Aug 15, 2014 Restaurants
244 Ponsonby Rd, Ponsonby. farina.co.nz
Open daily, noon till late.
Salumeria and streetfood $7-$30; pasta $16-$20;
spiedini, panuozzi $36; salads $11-$18; pizza $20-$55; dessert $4-$10.
By Jesse Mulligan. Photos by Ken Downie.
First published in Metro, July 2014.
Farina is the new venture from the people who brought you Totó. I loved the food at Totó, but you wouldn’t call the place much fun. I know a guy whose last three meals there were each interrupted by a marriage proposal at the table next to him.
Well, you won’t hear anyone asking, “Will you marry me?” at Farina, unless they’re propositioning the guy who cooked the tagliatelle. Blackened with squid ink, exactly al dente, served with shaved octopus and bottarga, the dish is richly flavoured but hard to stop eating. It’s perfect Italian — simple, authentic and indulgent — and most of the menu is just as good.
Even better, you don’t have to sit in a quiet room anymore to eat this stuff. Farina is pumping — a corner bar on Ponsonby Rd, with long tables, bar seating and an open kitchen. On a busy night, getting a seat is almost as hard as getting a park, but you can’t have the buzz without the crowd.
Besides, there are worse places to wait, around a marble bar with views of the strip and good-looking staff pouring you Italian wine. My first one was corked, which they probably should have picked up on before I did, but it was replaced without question and it’s hard to begrudge anyone who’s that eager to please.
Which brings me to my main concern around Farina, which is lunch. They do something called Yum Ciao before 5pm — handsome waiters wandering the floor with trays of little dishes. The idea, and it’s a good one, is that you get a little taste of a lot of different things — a degustation without the outlay.
But that’ll take a while to catch on in this spot, and when we arrived to give it a go, there were exactly two of us and probably a dozen staff. Anything we didn’t choose either came around again in five minutes or sat on the counter waiting for the next customers to arrive.
This isn’t sustainable, I thought, and I wasn’t surprised when a friend later told me that she’d arrived by herself for lunch, been offered some sparse counter food or nothing and, when the chef took pity and offered her a menu, had to listen to him get loudly told off by his manager for several minutes while she tried to enjoy eating what she’d ordered.
Daytime dining with a group would be perfect, and I don’t want to compound their problems by warning you off lunch, but probably the later in the afternoon you arrive, the better.
For dinner, order the seafood spiedini — a half-metre metal skewer crammed with marine delights, served with a salsa verde but mainly just tasting of sea and grill. Anything oceanic is great, actually, including the octopus on its own — served simply with olive oil, chilli and garlic: ’pussy aglio e olio.
They also do Totó’s famously excellent pizza by the metre, deep-fried street food and some very rich, deeply flavoured pasta dishes. Also, I’ve eaten every tiramisu in town and theirs is the best. So restrained, so balanced: like eating a sweet coffee cloud.
The fit-out looks expensive but there are a few things left to sort — like some coat hooks on the bar while you’re waiting, a sign on the toilet door and the completion of whatever that weird iron thing stuck to the wall is.
But Ponsonby just got another great restaurant, and something unique to the city. It’s the sort of rustic Italian that Baduzzi never really turned out to be, with enough tiled surfaces to scare the peasants away. Eat there as soon as you can, preferably once the sun has gone down.