Metro restaurant critic Simon Farrell-Green visists the rebooted Andiamo, but finds the Herne Bay favourite lacking in oomph.
In its first incarnation, Andiamo was comfortable, but not necessarily groundbreaking — on a bad day you wondered how it managed to stay open with all these excellent new restaurants popping up all over the place. But they knew your name, and there were two lovely airy rooms and a big scrubbed wooden table to sit at because, let’s face it, in a suburb like this everyone knows everyone, right? And so it survived for 30 years in its high-ceilinged space with beaten-up floors and big windows.
Then the owners of Ponsonby Road Bistro bought it and turned it into the very pink Halycon. Halcyon was a perfectly good restaurant except for one critical issue: it wasn’t called Andiamo. The good people of Herne Bay never really forgave them for taking away their beloved local, and so Halcyon shuttered after something like a year.
Wisely, the Nourish Group — which also owns Soul and Euro, along with the Jervois Steak House and others — reopened Andiamo on the site late last year. There’s no connection to the original, and they’ve refitted both the space and the menu, but the locals don’t seem to mind. Really, how could they call it anything else? There are still those two airy rooms with the big doors opening onto the street, and there’s a big bar on one side and a restful, earthy sort of fit-out that I like very much. There’s also a menu of Italian classics and a wine list organised by price, and they make a particularly excellent negroni.
In short, Andiamo Mark II is better than Mark I, but not as good as it could be. Some of the food is really good; seafood is a highlight. One evening, the market fish was John Dory and came perfectly poached and served on a “green minestrone”, which was really a beautifully clear broth, with tiny, precisely cut pieces of bean in it, and everything was exactly the same tenderness as the other things on the plate: it was delicate and sensational.
I’ve also eaten a sensational dish of squid-ink linguini with scallops and nduja, which used — hallelujah! — New Zealand scallops with the foot on, rather than those weird de-footed Canadian ones. They were small and sweet, waved over a pan of butter to sear them, and somehow their delicate sweet flavour was only amplified by the smoky intensity of the nduja. I’ve also eaten a terrific dish of grilled octopus and a perfectly grilled skirt steak with chimichurri. The tiramisu is brilliant, just holding together but in grave danger of collapse thanks to generous amounts of booze. I’ve eaten all the meatballs — pork, lamb and beef — and they’re succulent, well seasoned and served just on the pink side of medium.
But I also ate a dish of whole grilled eggplant scattered with cumin that needed another few minutes over the grill. It was watery and undercooked rather than gooey and soft. We combined it with a flavourless, dry focaccia, the two dishes saved only by the very lovely labneh. I loved the rusticity of the caprese salad — lovely big chunks of juicy heritage tomatoes — but there wasn’t enough buffalo mozzarella, and it was light on the basil, so really it was a tomato salad, not a caprese.
On my last visit, I realised the menu hadn’t changed since they opened, so the lady butcher’s pizza was still promising asparagus, only it had changed out for zucchini, which didn’t help — it was doughy and bland, underseasoned and damp.
But if there’s a real problem with Andiamo, it’s that it doesn’t really have a vibe. I visited several times in several weeks, and never saw the same waiter twice. The staff were professional, if sometimes a bit offhand or distant. After a few visits, I expect to be recognised as someone who seems to visit often; that’s kind of the point of a local. This is a local where the staff don’t — or can’t — get to know you.
Not that this seems to bother the people of Herne Bay, who just seem delighted they have a place called Andiamo back, even if it doesn’t have a big scrubbed table in the front windows. Turn up on a Thursday night and it’s usually heaving with a mixture of extended families and small groupings of well-groomed 40-something women. There’s a lot of getting up and down, wandering from table to table and plenty of shoulder touching.
As we left one night, a handful of solitary middle-aged men sat around separately in the bar with drinks in one hand and phones in the other. They were casually dressed, as if the choice was between a night on the couch or a night up the road. And who am I to quibble with that?
194 Jervois Rd, Herne Bay. Ph 378-7811. andiamoeatery.co.nz
Hours: Tue–Fri, noon to late; Sat–Sun, 9am to late.
Dinner bill: Starters $9 to $38.50; meatballs $17 to $18; salads $14 to $21; pasta & risotto $16 to $34; meat & fish $34 to $52; desserts $15.50.