Few have such passion and gusto for food and wine as the Italians. Whilst living in London I found myself making a quick trip to nearby Italy no fewer than six times in two years, just to embark on a food frenzy ala Julia Roberts in Rome in 'Eat Pray Love'. I have to admit I returned home to Auckland with a touch of trepidation - where was I going to get my pizza, pasta and Chianti fix?
And so I set out on a culinary assignment, eating my weight in carbs and tomato sauces to bring you Auckland's Ten Best Italian Restaurants in central Auckland...and, surprisingly, there were plenty to choose from. I started by conducting research amongst my foodie friends and it seems Kiwis are ‘authentic Italian’ connoisseurs - and fiercely loyal to their favourite eatery for what is arguably the world’s most popular cuisine.
Whether you’re looking for simple, authentic, traditional Italian inspired by Mumma or Modern Italian cuisine with fine dining surrounds...we’ve got it covered.
226 Ponsonby Road, Ponsonby
If a restaurant has been around since 1986, you could safely say it’s got to be doing something right. Despite its upmarket bistro-style in the heart of Ponsonby, Prego manages to retain the magic of a familiar neighbourhood local with a palpable buzz in both the al fresco courtyard and inside, earning it a loyal and lively following.
The food is just as it should be – uncomplicated with fresh, quality ingredients bursting with flavour. The starters are so good they rival the mains and on occasion I’ve just ordered two starters instead. The fish of the day is always perfectly executed, the pastas are uncomplicated and flavoursome and you can’t go past the pizza...hell, the chef’s been there 24 years so he’s sure had time to practice! In my many visits I’ve never been disappointed.
Quality, fun and consistent (a rare find in an Auckland restaurant) - the locals are definitely onto something. A trip to Prego is sure to be true Amore.
194 Jervois Road, Herne Bay
Another famous Italian neighbourhood eatery, Andiamo is a chic and stylish bistro that has long been a staple for Herne Bay and Ponsonby locals.
Split into two rooms, a dining and a New York style long bar, it also spills out onto the pavement terrace through wide bi-fold doors – the perfect location for a spot of people watching with a vino as the sun sets. The atmosphere is nothing short of buzzing and lively, the bar offers a wide range of cocktails, international and local craft beer and long drinks - as well as the restaurant winning awards for its wine list. Inspired Italian with a focus on seafood, pasta and red meat – there’s something to suit every palate and the service is top-notch. A special mention for what is definitely the biggest and the best antipasto I’ve ever seen…oysters, salmon, anchovies, calamari, salmon cakes, capers, mozeralla, olives, beef, parma ham to name a few. The menu describes it for two but this would suffice as a starter for four.
Andiamo is an Italian phrase meaning “Let’s Go”…and go you should.
53 Nelson Street, Auckland
Toto’s has become somewhat of an institution since it opened its doors on Auckland's Nelson Street 19 years ago. Serving up modern Italian cuisine with touch old school glamour, this fine establishment has been taking home ‘Best Italian’ accolades from the likes of Metro Magazine for years now and it’s easy to see why. An elegant space inn old converted warehouse with intimate corners, with an open fire, the place has certain grandeur about it, yet the atmosphere is comfortable and relaxed.
The menu reads like a poem and certainly tastes as good as it reads. Try the degustation for a special night out. The mushroom and truffle risotto with duck breast was a highlight. And if you don’t fancy getting dolled up – you can’t beat their pizzeria, famous for its metre long pizzas.
259 Parnell Road, Parnell
Nestled in Parnell Village through a secluded archway is popular Italian favourite Non Solo Pizza. A beautiful courtyard welcomes you and instantly transports you to Italy upon entry with Olive trees, beautiful mosaic walls, gardens and a fountain - the perfect setting for al fresco dining come summer. Inside, Non Solo Pizza or NSP as it is affectionately called, seats up to 90 and also boasts a pizza/wine bar. It’s a large space but doesn’t compromise on ambience and the staff work the floor with ease, running around like a well-choreographed production.
Offering more than just wood fired pizza, although I would highly recommend it, NSP has been serving up traditional Italian to obliging regulars for years – some of my favourites include the can’t go wrong antipasto platter, the perfectly cooked calamari for starters, Homemade free range egg ravioli, filled with smoked salmon and crab meat.
It’s impossible not to have fun at Non Solo Pizza– in fact it’s the perfect place to kick back and enjoy La Dolce Vita.
150 Ponsonby Road, Ponsonby
I ummed and aahed over whether to include SPQR. It seemed such an obvious choice, but for good reason. I’ve started so many fun nights out here and indulged in many a long lunch with many a glass or three of Astrolab to help the afternoon slip by. The buzz and atmosphere are unbeatable in my opinion, even if the food does miss the mark on the odd rare occasion.
Situated right in the heart of Ponsonby Road, the outdoor seating makes for excellent people watching –come here to see and be seen. But you do not need to be wealthy, expensively dressed or an Auckland celeb to dine here and feel welcome. The wait staff are fabulous, dharling, very attentive and add a whole new level of entertainment to a meal – with one even having favourite parking sign out front which he loves to dance around to entertain the footpath diners.
Inside you can have a drink at the bar on a Friday night or settle in to one of the many dark, sexy corners.
137 Richmond Road, Grey Lynn
If it’s good old fashioned Italian hospitality and charm you’re after, Grey Lynn’s cosy Pizza and Pasta Bar Covo is serving it up in spades.“It’s all about service and looking after people,” owner Ivan muses, adding, “we look after women especially” with a cheeky wink. How…well, authentically Italian!
Covo’s pizzas and pastas are made daily from scratch with a focus on fresh herbs and quality ingredients. It’s not unusual for guests to be treated to a wine tasting or a Limoncello to round the night off. If it’s simple, authentic Italian in relaxed surrounds you after - Covo is the quintessential neighbourhood local.
3-5 Mt Eden Road, Eden Terrace
A little known gem on Symonds Street, O’ Sarracino Restaurant was opened by Gaetano Spinosa, who wanted to bring authentic regional Napoletano Italian cooking to New Zealand. Gaetano cooks everything fresh as it is ordered and spends his mornings exploring the fish markets and various places handpicking his ingredients.
The line-up offers a wide range of dishes that aren't found in the average neighbourhood Italian but based on the classic repertoire of antipasti, primo pasta and secondi. The staff are great at guiding customers in their food and wine choice and if you are looking for something different talk to them and they will offer your creations that aren’t necessarily on the menu. The perfect little slice of Napoli right here in our own backyard.
472 Richmond Road, Grey Lynn
Aptly named, Grey Lynn’s local pasta restaurant Delicious has made a name for itself with its delectable handmade pasta offerings. On the numerous occasions I’ve been the place has been buzzy and busy… you can’t book so get there early or be prepared to perch yourself at the bar for a drink whilst you wait for a table.
The menu is short and uncomplicated which is actually quite refreshing for a change. No decision anxiety here when it comes to ordering! Gnocchi, Risotto and Pasta are the main offerings with fresh ingredients. Good wine, great music and as for dessert – the Tiramisu has been touted as some of the best in Auckland.
61 Sandringham Road, Sandringham
We stumbled (quite literally!) upon Papas Pizza – from the front it looks like just a takeaway pizzeria, but on entry we were ushered through the kitchen into a charming garden restaurant dotted with candles.
If it’s casual friendly atmosphere and genuinely good pizzas you’re after – Papa’s Pizza is the place for you. Located on Sandringham Road in Kingsland, Papa’s has a loyal following of locals and punters who’ve made a special trip for the famous wholemeal bases. The pizza dough is handmade every day and the herbs are home grown. With a thin crispy base, there’s nothing fancy about the pizza combinations…this is true Italian pizza at its simplest and best. We share a Tomato, cheese, and salami number and at $21 for the large the prices are as good as the food!
161 Symonds Street, Eden Terrace
It’s the exuberant service and generous Italian hospitality which has earned Gina’s a spot on the top Italian List. A night at Gina’s is less about the food than the experience. The male waiters are loud, proud, flirtatious and notorious for breaking out in song and taking their shirts off it a lady guest happens to be celebrating her birthday or hens. You want quiet darling? Then you'll have to go elsewhere because they don't do quiet.
While the presentation of the food could be worked on, the portions are large and they do the basics well – my recommendation would be to stick to a pasta or pizza washed down with one of their many great Italian reds.
July 23, 2012 by Kristy Mayo