When you want to treat someone to a great meal in Johannesburg, the location is as important as the food. So when my brother flew in from London I booked a table at La Campagnola, an upmarket Italian restaurant. We’d eat in the lovely courtyard next to a fountain under the trees, and he’d think me terribly sophisticated.
Except Joburg delivered a summer thunderstorm, so a waiter led us into the restaurant, past the walk-in wine cellar, and onto a busy enclosed balcony at the back. “Great view of the car park,” my brother said.
But it’s well worth going anyway, because the food is a classy affair. There were four of us, and my brother chose our wine from the vast and comprehensive wine list, thrilled at how cheap everything is when you’re converting from pounds. We locals find it more of a stretch, and a Rijks Pinotage at R370 was good but pricey. The Babylonstoren Viognier was a far more palatable R155.
The waiter offered several specials including foie gras and snails, although I found it odd that he didn’t know the price of the seafood stew. I went for it anyway, and it was R165. That brought a rich tomato stew swimming with interesting chunks like clams, calamari, prawns and several mussels on top.
The meals are simply presented, with the emphasis on good, fresh ingredients rather than overly fancy combinations, like insalata al petti di pollo, a salad of pan-fried chicken breast with mustard, balsamic vinegar, spring onions, a touch of chilli and garlic, and linguine olio aglio e gamberi, with olive oil, chilli, garlic, shrimp, olives and parsley. A portion of porcini mushrooms with gorgonzola was perfectly lightly cooked, and a char-grilled baby chicken was tender and succulent.
We always share desserts and analyse them with huge enjoyment, and the winner was the lemon tart, on a light pastry base under a lemon filling that’s tart enough to make you notice. Delicious. The crème brûlée was a fraction burnt, while the tiramisu was deliciously moist and flavoursome.
It was a good choice of restaurant, despite the rain.