It shouldn't have been a surprise to Jackie that she would have a restaurant career as her parents are well-known across Johannesburg for having once owned one of the best Italian restaurants – Assaggi in Illovo. The place was an institution with its crisp white tablecloths, excellent service, mouthwatering veal and pasta dishes and its famous zucchini fritti. In fact the family left such a mark on Joburg that for years Joburg food fans have followed Jackie's mother Luciana from one new establishment to another and trumpeted any connection between any Italian restaurant and "that family from Assaggi".
Jackie apprenticed to a pastry chef in Italy after completing a pastry course, having started her studies with the aim of pursing a career in industrial psychology. Her mother now shares space in the kitchen with her having brought with her delicious recipes.
Truffle pasta, porcini bruschetta, prawns with a hint of chilli, a superb beef carpaccio, and delicious veal are just some of the dishes we have tried and can sincerely vouch for. Dolci is loyal to the simplicity of Italian cooking, using few ingredients per dish but making sure that they are of the highest quality and present the most satisfying flavours. Pastas are of course homemade and we recommend trying the butternut gnocchi and the savoury strozzapreti pasta (hand-rolled pasta also known as a priest-strangler – a name that has its origin in far too many urban legends to share here).
The family's roots are in Emilia-Romagna, a region of Northeast Italy, whose capital Bologna tops Italy's quality of life indices. The cuisine of the region is said to rely on generous seasonings and claims a number of famous ingredients including balsamic vinegar, tortellini pasta and Pamigiano Reggiano. Who wouldn't want to call this place home?
In 2019 the restaurant was awarded the prestigious Diner's Club International Diamond Award recognising the high quality of the wine list. The restaurant also expanded, opening a second branch in Sandton called Bistro Dolce Vita.
Also new in 2019 is the addition of Neapolitan pizza on the menu, a collaboration with the team from O'ver Pizza, run by the remarkable Lisa Stofella, a finalist in the 2019 Miss South Africa pageant. Stofella, together with her Italian partner and another couple, friends who moved to South Africa from Egypt, decided that Johannesburg deserved real Italian-style pizza and set up a stall at the Neighbourgoods Market in Braamfontein to bring the homemade light and chewy thick crust dough pizza bases and a range of simple but ever so tasty toppings that they were making at home to the market. The pizza was a hit and in a short few months they also opened a store at Ferndale on Republic in Randburg.
O'ver in Neapolitan dialect roughly translates to "the real deal" and that it is. The menu features six variations of pizza including a classic Margherita with fior de late mozzarella, the Diavola with salami and hot sauce and our favourite, the O'ver with ricotta mousse, smoked salmon and lemon zest. The secret, says Lisa, is in using refined stone ground flour which provides the lightness and a wood-fired oven that bakes a pizza at 400 Degrees Celsius in around 90 seconds.
Dolci's desserts are superb – light and delicious with plenty of chocolate options (something we consider the mark of excellence) including a chocolate-filled ravioli. Take your time.