They offer a style of cuisine and fare that brings savoury comfort, delicious flavours and familiar heartiness to the red checkered table – food that we all would like to believe our grandmothers made. It is exactly what any self-respecting human would accept as a final meal.
However, the popularity of the traditionally cliched Italian meal and common eatery has dwindled in recent years with a global, and especially local, food upturn. Several favourite Pretoria haunts have closed their doors in the current economic climate and the “foodie” insurrection, on the opposite side. Several of those have been Italian restaurants, like the Waterkloof stalwart Ritrovo. But, for almost forty years on the Northern outskirts of town sits an Italian restaurant hidden safely and stable, and as traditional as they come, in the heart of the main terminal building of the Wonderboom Airport.
Villa San Giovanni was started in 1981 by the Maiorana family in the very spot it now sits. Over the years the restaurant has been developed into a three-part eating house consisting of the classically styled fine dining interior, the modern hall-like terrace exterior and patio, and the upstairs J&B Jet Lounge smoking section. Both the terrace and lounge presents diners with wonderfully interesting views of the airport’s runways and boarding or departure platforms.
The traditionally Italian father and son operation offers the old school homey fare, but with a slightly finessed twist and additionally features an array of burgers and light meals on their menu, strictly for the surface dwellers. You can always spot either of the Maiorana boys or their father shadowing around the hub of the house that lasagna built, just to make sure all runs as smoothly as always. The clientele is a balanced amalgamation of airport travelers or flight industry staff, and diners exclusively frequenting the establishment for the consistently well-made food.
The locale has two slightly different menus on offer. One for the fine dining restaurant with more refined and formally designed dishes, and the other for the terrace and lounge areas with more casual cafe and pizzeria food options. The pizza and pasta at Villa San Giovanni might be hard to pinpoint on a scale of the greatest in the 012, but it certainly scores a plethora of points for being invariably tasty and welcoming. Favourites include pastas such as Capelli di Prete alla Gorgonzola (chicken stuffed pasta shells in a thick sauce of the good stuff); the Bolognese Cannelloni; the classic pizza Parma with Prosciutto crudo, Parmesan shavings and rocket; the Gnocchi Con Pancetta with roasted walnuts and the pizza Picasso with bacon, Gorgonzola, avocado, chilli and garlic. They also supply a brilliant variety of antipasti, brushette, fish, chicken and meat dishes, sandwiches and desserts. If you care about your meal, there will be something to order.
“Giovanni’s”, as it is affectionately called, runs extremely decent weekly and monthly specials to definitely take advantage of. On two consecutive nights, each and every month, the eatery runs a pizza and pasta buffet where diners can dish up and eat as much as they want from a variety of the most popular pizza and pasta options on the menu. Each and every Monday, it’s also “buy one get one free” on all pizza and pastas at the beloved trattoria. The restaurant also features a buffet breakfast each and every Saturday and Sunday from 08:00 to 10:45. Presenting a decadent selection of fresh, savoury and sweet classic breakfast fare. They also running specials on specific dishes and beverages.
Several friends of mine, and our families, have been calling Giovanni’s a favourite spot for some time now. For several reasons, but mainly the ones mentioned above. I continue this tradition of being part of the small demographic that goes to the airport for dinner. Make sure to try this some or other time.
by David C. Steyn