Social dining experiences are tricky affairs. Not everyone wants to spend the evening getting acquainted with strangers. And yet Lapo’s Kitchen is sucessfully creating new friendships at every dinner service. That right there is achieving the impossible. There is one single thread that weaves this dining table together seamlessly and his name is Lapo Magni.
If you are unsure of what to expect, there is nothing else to compare it to in Cape Town, which also makes it the most unique dining experience. At best you can call it performance art, with food as the pièce de résistance and Magni the artist. Intrigued? You should be.
Lapo’s Kitchen is tucked away on the riverfront of the Josephine Mill in Newlands. There is one single long table on the right side of the restaurant, and smaller tables scattered around the rest, including outside. The décor is minimal, the fireplace perfect for winter and the kitchen open plan for guests to peek inside.
You are greeted by bubbly Lapo himself who makes you feel like an old friend from the get-go. His familiarity immediately puts you at ease and this is where the magic begins.
The long table with bench seating caters for about 16 guests. The evening starts out with an introduction to your dinner partners and the concept of social dining. We all have a common goal in sight: great food and excellent wine.
The guests gather around a chef’s table in front of the kitchen to listen to Magni regale us with tales of his food journey from Firenze, while watching him effortlessly churn out perfect, buttery-textured pasta right before us. Hungry eyes watch his hands execute with ease what most would struggle with.
Magni tells us about his love for food and how it was birthed in the kitchen of his parents’ restaurant in Italy. His mother Elena and father Duccio successfully ran Italian restaurant “La Baraonda” for 18 years. The chef relocated here 10 years ago after falling in love with the Mother City.
Lapo rejects any written script on food, and has clearly and carefully carved out his own path down this road, making his own rules as he goes along. You have to respect his knowledge of local ingredients and his high regard for our produce in the Cape region. He gets you excited about all aspects of food through his story-telling. You want to go out and find the best olive-oil producers or search through nearby forests for fresh porcini – his enthusiasm is infectious.
The first course is a beetroot salad with micro-greens and a delectable goats cheese dressing to pull all the ingredients together. The dishes are plated in front of guests so you can watch the art being created. It is a well-balanced and delicious start to the evening.
Wine glasses are promptly topped up by waiters and dishes removed timeously.
The next course is the melt-in-your-mouth tagliatelle which Magni tosses together with exotic mushrooms, one of which is freshly-harvested porcini. It is a wonderful balance of fresh, earthy and creamy – and devoured within minutes of arriving at the table.
The guests at the table find common ground, good conversations grow louder as the evening proceeds and if you look up at Magni while he is prepping the next course, you can almost see the smile in the corners of his mouth and a gleam in his eye. Mission accomplished.
The next course leaves me speechless. I have never tasted something so simple, yet so innovative. Something so light yet so delicious. Flavours so common and perfectly meshed together in one mouthful. It is a sweet potato soufflé in a cheese sauce with fresh figs. The soufflé is warm, soft in texture and rich in flavour. The sauce and fig add another dimension to the dish and it all comes together in one delectable bite.
The main course is delicate line fish lightly dusted in coating and served on a bed of puréed gem squash with some greens. When dessert reaches the table, there is silence, and rightfully so. The apple tart tartan deserves a moment of silence.
The entire dining experience from beginning to end is thoroughly enjoyable. There is a lag time between meals, but it’s the price you must pay for freshly-prepared dishes. Thankfully, it is filled with conversation between new acquaintances.
I doubt this entire experience would be possible without Magni’s passion. His attitude towards people, who are total strangers, and food, is one of love. And this love plays out in every single meal he prepares. Each dish is an art form and the artist deserves to take a bow at the end. I will be requesting an encore for sure!
Address: 13 Boundary Road, Newlands, Cape Town
Pictures: Open Door Collective and Nidha Narrandes