Burrata at the Old Biscuit Mill is determinedly unpretentious. There’s nothing here to intimidate an excited child on her birthday. Despite its status as Best Italian Restaurant (Eat Out 2013) – and owner Neil Grant’s status as SA Sommeliers’ Association head — the staff are casually dressed and friendly. The seating is simple – dark wooden tables and chairs – and there are cured sausages hanging in the space between the diners and the open kitchen. The menu cover is comfortingly floppy.
In the centre of it all is the pizza oven: Bright red in colour and fiery hot within, Grant imported the oven from Naples – arguably the home of pizza. It can achieve a heat of over 400 degrees Celcius. Burrata’s pizzas are cooked in 90 seconds.
Carbohydrates may have fallen out of fashion in Cape Town of late, but we love bread. We order bread for starters – a plain pizza with rosemary, grana padano and olive oil – and bread for mains. My daughter opts for the Delre, a pizza “bianca” – no tomato sauce – with truffle spread, mozzarella, mushroom and prosciutto. I opt for the Salsiccia with home-made fennel and chilli sausage; my husband orders the Prosciutto e Arugula with a tomato base.
When it arrives, the pizza bread is a thing of beauty. Puffy at the edges, dotted with brown, flecked – surprisingly — with charcoal. The smell is irresistible: smoky heat with the doughy aroma of a farmhouse kitchen. My daughter breathes in and releases a sigh.
The texture is chewy, not wafer-crisp. The flavouring is subtle: the cheese gives a salty-sweetness, the herb is grassy and the oil allows fluidity. The “toppings” are barely visible. I wanted to try the plainest pizza on the menu in order to focus on the bread. I’m so glad I did. This is a triumph of simplicity.
Our salad starter is simple but superb: greens with nutty, fried brussel sprouts and orange segments. The beetroot cubes are perfectly teeny: faintly sweet jewels to co-ordinate with the magenta veins of the greens. I feel the presence of chef Annemarie Steenkamp here. The dressing is a coating not a sauce. I rarely notice knife skills but the orange segments could not be more perfect.
The pizzas themselves are wonderful. The toppings are of the highest quality and the combinations are inspired. But the bread-rosemary-grana padano-olive oil is the harmony I can’t get out of my head.
The grown-ups are drinking a Chamonix Cabernet Franc 2012. We were guided charmingly by the sommelier. Grant’s wine list is far from overbearing. None of the wines are described in print – describing the wines falls to the sommelier – and there is a small but carefully curated collection of non-South African wines.
It would be a mistake not to order dessert, especially on a birthday. The vanilla panna cotta is contemporary comfort food at its best: creamy and light with a delicate aroma, the perfect dessert for a ten-year-old on a treat. I loved the understated plating of all the desserts: the slim brick of hazelnut dacquoise with the pannacotta, the quenelle of coffee, brandy and mascarpone ice cream with the chocolate mousse; the chocolate “gravel” alongside the white chocolate custard. The plates were so unfussy it was almost as if we’d helped ourselves in the kitchen. It felt a little like a midnight feast.
Burrata pizzas would almost certainly delight the toughest Neopolitan critics. The bonus is Grant and Steenkamp’s combined pedigree. Their knowledge, focus on quality and mastery in kitchen and cellar are what sets this pizza place apart.
Burrata 021 447 6505; The Old Biscuit Mill, 373-375 Albert Road, Woodstock, Cape Town