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Mafiosi is the quintessential Italian deli — but transported from Rome to Birnam, Johannesburg. Husband-and-wife team Cristian and Romina Caravello opened the the deli in March, at the Blubird Centre, and it’s been a word-of-mouth sensation ever since.

“We feel very blessed that things have flowed easily. I think at one stage the only issue was just keeping up with the demand for our sauces and soups on a daily basis,” Romina says. “The response has been wonderful. Our clients have been very receptive, and have guided us into what is it they want, which has made it very easy for us to find a direction.”

As I sit at one of the outside tables chatting to the Caravellos, their rapport with customers is evident: we keep being interrupted by patrons and friends issuing greetings as they stop for their morning cappuccinos, or enthuse over the fresh homemade pasta and pesto that are among the delicacies for sale.

“There’s a little bit of everything in the deli,” Romina says. This includes a mouth-watering selection of cold meats and cheese, as well as imported Italian goods to stock your pantry.  According to Romina, the artichokes, olives and sunflower oil are all best sellers, and the variety of pasta shapes and sizes (both fresh and dry) are a big attraction. “You can see that the clients have travelled, and they’re looking for those elements that they sampled while they were in Italy,” she says.

Mafiosi is a cook’s dream — no more trawling online to find the nearest place that sells Tipo “00” flour — but if you prefer to have your food served to you, rather than preparing it yourself, there’s also plenty to tempt you on the restaurant side of things.

We started off with the Bruschette Tricolore — topped with basil pesto, the most divine mozarella cheese, and fresh tomato — and zucchini fries. The latter were recommended by the delightfully named Grazie Melle — Cristian’s cousin, who used to work at his restaurant in Rome — and my friend and I were very pleased we’d followed her suggestion. The fries were light, with just enough batter to provide a crispy complement to the zucchini, without overwhelming its delicate flavour.

For mains, we stuck to our theme and sampled the Pasta Tricolore, a trio of dishes featuring traditional Napoletana sauce, classic basil pesto, and more-ish cheese and walnuts with a touch of nutmeg — all served with the pasta or gnocchi of your choice. The gnocchi were perfect — not too chewy — and the selection of toppings served as a great introduction to Mafiosi’s authentic, Italian home-style menu. Next time we intend to sample the Carbonara. According to Cristian, a lot of cooks use pancetta or bacon in this dish, but Mafiosi opts for the traditional guanciale. Adding cream, as some chefs tend to do, is also a no-no. “I think there is no big secret,” Cristian says. “The only secret is to make fresh food.”

Cristian and Romina both come from a culinary lineage — he is Italian, with Sicilian roots, and both his grandfather and father were chefs. She is South African-Italian, and her grandmother used to run a restaurant on the south coast, where her uncle was the chef (he’s now working at Mafiosi, of course). And while we may associate the name “Mafiosi” with Sicilian gangsters, according to Romina: “The Mafia is all about family protecting family. So it comes down to an attitude of the original Mafia — not the 1920s gangsters — protecting the authentic values that make up that culture.”

It is these values that are at the heart of Mafiosi. “I think food is central to a lot of cultures with regards to demonstrations of love,” Romina says. We couldn’t agree more, and it’s refreshing to dine somewhere with such a genuine atmosphere. We’ll definitely be back for more — we’re part of the Caravello family now!

Mafiosi Italian Deli’s food and fresh sauces are available via UberEats and Mr Delivery. They will also provide catering for private functions.

Shop 5, Blubird Centre, Cnr Athol Oaklands Road and Fort Street, Birnam, Johannesburg. 011 82 737 7602. facebook.com/mafiosideli

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