Food: Good, solid Italian fare.
Service: Waiters are attentive and, I suspect, a little long-suffering. Tip them well. There will be a bit of a wait, especially for pasta dishes and if it's a Friday or Saturday night. But it's so worth it.
Atmosphere: Set in an old-world Kensington house, the white pressed ceilings and beautiful wooden floors add a romantic feel in the evenings. And Italy is all about the amore.
If you're in the mood for proper Italian cooking, Gema is the place to go. Located in a converted colonial house on Kensington's Queen Street, this family-run trattoria and pizzeria offers reasonably-priced classic Italian food.
While you can't go wrong with their creamy alfredo or lasagna, it's their wood oven-fired pizzas that really stand out. It's difficult to explain how good they actually are - you need to try them to really understand the deliciousness - but their perfectly thin bases and quality, substantial toppings and decent sizes definitely have something to do with it. And, of course, the quintessential Italian love with which they are made.
Homemade ice cream - a scoop of chocolate and bacio, respectively. Translation: two scoops of orgasmic bliss.
Gema is run by a dedicated husband and wife team. They're both very hands-on and are always around. Not much English is spoken in the establishment at all (which is a good indication of how authentic the food is) and the vibe can get pretty rowdy, especially on a Friday or Saturday night, with lots of 'ciaos!' punctuating the air. (If you want a more romantic atmosphere come on a week night when things are a bit quieter). The patriarch, Mario, is not the friendliest and he can be fairly terse at the best of times, but don't let that stop you from coming here - I'm sure he's just a cuddly Roman bear beneath the gruffness. Just nod and smile and stuff your face.
If you're not in the mood for pizza or pasta, they have a fairly extensive menu - as well as options written up on a board above the deli section. Things like rabbit stew, oxtail and veal marsala feature here. For dessert they have strong Italian coffee and wonderful tiramisu. The highlight, though, is Mario's homemade ice cream. You can find a selection of about seven different flavours in the deli, among them silky vanilla, rich chocolate, and fresh mint. There's also a flavour called bacio (meaning 'kiss') that's a mind-blowing combination of chocolate, caramel and hazelnut. It's R26 a scoop, and orgasmic.
After indulging in the ice cream you'll view Mario in a whole different light; it'll make you want to throw your arms around him and shout, "Bellissimo!".
But maybe on my next visit.
(Insider tip: if you decide to pick your own pizza toppings just make sure that you add extra garlic, chilli or parmesan, as those extras don't appear on the table)
What: Home-style Italian food, pizzas, pastas, serious coffee, real-deal tiramisu, and homemade ice cream that'll take you to heaven and back.
Where: 143 Queen Street, Kensington, Johannesbur
Why: Their pizzas are, quite possibly, the best in Joburg.
When: 12 Noon to 3 PM, 6 PM to 10 PM (Tue-Sun), Monday Closed.
Tel: 011 622 9716.
by Ang Lloyd