Cape Town’s Restaurant Heavyweights: Round Two

“Here is Part Two in our foodie feature where we share with you our chat with Giorgio Nava, Cape Town restaurateur of popular foodie hangouts like Mozzarella and Café Milano”

“Here is Part Two in our foodie feature where we share with you our chat with Giorgio Nava, Cape Town restaurateur of popular foodie hangouts like Mozzarella and Café Milano”

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Here is Part Two in our foodie feature where we share with you our chat with Giorgio Nava, Cape Town restaurateur of popular foodie hangouts like Mozzarella and Café Milano.  Enjoy our interview with him where we discover what makes him tick!

Giorgio Nava 

As the best import from Milan since Armani, this particular Giorgio is an Italian who has changed the face of Milanese cooking in Cape Town. Starting off his empire with 95 on Keerom, now a culinary institution in Cape Town, and then Carne, which is entirely dedicated to meat and described as “Its so sexy, you want to have sex with the walls!” by restaurateur Richard Griffin, these two fine dining restaurants alone proved to the foodies of the Cape that this Italian was here to stay. We wanted to find out more about his unique business approach and of course more about his casual eateries of Mozzarella Bar, The Pie Bar, Café Milano and Down South.

There is a consistent philosophy that runs through all your restaurants, and that is one of creating a unique dining experience.  What was your initial thinking behind this?

Mozzarella Bar, the Pie Bar and Down South are very different to 95 (95 on Keerom) and Carne. They have a more relaxed and comfortable feel to them.  With Down South we are trying to move away from fine dining and offer some salsa and spice.  I’ve realized South Africans like sauce!  Like Americans, sauce is needed on everything!  The fact that it is the first type of restaurant of its kind, is also very telling. We also have very good locations near the young and trendy spots and all our stores are accessible for people to get to.  With the Pie Bar we are offering a more homemade, take-away vibe where you can sit and enjoy good home-cooked food.  Our pies are all made on site.  We also try and use the best ingredients at each restaurant so we can offer clients good quality for a reasonable price.

Cape Town is synonymous for producing some of SA’s best restaurants, however it is also somewhat known for restaurants closing down after a year or two.  So, why the restaurant business for you? And what is your winning formula as your restaurants seem to be standing the test of time!

I came to South Africa 10 years ago to set up a shop like Mozzarella but no one was interested then, they weren’t even sure what mozzarella was, and we closed after three months.  Now a few years later we have a new concept and Capetonians are finally catching on.  It is the first Italian store of its kind in South Africa. In Europe it is difficult to emerge as it has all been done before but here people are very open and so we are doing well.

It is a tough, very competitive market out there and the industry is small. Over 120 restaurants closed last year in Cape Town but then 100 more opened. Many people think it is easy to come here and cook a steak on a grill and sell it. And many open without any experience. I think ambiance, good service and quality food is the drawing card for any restaurant to keep it going.  And I think the secret to any good restaurant is the staff.  We work 18 hour days to train them, mainly at Keerom and then they move on to our respective restaurants.  They are interested and willing to learn and we now have about 126 staff members who work very hard to ensure our customers receive a top service.  I have learnt over the years that if you pay your staff well, they will work hard for you.

If you are not eating at any of your own restaurants, where do you choose to eat and why? And what is your favourite dish?

I hardly ever eat anywhere else but do enjoy and have been to La Colombe and Bizerca.  At Carne I would definitely get the T-Bone while at Down South the ribs and prawn combo is a definite winner! At the Pie Bar I would go for our homemade chicken pie and at Café Milano our pasta dishes are amazing!

What do you enjoy most about living in Cape Town?

I love that there are so many opportunities and the space here in Cape Town. I live in Camps Bay and believe that I am very lucky to wake up each morning there and walk my dogs.  I enjoy life here!

Dead or alive – if you could invite anyone for dinner who would it be and why?

I would have to honestly say, a dinner with all my friends would be wonderful because I never see them as I am always working. I usually never ever take a night off because my work is my first love.  Sometimes I have Sunday free but then I don’t want to socialize, and would prefer some alone time at home and with my dogs.

What our team had to say: Why Giorgio

Chantal

I absolutely love Mozzarella’s coffee and custard croissants!  They are too die for and the fact that we work so nearby does not help matters! 

Christina

I love contemporary Italian cuisine and fancy interior design – so it’s Giorgio’s establishments for me any time!

Danielle

This is a hard one but I think I will have to go for Café Milano.  Just adore their fruit tarts and the bombolones are delish!  Enough to satisfy my sweet tooth!

Richard

I personally loved Carne.  If meat is your treat, then this is definately one place to visit in Cape Town.  I had the best rib eye steak I’ve ever had there!

Candice

I love Mozzarella for many reasons.  The food is uncomplicated, tasty and fresh. They are always buzzing and the ice coffee is beyond amazing!

Mandi

I can’t decide!  I love love love Carne, Mozzarella and Café Milano.  What can I say; if we are not at Milano every Sunday morning then our weekend is not the same!

Hannes

Mozzarella’s is my favourite spot for a quick Tuesday night dinner before I go to class after work.  By then, the otherwise bustling sidewalk café is empty and I can sit in peace to read the newspaper and savour their delicious deep fried phyllo parcels with ham and mozzarella cheese.  This dish goes down equally well in the morning after a big night out!