and I will find myself digging into their freshly made bread, farm tomatoes, and much-famed bacon many a morning.