It’s an understatement to say that Joburg’s slickest Italian restaurant Gemelli is internationally inspired. Owned by Alessandro Mosupi Khojane, whose early years were spent in Italy with his diplomat parents from Lesotho (he lived there from age two until 11, his first words spoken in Italian), and presided over by chef Paulo Santo who, while of Portuguese extraction, has spent years in Italian kitchens at award-winning restaurants Ritrovo in Pretoria and Cafe del Sol in Olivedale. Gemelli is set in a space (formerly a cycling store) inspired by the style of a New York Loft (Khojane tells us it was his dream to one day bust tables in New York City).
While the interiors (by Studio A) exude contemporary elegance with a mix of wood, leather and concrete and a rich-hued palette of bronze and copper tones, the décor piece de resistance is a 15m x 3m mural created by Los Angeles-based street artists Cyrcle, conjuring the might of ancient Rome, adorning the wall of the marble bar that runs the length of the restaurant. Another homage to the restaurant's roots is the eye-catching boot of Italy wall art made from wine and champagne corks.
Even on the busiest nights, and that seems to be every night, you’ll find Khojane (recognizable by his trademark tattoo of six playing cards that spell his Sesotho name Mosupi – all hearts, he says, ‘because I’m known to be a big softy’), welcoming his patrons, taking time to explain the menu and recommend particular dishes.
This is no garden variety Italian restaurant. There is a vibrant atmosphere here, and a truly cosmopolitan crowd. Expect recognizable and loved dishes served up as fine food, generously, comforting and rich in flavour while also being utterly instagrammable, each plate a play of flavour, colour and detail full of fresh, seasonal and ethically sourced ingredients.
Highlights of the starter and sides menu include the truffle mushroom risotto, with its four types of mushrooms, the cauliflower, leek and truffle soup and the contemporary take on the classic Caprese salad, with tomato jelly and house pesto. There is a classic pasta selection so traditionalists will feel at home – puttanesca, aglio olio – and other innovative dishes such as ‘Penne Alessandro’, an artful combination of prawn tails, smoked chicken, and prosecco-mustard cream. You’ll find a hearty selection of meat dishes, plus prawns, sea bass and sole for mains served with Gemelli’s rich signature flair. The West Coast sole is roasted with almonds, baby spinach, artichoke and mushroom and lightly covered in a parsley beurre blanc.
For dessert, Mosupi says the cheesecake is a firm favourite with patrons, baked with nougat, cranberry and almond meringue and accompanied by marzipan gelato. The twist on the classic Tiramisu – with espresso syrup, Oreo cookie crumbs, a mousse of mascarpone and espresso custard – is worthy of applause. The menu is seasonal and changes twice a year.
It would be wrong to leave without sampling the cocktail menu. Toast Gemelli’s international standing with The Mad Italian – a vodka, Aperol, syrup, lemon juice, fresh basil and tonic water blend – or try the Lesotho Lady, a mix of gin, grapefruit juice and cola tonic, lemonade and bitters. There’s a choice of Italian and local craft beers and a well-priced wine list.