#SusanEats: Get transported to Italy with heightened dining experience

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Dining with a captivating view is a luxury many crave for. With the Johannesburg city skyline dotted with high-rises and gentle rolling hills, it is no surprise that BiCE Ristorante calls the eighth floor of Southern Sun Hyde Park, home.

Johannesburg has Italian restaurants galore. You will rarely catch me in one of the city’s many pretentious hotel restaurants; but show me a lovely rustic and relaxed one and I’m there! And as far as Italian restaurants go, BiCE Ristorante is an experience to enjoy and savour, rather than hurriedly slurp. BiCE Ristorante is certainly not the tallest dining experience, but you are assured of a heightened one – especially with the addition of a couple of bottles of Fantinel on their wine menu, which is currently available in six countries in Africa.

BiCE Ristorante is perched on the top floor of one of the prettiest rooftop pools in the neighbourhood. The ambiance is classic and bright with sweeping floor-to-ceiling windows, facing northeast. The neutral colour palette with white and cream accents added a contemporary vibe, but was a safe decor choice. The in-your-face BiCE-branded wine glasses were a bit of an eyesore though. Whilst Hyde Park may not be the Saxon Hotel,  it’s still pretty lush.

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My companion and I arrived at a completely packed BiCE Ristorante. The restaurant was heaving. Our table overlooked Sandton and its hilly landscape sparkled in the distance, dotted by streetlights. Our backs were to a well-stocked glass-enclosed wine cellar. An elderly couple seated next to us indulged in colourful antipasti. Another table of businessmen, older, seemed to be caught-up in an intriguing debate. A look around the dining room revealed that my companion and I must’ve been the youngest guests there. BiCE clearly wasn’t known as one of the most happening spots for young professionals.

Our evening began with some pleasant banter with the charming restaurant manager, Diego Montresor, and a flute of refreshing and delicately floral Fantinel Prosecco. Italians are passionate about food. In some cases, cuisine is like a religion – and it’s the quality of the ingredients that is most sacred. We happily let the executive chef, Nicolai Pareti, bring us whatever he wanted because we knew he would serve us an enticing parade of food. What a treat.

To begin with, Chef Nicolai Pareti’s choice read like an Italian shopper’s dream: Prosciutto-wrapped Asparagus. Every spear of asparagus was so tender, its shaved ends traced with a translucent ethereal finish.  How can dry-cured ham taste so good and simply melt in your mouth? The imported Prosciutto was shaved so thin but packed so much flavour – delicate and moist. The crisp and refreshing Fantinel Prosecco cut through the slight fattiness of the ham so well. It tasted as delicate and fresh as it looked.

Diego was busy visiting every table, which was nice to see and rarely is practiced by restaurant managers, especially when you’re in the middle of a swamped service. Such a gracious host. I soon understood why the clientele seemed a little older that evening.  Diego’s hands-on approach and personally connecting with as many guests as possible made diners feel at home. At first it may seem a bit old-school, but soon it becomes obvious that guests appreciate Diego’s attention to detail and his personalized service style from a bygone era – one that welcomes you like you’re in the comfort of your home and clearly is popular with diners (especially the older generation). Diego and his team elegantly and lovingly marries service and style. If you’re looking for an ultra modern restaurant with robotic-like servers, contemporary toys and plate presentations that are just as dramatic as they are fussy; then BiCE isn’t the place for you.

My companion and I enjoyed what seemed like a never-ending feast. Every dish carefully prepared only with the freshest of ingredients. There was the Homemade Potato Gnocchi tossed with Calamari. Each nugget was light and fluffy, far removed from the dense dumplings that are served in many Italian establishments. The golden brown pasta was tossed with some heirloom tomatoes and finished with a sprinkling of fresh basil.

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Then there was a pan-roasted fillet of beef that rested on a bed of mashed potato. A big blob, really. Oddly it seemed quite appetizing probably thanks to the aromas of caramelized meat and the woodiness from an earthy mushroom sauce. It’s almost funny when you are served an absolutely perfectly cooked piece of meat – so rare it is. Paired with a glass of Fantinel La Roncaia, morsels of beef washed down beautifully. The wine cut through the fattiness of the aged beef and creaminess of the sauce perfectly. Subtle notes of berries and acidity from the wine also balanced well with the slightly-caramelized roasted vegetables.

To finish, we plunged straight into the full, chocolaty depths of BiCE’s triple chocolate plate. The chocolate was all gooeyness and dense, not an original idea, but evidently incredibly satisfying and never gets old. A grown man with dark, sticky smears across his lips is a rewarding sight whilst you sip on a delicious South African dessert wine.

Italian executive chef Nicolai Pareti is definitely a veteran, obviously taking notes from his years cooking at fine establishments in Italy, Kenya, Tanzania and South Africa. It’s virtually impossible to fault the cooking at BiCE (definitely not from my experience); this is a proper, grown-up Italian eatery without any of the intimidating, complicated baggage that a “hotel restaurant” might imply. And that’s just it, BiCE is an Italian restaurant that happens to call a hotel home, and calling it a “hotel restaurant” would be to oversimplify.

If a la carte might seem a bit of a wallet frightener, it’s well worth checking out BiCE’s family style menu.  ‘Good value’ and ‘hotel’ are seldom seen used together, but BiCE have somehow managed it at Southern Sun Hyde Park, just like the 24 or so other BiCEs all over the world.

Within minutes of stepping into the lift, my companion and I agreed that our experience that evening left us speechless (a rare occurrence) – and very happy about it we were, too.

 

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SUSAN WONG

Susan Wong is the Editor of Capital Lifestyle, a resident photographer, an award-winning journalist, radio presenter, full-time adventurer, long-time admirer of anything edible, and a spicy food athlete at Capital FM.

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