Considering the staggering exchange rate and the massive schlep involved with visas and flying, if you are daydreaming about journeying across the global pond, I recommend opting for a short drive to Umhlanga’s New Town Centre, where you will find Old Town Italy. Having never been to Italy myself, very regrettably, I cannot attest to the authenticity of the décor and the ambiance. But I can confirm that, based on the intense media conditioning I’ve received by watching movies and TV shows, the setting satisfies any preconceived notions. In fact, it feels a lot like being on a film set. There’s been great attention paid to the smallest of details.
Gold foil lettering on the windows, bistro style wooden chairs and tables flanking the pavement, and an incredible array of Italian products and produce all serves to set the scene. Juxtaposed with this is an industrial warehouse feel, metal lamps, overhanging ventilation pipes, naked cement surfaces and polished herringbone wooden floor contrasting with white ceramic tiles and leather booth seats – it actually feels more New York, less Old Italy. Again, a nod to my American pop culture influence. And that’s ok because it makes visiting this establishment an experience, not just a destination.
This is no small village market or little café. It’s 600 square metres of unabashed love for all things retro and Italian. The road-facing side has a well-stocked bar, booths and tables and is the restaurant section of the building. To the left of the restaurant area, in the corner, is a vintage-inspired gelatoria, or ice cream bar, with lollipops and cotton candy and all things reminiscent of an older, more romantic era.
The middle area is devoted to fresh groceries and Italian-imported produce. If you are looking for obscure pasta shapes, this is the spot to find them. A bakery is set up in the far right corner, offering an array of freshly baked breads, in the panetteria section, inspired by various foreign corners, not limited to the Italian borders. Baguettes and kitkes share basket spaces with paninis and rusticos.
A butchery (la macelleria) offers cuts of free-range beef and various local and imported cured and smoked meats. There’s also a panini bar, where you can pick fresh toppings and grab a quick lunch.
It’s the Fratelli Foods team, the guys behind the Remos restaurants, so the coffee and menu is similar in style and offerings. The coffee is good. We enjoyed a breakfast there. I had the Bosco Verde, which sounds like a character from the Sopranos. Poached eggs with portobello mushrooms, spinach and a creamy mushroom sauce served on a slice of their artisan bread. That sauce was very good, actually. It cost R55 and my cappuccino was R19. The Mister had the Bosco Rosso, also poached eggs on bread, but with hollandaise, bacon and avo., at a reasonable R62. Fresh pressed juices are my thing, and they have a wide range, which are actually pressed on order. It’s not often you can find real orange juice at a restaurant. It is R35 though, so to squeeze out some oranges they really squeeze your wallet a little in return. The service was efficient. My only complaint is that the accoustics are not ideal, but I recognise that that comes with the warehouse vibe. A large, voluminous ceiling combined with cement surfaces and an expansive open plan setup is not conducive to intimate chatter, so prepare to shout if you come in during a busy time.
This is a great addition to the Durban food scene. A lot of love and attention has been invested in each section of this market-style space. The Euro-centric setting is a positive indicator that horizons are broadening in the food landscape of our city. And while our food horizons expand, I look forward to expanding my waist with the various Italian edible treasures now within my gluttonous grasp.
Find at 39 Meridian Drive, Umhlanga New Town centre.