Zaras Cafe has been a key part of life on the northern KwaZulu-Natal coast for the last 15 years. First based in Umhlanga the family owned, mediterranean eatery has been based in Ballito for the last eight years and has become something of a favourite among locals and holidaymakers alike.
It will, therefore, come as a breath of fresh Durban sea air that the cafe has opened a second branch in Rivonia, Johannesburg, with the same family, and using the same exciting recipes that made the original such a hit.
Run by the niece and nephew of the founder, Alexia and Silvio Beretta, the new store is a modern designed coffee shop with huge windows that flood the area with light. Blue walls, fresh flowers and simple elegant lines in design create a welcoming, and cutting-edge atmosphere. What truly makes the venue special, however, is the family touch, which has been carried through on everything from the fresh breads and cakes, baked on the premises each day, to the original blend coffee, the unique food items, and warm, inviting service.
This is a restaurant that uniquely blends old-fashioned service, and family conviviality with slick service, and a 12-minute turn around time for food. Ever-present presence in the shop, owner Alexia prides herself on her ability to remember her clients, speaking easily of the mnemonic tricks she uses to better guarantee she remembers each and every person’s name.
“I love people, I can’t help myself. I want to make them happy, and will generally do whatever I can to make that happen,” she says, before slipping into happy stories about the regulars who have already made Zaras home in the seven weeks since it has opened.
At the heart of the business is the food, which is largely based on meals Alexia’s “Noná” has developed at the Ballito store.
The menu is a unique blend of South African breakfast and lunch favourites, from eggs benedict to chicken livers, and original recipes seen on no other menu in the city. If there is even a vaguely adventurous bone in your body, it’s these meals that you should order as they are the reason the Zaras flag has flown as long and successfully in its home town.
We tried the Iberica Hash breakfast, which is a herby mashed potato and sweet potato patty, topped with diced bacon, mushrooms, poached egg, gorgonzola cheese and in-house peppadew relish. It’s the perfect breakfast dish, blending a series of flavours from the tart cheese to the sweet relish in perfect balance and creating a light and delicious start to the day.
Other big hits include the Pork Souvlaki, which is grilled pork served with tzatziki, chunky tomato, red onion and wrapped in a freshly baked pita, and the Zaras bunny, the sauce for which is brought in from Durban to create that original, and unreplicable, east coast flavour.
There are plenty of options for light meals too from Halloumi to hummus platters, each of which is created using only the freshest ingredients and delivering on flavour as a result.
As you enter the establishment you will pass a table of fresh cakes, biscuits, muffins and croissants, each of which was made that very morning. If you can find the chocolate ganache and hazelnut meringue cheese-cake in stock, order it immediately as it will fly out the door, as will the rich chocolate cake, and light-airy custard slices.
In short, this is the kind of establishment Johannesburg has been begging for. Warm service, alongside a small, but exquisite menu and more than that, good value on the prices, makes Zaras Cafe a must visit destination in the north of the city.