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Interview with Elena and George Dalla Cia, Pane e Vino – Part 2

So enchanted were we with Elena and George’s stories, not least the delicious food, that we needed two articles! If you are looking for authentic Italian food served in a cosy environment – look no further.

Elena

“I knew nothing about the business side of a restaurant”, but my ex-CEO was involved which helped. Initially we offered simple fare such as freshly baked bread, cheese boards and oven dishes. Ironically, I became gluten intolerant from eating too much of my own bread!

Word of mouth slowly increased and demand for something more developed. Gradually, we became a full-service restaurant using my recipes I developed in my own kitchen. I think because we had no preconceived ideas of what it should be like, we were able to make it ‘ours’.

For an Italian, lunch is the most important meal and we have stayed true to our heritage. At the time, Stellenbosch offered either ‘grab-a-lunch’ cafés or fine dining. We were unusual in that we offered good, traditional home fare that was meant to be enjoyed during lunch time. What surprised me was that people came for lunch but stayed!

Espresso in Italy is something you order, drink, and go, whereas in South Africa, people prefer to sit and enjoy their coffee. We had to move from bar counter and stools to proper tables and chairs.

Simplicity, taste, and best ingredients are our mantra e.g. I only use Grana Padano; I do not use substitutes. Luckily, our wonderful clients appreciate our wine and our authentic food.

George

Hmmm, yes she doesn’t do costing on some ingredients such as truffles!

On a ‘plane the pilot stays in the cockpit and trusts his team to make sure everything is running smoothly in the cabin. I try to operate the same way. We have an excellent team who get to know our clients and what they want. People should feel that they are home. Relaxation is essential for good digestion!

I’m least happy presenting something I don’t actually have to cook. I find plating a salad to be a challenge because the emphasis is on the presentation… on the artistry of it.

“Elena is gifted” (George’s father Giorgio)

When you do pop into this delightfully cozy restaurant, look for George who is often found working at the back of the restaurant and ask him to tell you the story of Dalla Cia Teano…

Elena spoiled the Champagne in Africa Team with tastings of the following simply buonissimo dishes.

FOCACCIA (this would be called schiacciata in Florence – pronounced skiatchata – but was too difficult to pronounce for most South Africans). This is our bread baked in a pizza oven (not wood fired) and uses extra virgin olive oil as a main ingredient.

AFFETTATI MISTI this is our antipasto with imported Italian traditional cured meats – Prosciutto di Parma, Mortadella Bologna and salami with Italian giant green olives. (I could have stopped happily at this dish!)

GNOCCHI DI RICOTTA E SPINACI this is our gnocchi (general meaning in Italian is a ball) made of spinach and ricotta served with truffle olive oil butter and Parmigiano. (It tastes like home.)

LASAGNE DI CARNE our meat lasagne built with only 5 layers of pasta layered with Bolognese sauce, Besciamella and Parmigiano.

CASUNZIEI ALL’AMPEZZANA beetroot filled ravioli served with poppy seeds, butter and grated Parmigiano according to the recipe from the Trentino Alps north-east of Italy.

TIRAMISU the Veneto ‘pick me up’ dessert made the traditional way with light biscuits, caffe’ corretto and mascarpone cream.

(Legend has it that this dessert was invented by a clever “maitresse” of a house of pleasure.  The “Siora” who ran the premises developed this aphrodisiac dessert to offer to customers at the end of the evening in order to reinvigorate them and solve the problems they may have had with their conjugal duties on their return to their wives!)

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