A taste of Italy in Joburg with Alex Greenleaf of Rosto

In the heart of one of Johannesburg’s oldest suburbs, Linden, lies Rosto, an eatery that is equal parts refreshing, and yet strangely familiar in all the ways you’d hope. With its Italian-inspired rotisserie chicken – that’s downright better than your mother’s – and flavour-laden street food fit for any appitite, Rosto offers a menu that boasts both grand and authentic flavours.

But this is by no means a run-of-the mill trattoria. Its contemporary decor – made up of bright yellow accents elegantly contrasted by grey walls – makes for a modern local favourite with a big Italian heart.

Co-owner and Manager at Rosto Foods Alex Greenleaf shared the restaurant’s philosophy, the importance of sourcing local ingredients and the influence of travel on his love for food.

Tell us about Rosto.

The focus of Rosto is free-range, ethically reared chickens, which are brined and then cooked in the on-site wood-fired rotisserie oven. Diners can choose from one of three Italian inspired flavours – red (chilli, sundried tomato and garlic), yellow (lemon and wild oregano) and green (parmesan, rosemary, sage and thyme). They are succulent and delicious!

We also offer a number of Italian street food dishes, such as panelle, which are chickpea fries, to be eaten either as starters or sides. We encourage diners and families to share, similarly to what is done in Italian markets. We have become famous not only for our chicken, but also our focaccia, made daily on the premises, using a 100-year-old natural yeast and a secret Italian recipe.

Why Linden?

Linden has become a buzzing hive of foodie activity of late, with a profusion of different eateries and diners. It also has a fantastic community base and spirit.

What lessons have you learnt on your journey with Rosto?

The food industry is a tough market. You have to be competitive and constantly adjust and come up with new ideas. But my love for food and people has made the journey a whole lot easier. You have to be passionate about what you do. We believe in convenience, without ever compromising on quality.

Your cousin and business partner is based in Italy, which is where your authentic Italian flavours come in. How else does travel inspire your recipes?

Lance Littlefield has lived in Milan for over a decade and his travels across the country have inspired our authentic Italian experience. Before we opened, I spent time with him in Italy, visiting food markets and the famous Girarrosto shops – literally turn (gira) and roasted (arrosto) – which serve spit-roasted chickens and other items. We wanted to show people the simplistic and holistic approach to Italian cooking. There is more to Italian food than just pizza and pasta – although we do have a few of the latter dishes on our menu.

What are your ultimate foodie destinations and why?

I am a massive fan of Asian cuisine, so I have travelled to the East and experienced the flavours of Thailand and Vietnam. I also loved the food in Mexico – vibrant and so much more than just tacos and fajitas, which until recently were all South Africans knew about the cuisine. It is also the home of superfoods! I am about to tick another country off my bucket list with an upcoming trip to Denmark – I am fascinated by Nordic cuisine and organic gastronomy, which is characterised by its modern spin on seasonal ingredients.

Other ultimate food destinations of mine are Japan – they apply the same precision to their food as they do to their engineering – and India, where there is so much more to culinary tradition than curries.

How have you adapted Italian street food flavours to the South African palate?

Italian and European food flavours tend to be more subtle and elegant, similar to the wine. South Africans, for the most part, prefer big and bold tastes. We have adjusted some of our flavours by making them slightly more pronounced, without losing their authenticity. For example, our chilli chicken is hotter than what would be served in Italy, but South Africans like the fiery taste! Most of our ingredients are sourced locally, which helps in supporting local small businesses, as well as flavours that are familiar to the South African palate.

Can you share the thinking behind the new menu additions, such as the aperitif cocktails and porchetta?

We wanted to expand the menu slightly and offer customers something different. A variety of meatballs, porchetta (whole deboned pig cooked in the rotisserie until its crackling is uber-crisp) and delicious shareable spaghetti dishes have recently been added to the menu. Something unique to Rosto is our very own alcoholic cocktail teabags (aperiTeas), which are designed to be infused in spirits and topped with a mixer. They are dangerously refreshing!

WHAT TO TRY

Try Rosto’s selection of aperiTea, cocktail teabags infused in a double-shot of spirit and mixed with soda, tonic or lemonade. Our favourite was the Alternativa aperiTea, a fig, melon rose and ginger fruit infusion with Spiced Gold rum and ginger ale. Also, you dare not pass up on the sliced porchetta with apple & marsala reduction on Porchetta Thursdays and Sundays.

WHERE?

69 7th Street, Linden, Johannesburg

RESERVATIONS & ENQUIRIES

Call: +27 11 888 0369 or email: linden@eatrosto.com

Follow Rosto on Facebook and Instagram.

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