Tucked away on Keerom Street, in the heart of Cape Town’s CBD is a gem of an Italian restaurant called 95 Keerom. For 15 years, 95 Keerom has carried a hearty reputation for delivering truly sumptuous and authentic Italian cuisine, the “old school” way. For the next month, however, from Monday 9th April till Saturday 5th May, chef-proprietor Giorgio Nava will be joining forces with two young Italian chefs from Milan for a whole month of risotto!
During these four short weeks, guests can visit 95 Keerom’s “Autumn Risotto Pop Up” to experience four different risotto dishes that turn simplistic, honest ingredients into a lip-smacking adventure in the way the Italians do best. All-in-all there will be 16 masterfully prepared dishes on offer, four per night and a new menu each week. Think classic dishes such as Italian mushroom risotto, risotto alla milanese (saffron), asparagus risotto with crispy pancetta, and risotto with mascarpone and walnuts, as well as a bevvy of fabulous innovations.
We were among the lucky few chosen to preview 95 Keerom’s fabulous “Autumn Risotto Pop Up” and, given the cooler weather and even occasional rain of the past week, I couldn’t have asked for a better meal than Italian risotto made by Italian hands and paired with Italian (varietal) wine!
On the menu
For our experience, we were treated to five different courses with each comprising a ladle-full of velvety risotto that was a perfect balance between sweet, acidic, and savoury; so much so that not once did I find a dish wanting for salt, lemon, or sweet relief.
The first two courses were “Il Risotto alle Cozze”, a beautiful bowlful of tomato risotto with a generous serving of fresh mussels and topped with a salty anchovy crumble; and “Il Risotto al Pomodoro e Stracciatella”, risotto with fresh tomatoes and burrata stracciatella, a creamy, soft white cheese made from Italian buffalo milk. Next up were “Il Risotto al Formaggio e Noci”, risotto with pecan nuts and taleggio (a mild cheese with a strong aroma), and “Il Risotto alle Barbabietole e Gorgonzola”, a bright pink risotto coloured as such because of the beetroot and served with a delicious, crunchy disk of cheese.
By the fourth course, some people around the table were abandoning the last few bites on their plates in an effort to save stomach space. Not me. I found each course so different yet equally as, if not tastier than the last, that I couldn’t help but polish off each plate, right down to the clandestine licking of my cutlery.
The final course was “Il Risotto alla Zucca e Amaretti” – a creamy butternut risotto dusted with Italian Amaretti almond biscuit crumbs. While this was likely intended as a clever dessert concept, I found it to deliver quite a heavy (and heavenly) punch so it also could have fit in as the second or third course.
Italian varietal wines from Steenberg
What is a plate of risotto without a beautiful glass of Italian wine? We were utterly spoilt in this regard because accompanying our risotto experience was none other than a 2016 Sémillon white and a 2015 Nebbiolo red from the luscious and lauded vineyards in Steenberg Estate in Tokai (Cape Town). Both wines are crafted from Italian varietals on South African soil but the latter – the Nebbiolo – I’d never even heard of before, so it was quite the adventure getting to taste this noble wine with its astonishing ruby colour that belies the boldness and depth of its tannic, yet fruity flavour profile.
Side note: Nebbiolo comes from the word “nebbia” in Italian, meaning mist. This varietal is a native to the Piedmont region in Italy, where it favours cool, maritime climates that get bathed in morning mist. Since the Constantia valley doesn’t get much mist, the wine-maker at Steenberg allowed the Nebbiolo vineyards to grow without interference, enabling the subsequent heaped tangle of vines and leaves to provide the grapes with shade (and cooler growing conditions).
With plates removed, the handsome talent behind the risotto experience emerged from the kitchen to greet us and salute the meal with a glass of wine. They are Keerom 95’s resident chef-proprietor Giorgio Nava and two young Italian imports: Nicoló Rovarini and Federico Rocca, who are actually in the process of relocating and opening their own restaurant in Cape Town, called “Riva”.
Giorgio Nava explained to us – in his thick Italian accent (swoon) – that they didn’t use cream or butter in any of the dishes, which was quite a surprise given the velvety, rich texture and flavours of the risotto: “A good-a risotto is all about-a da stock; you use-a good stock, you make-a good risotto.”
In hindsight, it makes perfect sense: it explains my ability to put away five plates of the stuff without feeling overly full or rich. Anyway, when the risotto is this good, who cares about the carbs?
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Phone: 021 422 0765