The Botanical Bar
The Botanical Bar

Risotto pop-up

Let’s face it, risotto is the quintessential comfort food. And with the weather cooling down a bit, couldn’t we all do with some of that?

It’s handy, then, that Cape Town’s 95 Keerom is launching a three-week risotto pop-up in May. And because Keerom’s proprietor, chef Giorgio Nava, is involved, the festival of slow-cooked, cheesy rice is never going to feature the stodgy offering you might inadvertently have presented to guests when you stopped stirring for three minutes.

95 Keerom
95 Keerom

Nava’s City Bowl gem has been serving up classic Italian fare for 15 years. His other babies are Carne (where you are presented with a platter of the day’s meat cuts to admire before you choose the one you want to be served for dinner) and 95 at Morgenster, among others.

But back to the food therapy at hand. Nava will host two guest chefs from Italy for the said carb extravaganza — Nicolò Rovarini and Federico Rocca (who are in the process of relocating to Cape Town to start their own venture, Riva). A variety of risottos will be on offer each night, and the selection will change weekly.

The range of dishes is designed as a celebration of seasonality and quality produce. It will showcase different kinds of risotto rice prepared in a wide variety of authentic ways, as handed down in Italian families over generations.

You can expect classic flavours like burrata, basil and fresh tomato, mussels, classic risotto alla Milanese with saffron, and the ever-popular and comforting mushroom risotto. More unusual combinations include butternut and amaretti biscuits (great as a "dessert" course), asparagus with prawns or crispy pancetta, and mascarpone and walnuts.

Planting the seed

Niche dining experiences and specialist bars have become de rigueur in Cape Town. The number of deeply specific eateries — poke hatches offering raw fish salads, ramen bars, or charming holes-in-the-wall serving dim sum — means you can find just about anything you want to eat or drink in the city.

Proving this point — not once, not twice, but now for the third time — the team that brought into existence the much-loved Secret Gin Bar and Marrow broth bar (yes, it just sells broth) has opened a new venue.

The Botanical Bar on Longmarket Street is all about showcasing local artisanal liquors and producers through contemporary interpretations of classic drinks. House-made botanical concoctions (tinctures, bitters, syrups or vermouths) form a catalogue of flavours for the bar staff to combine. The food menu focuses on small sharing plates, with a healthy dose of fresh local ingredients and influences adding character to the dishes.

The restaurant also serves unpretentious stuff, such as frikkadels and chicken kebabs (albeit with clever twists), and dishes that are at once familiar and original, such as samp and mushroom risotto, or wild rocket and pear salad with bitters-spiced walnuts and kapokbos dressing.

For a really indigenous flavour immersion, the snoek-and-spekboom pâté with seed crackers and buchu-and-orange-marinated olives will have an appeal.

Healthy types will be pleased to note that all the dishes are gluten free, and ingredients are as sustainable as possible; the kitchen uses only the meat of pasture-raised animals and produce is ethically sourced.