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Holy Orders at Saint Pazzo Italiano

A visual feast for discerning epicures, Johannesburg’s Saint Pazzo Italiano eatery entertains the decadently good along with the sinfully indulgent.
Graeme Wyllie

‘It’s not poncy and hushed. Instead, it’s expressive and simple, and so are the surroundings, the music and the people. But it’s a big place and it fills with energy, both in the kitchen and on the floor,’ says chef David Higgs. Situated in the financial district of the trendy, upmarket Sandton neighourhood, Saint Pazzo Italiano is the impressive new Italian-concept restaurant by Higgs and Gary Kyriacou, owners of Marble restaurant in Rosebank, Johannesburg.

The space is housed in the city’s newest multiuse development, The MARC (named for Maude and Rivonia corner). It flanks the Maude Street entrance of the building with the gold facade, in all its black, gold and glass glory. And it couldn’t be in a more fitting location. Where Rosebank attracts the arty, older, and more established crowd, Sandton is intoxicating, energetic and sexy. 

On a busy Friday afternoon, you’ll be lucky to get a table.

The restaurant heaves with the business crowd entertaining clients and sealing deals, lunching couples and friends. Here, you could be grabbing a quick bite over a working lunch by day and quaffing cocktails or dancing in heels by night. Higgs has clearly described Saint quite aptly.

The inspiration for the pizza, pasta and Champagne restaurant came from a recce the business partners went on as part of their planning and research for Marble two years ago. Pazzo Italiano, meaning ‘mad Italian’, is the reference, and quite appropriate for an eatery that might have an Italian feeling and serves pizza but is neither an Italian restaurant nor a pizzeria.

No small detail has been overlooked here. Tables are adorned with uniquely shaped gold-plated cutlery, pink water glasses made from recycled glass (a collaboration between Ngwenya Glass and Laurie Wiid van Heerden of Wiid Design), leather bread baskets imported from Italy and flamboyant gold feather lamps from the collection of A Modern Grand Tour in the UK.

This is the work of interior designer Irene Kyriacou, who was inspired by her visits to London, Amsterdam and the Maison & Objet Paris trade fair. Working closely with interior architecture and design practice Redecco, Kyriacou has created a space where a distinctly Italian Renaissance influence meets a highly modern and contemporary feel. She says husband Gary wanted them to push the design references a bit further, which is why the modern technology aspect comes through so strongly.

‘We also worked very closely with [design agency] GRID, who helped us come up with the name and refine the concept. It’s a push and pull between good and evil. The idea is that good people deserve good food – and naughty people do, too,’ says Kyriacou. 

The main restaurant space features flooring in terracotta tiles by Wolkberg Casting Studio, double-volume glass windows and marble pillars draped with greenery. 3D projections of classic moving art enhance the ceilings, and the wine cellar is made with custom-made stained glass.

Enter the sommelier, 27-year-old Wikus Human. The 2017 title holder of Moët & Chandon’s Best Young Sommelier of the Year worked his way up from manning the front desk at Forum Homini hotel to being a sought-after wine fundi. 

Saint is very much about encouraging people to eat pizza and sip bubbly and, accordingly, has invested in a Bermar  Champagne-preserving system that keeps the bubbles in a bottle for up to two weeks. The objective is to allow Saint to serve Champagnes on a trolley – Pol Roger, Moët & Chandon, Laurent-Perrier, Lanson and the like, by the glass. 

Human, who splits his time between Marble and Saint, with six demi-sommeliers under him at the latter, says most clients welcome recommendations. ‘They know we aren’t there to push expensive wines, but rather to suggest those in their price range that will complement their food.’ 

With an ever-changing menu driven by the freshest seasonal ingredients, Saint is becoming known for its Neapolitan pizza in particular. To learn how to make it authentically, head chef Matt van Niekerk and chef de partie Tyler Clayton visited Italy and worked alongside pizza masters Gino Sorbillo and Gennaro Rapido of Lievito Madre al Duomo in Milan. Also on offer are pasta, risotto, meat and fish dishes, gelato, chocolate, affogato, and more. Marble regulars will be pleased to discover that a Grillworks wood-fired grill has also been installed at Saint, so they can expect to enjoy the same smoky flavours here that they relish at Higgs’ and the Kyriacous’ first restaurant. The bathroom is another talking point. As soon as you enter the dark space, your eyes are immediately drawn to an arresting, illuminated photographic artwork by Krisjan Rossouw of a black woman wearing a gold headdress. The handbasins in each of the unisex toilet cubicles are sculpted hands by Damien Grivas, who is also responsible for the oversized, deconstructed sculpture that overlooks the bar, where patrons can choose to lounge and enjoy their drinks while listening to the latest local and international tunes. 

Amid the kitchen’s spitting fire, the chef shouting orders, tables chatting and celebrating, music spinning and sommeliers and waiters offering top-class service, the soft, sensual and romantic design details combine to make Saint the perfect space for both revellers and serious foodies.  

Visit Saint Pazzo Italiano, Shop UR 18, The MARC, Rivonia Rd, Sandton; saint.restaurant for reservations.