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Il Contadino’s authentic approach is a winner!

Il Contadino is a Spanish, French, and Italian inspired eatery in Parktown North that was opened by Chef James Diack in October 2017. This quaint restaurant labels itself as 100% sustainable and the setting is really beautiful too.

I’ve eaten at Il Contadino (or “Conti” as it’s affectionately called) a few times but recently, my girlfriend and I popped in for a “quick bite” after a long day. In the end, we stayed much longer than originally planned because we had such a good experience and I’m hoping to inspire you to do the same!

We got to Il Contadino before the masses arrived and took a few pictures of the staff getting ready for dinner service!

A few days later, we contacted Chef James Diack and asked him if he would give us a bit of his time so that we can better understand what his secret sauce is.

Rediscover the passion

Over a decade ago, James went from being a king in fine dining to a disillusioned pilgrim. He explains how the opulence and intensity of upmarket cuisine, with its “fancy machines and a million staff”, started to take its toll on him.

It took a pilgrimage to provincial Europe to rediscover his passion for food.

While in Italy, he had his first exposure to raw food markets. As James goes onto explain: “That’s where I learnt that a tomato doesn’t come in a four-pack from Woolworths.”

And then James had a revelation: “No-one actually knows the origin of their food.”

Rediscover the authentic

James’s time in pastoral Europe reignited his passion. But it also inspired a commitment to serving organic “farm to table” dining – Conti’s code of ethics.

“We farm everything we serve in our restaurant.”

While in Italy, James met an elderly gentleman just outside a town called Volterra. Turns out he was a former prisoner or war, which is why he spoke such good English but that’s a story for another day.

James shared a delicious meal with this man. Only to discover that everything he served he had made. Everything. The wine, the olive oil and all of the charcuterie.

This was a turning point of epic proportions in James’s life.

Rediscover what’s genuinely organic

“The excitement is in the food and in the journey to find it,” says James – not in the over-the-top garnishes or expensive gadgets.

James saw first-hand in pastoral Spain that the restaurateurs and chefs “were exceptionally proud to tell you” exactly where each ingredient came from. And they invariably came from within a ten kilometre radius…

“The chef’s respect was not in his skill, it was in his searching ability.”

The secret, James realised, lies in sourcing local, organic, free-range, quality ingredients. This is why most dishes at his restaurant are made from ingredients harvested at his family farm.

We’re never out of stock, we’re merely ‘out-of-season’.

Unfortunately, as James points out, the “organic and free-range brand” has lost its lustre in South Africa. Small businesses that actually prioritise growing and sourcing authentically organic, free-range produce get lumped in with the big chain stores who don’t. People have become sceptical about what’s really organic.

For those wanting the real deal, Conti is the place. James’s farm has an “open-gate policy.”

“Everyday is organic on my farm,” he explains.

“Why shouldn’t every meal be good?”

When James poses this question, it gives us pause.

Conti is a lot of patrons’ “reliable” – and for good reason. In order for a “reliable” to become exactly that, it needs to be consistently delicious, as well as affordable. Conti achieves this perfect balance.

How? Alongside James are his trusted chefs, most of whom have cooked with him for over twelve years.

As James says, Conti is all about taking the best ingredients and cooking them the simplest way in order to champion those ingredients. 

So what did we eat and how was the experience?

My girlfriend and I weren’t originally planning to go out for dinner but we had endured a long day and we didn’t feel like cooking. We happened to be in the area and arrived at the restaurant at 5pm.

As we sat down, we ordered a glass of wine and started with fried calamari and these “bacon mini calzones”, which comes with the most delicious napoletana sauce. This is when I realised we should just stay and totally enjoy the experience.

I absolutely love pasta but most restaurants generally let me down. I always feel like I can make a better version at home but this is where Il Contadino is a cut above the rest for me.

My absolute go to pasta when I come to Il Contadino is the “acorn fed wild boar ragu”. I literally can’t get enough of it. This dish is served with hand cut pappardelle and I’m 100% ready for the Lord to take me home when I’m done.

All in all, I could write a romantic novel about all three dishes and I hope these pictures inspire you to try them out. I swear you won’t be disappointed.

Like I said, the restaurant design is really beautiful. I love the vintage feel across the restaurant. The little touches and thoughtful decor really tickle my fancy, and were a big part of what made me want to stay there longer. They also have a really cool bar!

There are of course many other standout dishes. I love their bacon alfredo and the various pizzas they offer, but I only know about these other dishes because my girlfriend can never finish a main meal. I do sometimes consider ordering something other than the wild boar ragu and then I immediately come to my senses.

The staff are super friendly. Our waiter this evening was just a good human, his suggestions were great, and he was just fun to be around. I also had a bit of banter with the kitchen staff and they were great too.

All in all, we really enjoyed ourselves at Il Contadino and when I left, I felt like I had to give them a punt. I love it when small businesses absolutely nail it which is why I’d like to encourage you to give them a try some time for breakfast, lunch, or dinner.

Be sure to thank me after!

Address:Corner 4th Avenue & 7th Avenue, Parktown North, Johannesburg
Google Maps Link:
Operating Hours:Tuesday to Sunday – 08h30 to 21h30
Contact Number:+27 10 900 1363
Instagram handle:

PS. Il Contadino also does catering for private, bespoke events! And it sells its farm’s organic produce in La Stella Deli which is located next door to Il Contadino.

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