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Visit the active LitNet platform at www.litnet.co.za

Leefstyl | Lifestyle > Kos & Wyn | Food & Wine > Rubrieke | Columns > Paul Murray: Murray's Food Trails

The Primi Wharf Trail

Paul Murray - 2011-11-30

Location: Shop 7226, Upper Level, Victoria Wharf
Closest parking: Victoria Wharf Shopping Centre Garage
Telephone: 021 419 8750
Fax: 021 421 6036
Email: va@primi-piatti.com
Website: www.primi-world.com


Primi Wharf

The experience of eating at Primi does not begin with Primi Wharf at the Waterfront. It goes back much, much further, to the time a great genius decided it was time to make a move. He is Nino and the Nino legend lives on.

Nino Zanasia, former bassoon player from Genoa in Italy, opened his first restaurant, Nino Da Genova, in Melville in Johannesburg in 1980. The passion he had then he never lost, and still today you see the same passion in his son Cesco, short for Francesco.

Those of us who used to frequent Nino’s in Johannesburg in the 1980s remember Nino’s two boys, Christian and Francesco, schoolboys who used to come and do shifts as waiters in their father’s trattoria (small restaurant). At Nino’s there was the passion and here at Primi Wharf the same passion flows into what is a strap phrase for the company, “urban energy”. Francesco, like Nino his father, is passionate about serving food to people like me and you. 

When the Zanasi's moved to Cape Town to open Nino’s on Greenmarket Square in 1992 and Camps Bay in 1996 it was not long before these two eateries had become Cape Town landmarks.

It’s the urban energy that drives the dining experience at Primi. It’s the combo of strong tastes and fresh quality that gives it its special recipe.

The vibrant decor at Primi is reminiscent of the images in the Sistine Chapel in Rome – Michelangelo's touch right here in Cape Town.

Francesco’s business partner, Peter Castle, emphasises that the success of the business lies in the incredible empathy that management has for all who work at Primi, which means those in management do the same training as everyone else. 

OK, so let’s put them to the test. On Friday, 25th November at 8.45 pm I went to dine at Primi Wharf with friends Dave, Karen, Fiona and Pavo and requested our waiter, friendly, energetic, knowledgeable, to request Cesco, the proprietor, to come to our table since I know him personally and have known him for 30 years and just want to say “hi” and introduce him to my friends. As much as I would have liked him to come over, I knew he was sorting out a problem. How would I know? For the simple reason that for virtually the entire duration of my two-hour stay in the restaurant I was watching him working away in the kitchen.  The perspex windows on to the kitchen from the restaurant area made him perfectly visible where he was doing what anyone in the kitchen was expected to do! When you work at Primi you are expected to do what anyone else is expected to do.

Cesco in the kitchen at Primi Wharf

And then there is the training. Those who work there get amazing training – in service, trends, what people like, tastes, fusion … the list is endless. And whenever you go to Primi you come away with a perception you felt that there was a good vibe between you and all those around you. 

You can see that team Peter and Francesco are ensuring the Nino legend lives on.

Urban energy at Primi

There’s much to try at Primi, and maybe checking out the menu as you come into the restaurant … There is a blackboard with the dishes chalked up … old-style … on the left as you come in. One thing is for sure: you cannot possibly miss having a primi (Italian for “starter”), the whole reason for Primi’s name! Go from primi to secondi if you like.

And my favourite primi?

It has gotta bee focaccia, as they say in the deep Italian South!

There's so much to choose from the menu.

Try one of the traditional dishes – I cannot possibly resist the focaccia as a starter, just plain pizza bread with herbs and garlic – and that’s an excellent way to get going, with some good Cape wine. We had the bread and focaccia to start with, and classic Roodeberg Red brought by Dave. 

And here’s an easy recipe for focaccia (crispy round bread done in the pizza or electric oven).

Take 1 cup of water and 1½ tablespoons of dry yeast and half a spoon of sugar and 4 cups of bread flour, 1½ teaspoons of salt and 2 tablespoons of good olive oil and finally a quarter cup of fresh rosemary (alternatively 6 tablespoons of fresh sage – I prefer this). Chop.

Classic Roodeberg of the Western Cape

Sprinkle the yeast and sugar in the water while stirring and leave for 5 mins for the yeast to work; then combine the flour and salt and olive oil and herbs – remember to have a nice bottle of wine open and take a sip every now and then. Gradually add the yeast into the water and keep on adding water until the dough handles easily in your hands, then knead with your hands until it becomes nice and soft, and elastic. The kneading should take about 10 mins. Leave to rise for about one hour in a nice big bowl and cover the bowl with a fresh cloth. Then punch the dough down and let it rise again – this takes another 30 mins (to rise). Do this again, but now leave for 10 mins, then get ready for the baking.

Oil a baking pan with nice olive oil and then start to flatten the dough with floured fingers, get it about one quarter inch thick and let it rest for 10 mins and cover with a cloth. Then continue and now cover the whole baking sheet and make little dimples in the dough, drizzle olive oil and put some coarse salt over the dough; preheat oven (220°C – 425°F) and place 2 cups of boiling water beneath in a pan on the bottom shelf. Bake the focaccia in this preheat for 20 mins or until the surface is crispy and brown.   Take out, cut and serve.

Freshly made focaccia – easy to make, delicious to have as a starter with nice wine – a true primi.

For the next course make penne like Jamie Oliver – his recipe can be found here – but how could you resist Primi’s delectable penne made from the Mamma’s own recipe?

Penne Arrabiata – Primi
[Photo credit]

And so the urban energy pumps hard at Primi as the Nino legend lives on in the great abilities of Peter Castle, Francesco Zanasi and their incredible staff committed to bringing the best in tasteful Italian casalinga (home cooking).