You Spiga my language
For many Durbanites, Spiga d'Oro is an institution; its 11 300-odd Facebook likes confirm this. And it's an institution for which people are prepared to queue. It's not unusual to find large groups waiting to bag a seat on a Friday or Saturday night to sate a craving for a bowl of one of their signature pastas such as Cannelloni alla Marco.
A new branch has recently been opened in Durban North. Situated in the popular Mackeurtan Avenue, the new restaurant is blessed with great deal of parking space and the support of loyal fans who have grown up eating at Spiga Florida Road, for a 3am munchie run to dining as adults with their young families.
"We have been overwhelmed by the welcome from the Durban North community," Sergio Santoniccolo said. He and his wife Giusi took over Spiga from the original family in 1994 and his son, Marco, is now also an integral part of the business.
The new eatery is keeping up Spiga's no-reservation policy – a risky business for a restaurant in these times, one might think, but the Florida Road branch has not suffered because of it.
"Every person who walks into our restaurant is just as important as the next and has the same priority, and working on a first-come, first-served basis is part of this philosophy," Santoniccolo said.
In Durban North, it's busy from about 6pm, but those who have to wait can sit on the spacious deck and enjoy a drink.
And a meal is well worth the wait. The new branch is serving the delicious Italian fare that we have come to know and love, with a few new dishes added to the mix.
The Santoniccolos' love of food was instilled in Sergio and Giusi while they were growing up in Italy, and this translates on to the plate. "We stick to the traditional Italian methods and flavour combinations," Santoniccolo said, "and this has worked for us."
"We have been serving our retro rolls [formerly known simply as 'the steak roll' – a home-made Italian roll, slices of silverside beef, lettuce, tomato] and a choice of alla chef, Bolognese, Napoletana, boscaiola, chilli or garlic sauce – for 35 years."
Liguine alla Shaik
The menu is divided into sections, including antipasti, pasta and pizza, and the selection in each is varied and ranges from instantly recognisable staples of Italian cooking, such as spaghetti and meatballs to more unique options such as linguine alla Shaik (yes, named after that Shaik), a delicious blend of olive oil, garlic, chilli, fresh tomato pieces, and gnocchi alla Luca (Napoletana sauce, cream, melted mozzarella), which you can order in medium or large portions.
It is the fresh flavours, a consistency in quality and good service that keeps customers coming back. There's a fine line between being attentive and being overbearing in service and Spiga waiting staff seem to hit the right tone.
At Florida Road, you can choose from three relatively authentic Italian settings – the sidewalk, inside the cosy restaurant, with its high ceilings and memorabilia, or the charming courtyard hidden from the road and adorned with pot plants and trickling water features.
In Durban North, the setting lends itself to a more contemporary interior with an industrial feel. This space is still very new and needs a bit more character but additions to the décor are in the pipeline.
"We have been considering moving north for four or five years but it's taken some time to find the perfect spot," Santoniccolo said.
The Florida Road setting is part of the original Spiga's success and, by choosing Mackeurtan Avenue, the success is likely to be repeated, for the little area is turning into a busy hub of restaurants and pubs, especially with Spiga as an unrivalled drawcard.
Spiga Durban North, 5-17 Mackeurtan Avenue, Durban. Open Tuesday to Sunday, 11am until late. Phone: 031 303 9511.