Botticelli, the little Italy in South Africa.


At Botticelli’s one settles down quite quickly, once the entrance steps are mastered and one is stepping through the double door, both leaves opened wide. It feels immediately like a bit of Italy, a dash of Florence, where the famous Renaissance artist lived and painted. We all know the painting of the Birth of Venus; the master artist became famous with.

The colours of the restaurant resemble special areas of Tuscany: The fresh lemon strip across the top of the beam and windows, a precursor of the spring in Florence. The light watercolours of the rainbow represent the Renaissance thinking, the rebirth of the greatest movement since Hellenistic times. Overflowing with joyful exuberance and yet earthbound by the terracotta of the ceiling paint that reflects wall tiles within its larger squares and the columns, a playful interaction with well-integrated lights. The face brick red of the counter and the wine red entrance door are engaged in a lively dialogue about the love of the Florentines, who celebrate in high spirits the Rites of Spring. The lightness of living and the taste for colour that filters down into the glorious food, which takes off with your sniffing of scents and raises wings to your taste buds letting you fly above the maddening crowds of Gauteng.

There is charming Tonino, who immediately greets us as we enter, if he happens to be at the front desk. There is the sinewy pizza man and the third partner, Adolfo the Don, all playing their contributing role to make you feel at home and enjoy the immaculately served delicacies. But it does not have to be specials, the ordinary pasta dishes taste just as exceptional and I am looking forward to a glass of Italian beer or wine, depending on a dish and the mood.

I’ll sit here forever, forgetting the maddening rush, having fled to Botticelli with my spouse, a friend or a client, wedging breathing space like an invisible wall against the world outside; to enjoy the unusual and genuine retreat I wish to help preserving with our patronage. Every time we step through the door and either Tonino or Giuseppe,  the friendly Zulu waiter is present to guide us to our favourite place. Once settled at our favourite table covered with fresh table cloth, the unique character of the space merges the colours of Tuscany with the food offered that is cooked to tradition in an extraordinary environment. We always settle down immediately enjoying some fresh baked bread or rolls and a sip from our drinks. Soon the scent and taste of the well cooked food calls up the colours of the seasons: Lime and pink hues of spring which the artist Botticelli depicted in mythological scenes that transfer the spirit of lightness, the float above the undulated fresh greens in the recurring wonder of rebirth.

Venus born from the crest of waves at the nearby seashore merges in the colour range with the skies and provides the background to rich foliage of vines that shape reefs around the heads of Muses. They dance to the tunes of a flute played by a shepherd. Nymphs from the groove sing the bard’s lyrics to praise the rebirth of nubile spring, the forerunner of summer’s ripened women, like corn and flowers, cherries in red and white, the emerald green of the picnic and the green and black of fine skinned olives like a necklace of frolicking dancers. Outside the world races past.

The wealthy northern suburbs suffer as well under the dust and grime of the dry high ground of Gauteng, especially in winter. Crazed men chase each other with fast cars in dense traffic, being rude like road hogs are, speed-cutting across lanes and endanger less punchy drivers and the middle class that relies on their economy styled vehicles, driving them defensively. The pushy taxi cabs, declared as the best transport systems in the world flex their intolerant metallic muscles to rush without a care for other road users. By now most road users make way for them. Their battered motor vehicles show their hard-bashing attitudes and disrespect for other people’s properties. By now everybody stays clear of the Toyota phalanx, except for the huge bodied drivers of Hi-tech trucks, fitted with bull bars, ready to strike, when challenged by the aggressive hordes, poised like angry animals.

I had my review of actions sitting back and consciously trying to relax, while in front of me a silent movie plays scenes of road-rage and frustration by alienated youngsters and mature men.

With the meal consumed I feel a gradual and pleasant semi-sleepiness engulfing my whole body, where immediate reality merges with past leftover memories.

It is desert time and the Italian Kisses are a welcome conclusion of a wonderful meal of Prawns Mafia and Veal Cacciatore. Yes, the macchiato! Giuseppe remembers and smiles, having recalled our liking for that special espresso.

Soon I have to go and face the hordes of road users again, the builders that are scheming and cunning, the clients who know all about building and if their ideas turn out to be wrong, blame the architect and his professional team for it. I think I will be driving home slowly, while the after taste of the food still lingers on my palate. It would be crazy to spoil such a wondrous after clinging taste of a perfect meal with some cheap, rough talk at the site office.

I wish I could come back to Botticelli’s more often.

“The man drove off in his Ferrari like a pistol shot,” the chubby witness says, as he is interviewed by the insurance agent, who blocks the door with his huge frame. He must have been a rugby player in his younger years. “Well tell me what happened,” he says in a slow talking mode, “start at the beginning.” The vices blur into the afternoon atmosphere of murmuring chat and orders called out.

Giuseppe brings me a second helping of ice cream and B. wants another macchiato.

In the middle of the entrance area the interview by the insurance agent appears like a scene of a local play. I hear shreds of their conversation and overhear a story of guilt, love and hate, jealousy and self destruction. If I would be in the guilty guy’s shoes I would have bought myself an art gallery and a huge plot with a house and an atelier instead of the red mean machine, but we all have different priorities. But if you talk to Italians the name of Ferrari has them shudder with the sound of high revving engines and squeaking tyres, it is the crescendo of the motor enthusiast. It is beating up their boiling blood. The accident-story carries on for a long time to unfold: By now it became clear that the wife of another man was here with her boyfriend who drank excessively. When the husband of his girlfriend arrived, both took off in a hurry, creating an accident further down the road.

Ok, it’s enough. Basta. I pay the bill Giuseppe brings me. Tonino and Adolfo bade us good bye. Arrividerci. We shake hands and depart. Botticelli’s unique dining experience that will stay with us for a long time to come, if not forever. After all it is a genuine little island of Italy in South Africa.