Restaurateur Giorgio Nava’s new Caffe Milano looked mighty promising on its opening weekend, with brisk breakfast trading and plenty of satisfied departing foodie customers. They included chef Luke Dale-Roberts, happily having a family breakfast adjacent to our table, thankful that he has Sundays free.
Hands-on partner, pastry chef Vanessa Quellec, is looking sleepy-eyed after doing the 2am baker’s starts. But it’s obviously worth it when you set eyes on her beautiful Italian-styled fruit tarts, delicate cream-filled Cannoncino pastry rolls - feather-light – and regional Margheritini round biscuits, a shortbread-like speciality of Stresa that she learnt to bake on her recent working Italian trip.
It’s all in the detail – even at breakfast a slice of seasonal fruit tart (R20) was heavenly and not too cloying, with its cream and pastry cream filling inside an Italian pasta frolla (sweet shortcrust-style) pastry base that tasted as if fashioned by dainty fairies (Slices were available today but the round tarts are usually sold whole). Plum tarts looked appealing too, while miniature fruit tarts – nectarine slivers on puff pastry rounds – were a handy mouthful size. Tempting options for later in the day include Sacher Torte squares - Valrhona chocolate is used for any recipes requiring chocolate - and ‘piccolo’ shot glasses of tiramisu and panna cotta on raspberry jelly.
The café’s breakfast options are decent, from eggs Benedict on homemade sourdough (R52) to gourmet muesli. Freshly blended juices are R20 to R30 per glass. Worth trying: the cinnamon and pecan brioche French toast (R58) with its gooey, spiced nut segments in the homemade brioche. Served with fried bananas, Canadian maple syrup and whipped cream it was very tasty yet very rich. A bacon side order improved the dish as a whole. In my view a plain brioche option for French toast, sans cream and with bacon optional, would make a good alternative.
Americano coffees (R11) are courtesy of Lavazza, also responsible for the moody wall mural running the length of one side. For the rest the appealing décor combines caramel tones with chunky ash wood shelving displaying breads and plain pastries, focusing the eye on all the sweeter goodies within the glass display counter.
From a take-away point of view there is lots to tempt. But I’d change the bread sizes to appeal to small city families and couples. I left with a giant perfectly-baked ciabatta (R35) which made a delicious crusty sandwich later. I’d find better value – and less wastefulness - in having the option of buying a medium-sized loaf for less (an equally giant sourdough rye round is R45). All the same, with news that Jardine restaurant and excellent city bakery will be closing soon, it’s nice to have alternatives to find quality fresh loaves.
Spend: Pastries priced from R10 to R20. Breakfast at R45 to R58, lunch salads and hot meals at R60 to R85. Wine list, freshly blended juices and hot beverages.
Value: Similar prices to other city cafes.
Flavour rating: Very good. Calorie-counters should stay away.
CAFFE MILANO Pasticerria & Bar, Upper Kloof Street, Cape Town. Tel 021 426 5566. Open Tues to Sun from 7am to 5pm.