Assaggi – a place of happy memories for me, current happiness for John Fraser…

Assaggi in Illovo Johannesburg

Living as I do now in Johannesburg, I wanted to visit some of my favourite places. Aside from anything a Cape person will tell you, Johannesburg does have some fine eateries, excellent bakeries and coffee shops. One of the restaurants I loved going to in the noughties was Assaggi, an excellent Italian Restaurant in Illovo, which my host called Assegai.

It was owned then by a tall, blonde, exuberant, Italian lady who was always so welcoming, and if your table wasn’t ready, you were sat down and fed the most ambrosial iconic Assaggi Zucchini Fritti, little matchsticks of courgettes, flour dipped, and flash fried like whitebait.

My friend John Fraser, journalist and wine buff went there recently. I was so happy to read his post in The Messenger, I asked him whether I could post it on my website.

Zucchini Fritti

Here it is…

In the good old bad old days when I was a desirable catch for a business lunch, I was often asked to specify where I wanted to nosh.  Indeed, on more than one occasion I tried to manipulate the venue by telling my host that I had had food poisoning at his/her chosen nasty greasy spoon.

My choice, when allowed, was invariably Assaggi – an Italian restaurant in a back-road behind the Thrupps Centre in Illovo. I say the Thrupps Centre. It may by now be called the Winnie Mandela Complex, or have been slapped with a dose of political correctness with some other non-colonial epithet.

At the time, the food was excellent.  Simple, but great, ingredients cooked very well.  A small but good choice of wines.

In the last few years, Assaggi appeared to have lost its direction, with arrivals being handed grubby menus, and the food being good but not exceptional.

I went a while back with a friend who likes tripe (we are no longer on speaking terms) and he said it was too watery and slushy.

I have had lasagne a few times.  Sometimes marvellous.  Sometimes not.

They serve deep-fried courgette chips with many dishes.   Sometimes they have been so greasy they have been unpleasant.

Assagi Aubergine – no leaning tower with avo, red pepper & Burrata

However, I recently went again with my two favourite chubby economists, and a good time was had by all.

The chef was on-site (the previous time he arrived as I was calling for the bill).   The noise level was tolerable (the acoustics can cause we semi-pensioners a few hearing difficulties if the volume is high).

I had my favourite starter – vitello tonnato – thin slices of veal in a tuna sauce.   Excellent.  When I say it is my favourite, I have it every time.  There, I have re-vealed my guilty secret.

I had my favourite dessert – tiramisu – and it was as good as ever.   Not too sweet, but still rich and luscious.  Never enough.

We had a selection of meat and pasta mains, all of which were good, and a few bottles of a Franschhoek red, which disappeared far too speedily.

I am glad Assaggi is back on form.   In fact, I am delighted.  I still feel that the love and attention to detail one once experienced there may be a bit hit-and-miss these days, and it ain’t cheap.

And, may I say this without sounding like a grump?  The chairs are not comfy.  In fact they are the opposite.   Which is hard and horrid.  How can you have high standards in what goes through the mouth, while being so insensitive to what we financial types term the bottom line?

Even so, the next time anyone is rash enough to offer me to break-bread with them, and even rasher by asking for a suitable venue, I shall say Assaggi.

And I shall arrive with a healthy appetite.   (And maybe a soft cushion, too).  After all, that Tiramisu is not going to eat itself.

John Fraser and I enjoying a glass in another Johannesburg Emporium

Thank you John…

Contact for reservations
011 268 1370 or

Read more about Assaggi – CLICK HERE


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