Café del Sol Classico: Lovingly old-school and classically Joburg

The old-world charm of red-and-white décor and flickering lamps plus quirky quotes and a host of awards adorning the walls may help explain why this 12-year-old honest-to-goodness Italian restaurant is still tough to get into on a Saturday night. 

Café del Sol - Stuffed Calamari 1 (HR) by Annalize Nel

There are seemingly endless reasons to love Italian food: giant wheels of Parmesan, stylish antipasti, spirals of tagliatelle, crusty sourdough pizzas and hearty vegetarian options are just a bunch. Joburg is home to all sorts of Italian restaurants offering finely-crafted specialties – some draw from the traditional trattorias of the fashionable north and others from the rustic south – but there’s only one that suits every occasion, and that’s the family-owned-and-run Café del Sol Classico. 

Aspiring restauranteurs in Joburg should study this convivial Olivedale pioneer. Though it opened in 2007, Café del Sol Classico remains unsurpassed in the neighbourhood. Affable owners Mamma Luciana, daughter Chiara and son Ryan handle the inevitable wait (due to the limited reservations policy) with panache. The family has built a strong local following for their comforting Italian cooking, and Luciana plays the nonna role admirably at this modest spot – a throwback to the reliable, cheerful trattorias that used to define the East Village.

Café del Sol - Home-made beetroot ravioli filled with smoked salmon and ricotta cheese served in a delicate zesty lemon cream (HR) by Annalize Nel

Seasonal produce shapes the menu of chef XX. Start with a glass of Veuve Clicquot Yellow Label Brut and the angel hair-wrapped prawns. Fruity notes of apricot, pineapple, peach, pear, brioche and vanilla in the champagne complement the lemon-infused mashed avocado that the prawns are served on perfectly. Another starter that would be hard to improve on is the Italian primevera rolls: spring roll pastry filled with imported Parma ham, rocket and smoked mozzarella and then deep fried and served with a creamy white wine sauce.

Pasta is really the best thing on the menu. Toothsome spaghetti strands are tossed in a generous jumble of vodka-flambéed salmon, leeks, asparagus and creamy Napoletana sauce, while a soothing carbonara features cylinder-shape penne gooey with a sauce made of cream, egg yolk, Parmesan, garlic and parsley plus real pancetta. Even simple pastas, such as the basil pesto with chicken strips, a dash of cream and a hint of lemon, are superb. And you’ll have no trouble finding a wine to match your pasta of choice – Café del Sol Classico’s list is one of the city’s best. 

Café del Sol - Pavlova 2 (HR) by Annalize Nel

Café del Sol Classico is also one of those rare Italian restaurants with desserts worth saving room for. Salt, not sugar, is the star of the fan-favourite salted caramel brûlée served with popcorn ice cream. However, it’s the pavlova – husk meringue with its fine, sticky hull giving way to a velvety, supercharged vanilla cream and fresh berries – that cements the restaurant as the dessert whisperer of Joburg dining. As a plus, the service is swift and friendly – the waiters are well-versed on the menu and work the room as a team. 

Whether it’s for a casual get-together, romantic dinner or celebration, the next time you’re hungry, Café del Sol Classico is here to embrace the Italian culture’s favourite activity: eating. It’s a relaxed environment conducive to good conversation and everything’s splendido! 

Café del Sol Classico - Interior 3 (HR) by Annalize Nel

Olivedale Corner, corner of President Fouche Drive & Olive Road, Olivedale 

011 704 6493 

Facebook: @cafedelsolsouthafrica 

Twitter: @cafedelsol1 

Instagram: @cafedelsolsa 

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