Renovating date night

Fast food…

Date night doesn’t get any more romantic than Café Paradiso. Cradled at the foot of Table Mountain in the ever-so-popular Kloof Street, this beautifully cosmopolitan restaurant will leave you feeling completely love-struck…and more so for the food! Café Paradiso creatively renovates the tired concept of date night; here you have date night with your kids, your family or even friends!

 Three course meal…

We never go out for a meal in the evenings anymore. Unless it’s a takeaway, of course. Lately, our social gatherings over plates of food have happened in the day time. I guess once you live the responsible young adult life your priorities change and as soon as the sun sets, you head back to the nest. So, when the Madame Zingara Group invited us for dinner at Café Paradiso, I was as excited as a teenager waiting for her boyfriend to pull up in the driveway.

The term “date night” creates certain expectations. You dream of a lovely, moonshine evening with bright stars in the sky. You imagine a romantic candle-lit table for two in a cosy corner. You anticipate soothing background music, and a lovely bottle of wine. Beautiful food and great service. And then you shake yourself awake and realise you’ve been daydreaming again about the perfect date.

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But, this is exactly what you can expect at Café Paradiso, down to the last romantic daydreamy detail. From the moment we entered through the hidden garden gate, you leave the world and all its troubles behind. Enter a beautiful gardened seating area, with the restaurant itself majestically perched on the little hill like a Tuscan villa. From here the views are unparalleled; you can see Table Mountain in its full glory without getting up from your table. The courtyard is lush and green and inviting; here you can work, play or just absorb the bustle of the mother city from a distance. There is a cluster of tables on the raised patio and from here you can look out over Kloof Street. Creeping vines provide shade in the summer without obscuring your view of our city. I was already in love just with the outside of the building.

We were taken to a cosy table for two and I delighted in the very unassuming, but striking, décor. It had an elegant country kitchen feel; maybe what I imagine a Tuscan kitchen would look like. The table was beautifully set; very simple, but elegantly. Already the restaurant was buzzing this early in the evening and the patrons were a mix of families, couples and groups of friends, all gathered to delight in the incredible menu.

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The menu is a celebration of everything foreign and exotic. It entices with Lebanese crispbread, Greek salads, Italian pastas and classic French cuisine, with a few humble nods to traditional South African fare scattered between. Don’t let this global menu intimidate you, though – it has been very carefully thought out and brings together only the most popular cuisines from across Europe for your eating pleasure.

We started our meal with their reinvented drunken camembert. Be gone, oh the beloved (but very contentious!) deep-fried camembert of the 1960’s! Instead, indulge in a sleeker, creamier and more wholesome reinvention of everyone’s favourite hot cheese. The plate was beautifully presented; two generous portions of camembert, encased in a light and crispy beer batter, served on a tangy tomato and basil infused coulis. Perfectly garnished with a handful of vibrant rocket greens, parmesan shavings and balsamic drizzle. Café Paradiso has elevated this tired trend to the ultimate date night starter. It tasted every bit the elegant dish it was.

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Our romantic meal was off to a great start. We spent quite a bit of time perusing their impressive wine list, and had a hard time making up our minds. Nobody will leave thirsty – the wine list caters for all tastes and palates. Ranging from bubbles to all the popular white cultivars to our favourite moody reds and real Champagne…you are guaranteed to find something suitable for your celebration. Most wines are offered per bottle or per glass. What I appreciated most about the wine list, was that there were options for all budgets. We opted for my all-time favourite Pinotage, the Van Loveren African Java. Coupled with the little lantern on our table, the happy chatter of people, soft background music and a delicious starter, I was incredibly content in this exact moment.

Whilst we waited on our mains, I looked around at the diners. Even though Café Paradiso lends itself perfectly to the romantic date night for couples, the restaurant was packed with families on dates with their kids! This, to me, is a happy compromise; mom and dad get a chance to eat a good quality meal and have a glass of wine and adult conversation, whilst the kids are entertained, looked after and well-fed.  On Café Paradiso’s menu you will find a whole section dedicated to the entertainment of the little ones. Until 8pm each night, they offer kiddies’ projects, which either involves making and baking their own cupcakes, mini-pizzas, choc chip cookies or gingerbread men! There is a dedicated crafts table in the kitchen, which is supervised by friendly restaurant staff, where the kiddies can create and cook to their hearts’ content. They can of course also do their projects at the table with mom and dad if they’re still small. These projects only cost R50 each! And it seems to guarantee at least an hour or two’s peace and quiet for the adults.

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They also offer a wicked kids' eating menu, with no item more expensive than R60. I thought this was genius. Except for the kiddies’ projects, the outside seating area also provides a nice place, safe for kids to play, with plenty of hiding places and a gorgeous water feature that is bound to captivate them. It’s also completely off-road with no chances for escaping the premises.  At Café Paradiso, kids (and pets!) are invited and cherished, rather than excluded.

Our mains arrived and I couldn’t’ve been more overwhelmed at the gorgeous bowls of winter comfort. I ordered the homemade sweet potato & butternut gnocchi, served on a four-cheese sauce with flavours of nutmeg, parmesan and walnuts. Karl opted for a classic dish of pan-fried veal strips, finished with tomato, cream & thyme, tossed with fresh fettuccine pasta. All home-made. Down to the last ingredient.

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I often wonder, if I ever had to choose my last meal on this earth, what it would be. I also often change my mind. But I think I found my perfect last meal. That plate of gnocchi spoke to my very soul. It was rich, soothing, and wonderfully fragrant. I didn’t want it to end. It was wholesome and nourishing without being overwhelmingly rich. The ripe berry and plum notes of the Pinotage cut through the indulgence of the silky cheese sauce and left my taste buds positively awake and ready for more. Karl’s veal fettucine was authentic and flavoursome. The veal strips were sumptuous and tender; the tangy tomato and thyme sauce offsetting the richness of the meat perfectly. It wasn’t overly creamy (which is very often the case with Italian food) and the simplicity of the dish was a perfect match for smoky, roasted undertones of the Pinotage.

We somehow found a little space for dessert. We shared a tiramisu and “the best living” lemon meringue. Both desserts were fresh, tasty and served in very generous portions, with ice cream and berry coulis. After a lingering dessert, as we wrapped up our meal with steaming espressos, I realised that Café Paradiso presented like a huge Italian family gathering. All the tables were packed with families sharing food and passing plates and clinking glasses. Happy chatter filled every corner of the room, and the atmosphere was loaded with precious togetherness. Children laughed and played, and couples shared secret smiles over candlelight. Staff carried out main courses with confidence, and poured wine with pleasure. And in the midst of all this Saturday night dining activity, there we sat, in our own little world of sheer indulgence.

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Café Paradiso couldn’t’ve offered the mother city a better family-centred restaurant if they tried. They have taken the foundations of family life and brought them together in a modern, trendy space. Here everyone can have their unique version of date night, surrounded by loved ones, an abundance of deliciously wholesome food, a showcase of local wines and an atmosphere which will leave you feeling welcome and appreciated.

Café Paradiso has the incredible ability to dress down during the day to a casual, vibey lunch-time venue where you meet friends for a catch up or a sneaky glass of wine. But when the sun goes down, she puts on her sparkles and silverware and transforms into a classic fusion restaurant, without any pretentiousness. Her quiet confidence speaks through the dozens of happy diners spilling through the little garden gate at the end of each night. We too, left with full tummies through that little gate, vowing to return again soon for another taste of the paradise that lies beyond it.

The Little Hedonist has made every effort to ensure that the information in this post was correct at the time of publication. However, I do not assume any liability caused by errors, such as price, menu changes, opening times, and contact details.

**This post was sponsored by the Madame Zingara Group (http://www.madamezingara.com/) who generously wined and dined us for the evening at Café Paradiso.

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Meet Amilinda Wilkinson

Amilinda Wilkinson

Amilinda Wilkinson is a small town girl with big dreams. She is a nature geek, total foodie, devoted wife and mother to furry children. When she's not at the office, she explores, writes about, photographs and indulges in this fragile adventure we call life.

Read more from Amilinda on her blog The Little Hedonist.