First Look: Italia Square
Ponsonby has Ponsonby Central, and now Parnell has Italia Square, a scaled-down food-shopping and dining precinct dedicated to the tastes of Italy. Taking up the entire ground floor of Parnell Rd’s award-winning Geyser Building, Italia Square is the work of Antonio Aram (in the grey jersey above), a Sicilian-born businessman who is finally realising a long-held ambition after more than 20 years in Auckland. “This place, and the restaurant in particular, is a tribute to my father,” he says. “Both my parents were great cooks – but my father, he was really passionate about food. He always wanted to open a restaurant of his own, and now this is my chance to honour his dream.”
He sounds emotional, but that may just be the effects of his recent punishing workload. One of Antonio’s colleagues tells me he has been leaving at midnight and coming back in at 5am; his wife says he dropped 5 kg in the countdown to last weekend’s grand opening. Now Italia Square is up and running, he’s tired but happy. “I’ve already received so many emails from local people saying they love the place and this is exactly what Parnell needed.”
Italia Square is divided into three distinct but connected zones. The first visitors encounter is the café, serving quiches, pastries, bagels and paninis, Bach Espresso coffee and Kapiti ice cream. The café is also home to a Bennetts of Mangawhai chocolate boutique – don’t miss the simple but so good Bennetts hot chocolate, a lollipop-style stick of chocolate dipped in hot milk.
Whereas Antonio says the café is “the best of Italy meeting the best of New Zealand,” the rest of the complex is almost wholly devoted to Italian food. The marketplace boasts a wide range of imported products – fresh and dried pasta, oils, cheeses, salami and more – and staff who can tell you the best way to use them. Across the courtyard, the restaurant serves a short selection of Italian classics like saffron risotto and polla alla grappa, plus what Antonio promises is an “incredible” Italian-style burger, utilising ingredients from the marketplace next door. The restaurant, like the rest of Italia Square, is open from 7am. If you like, you can order breakfast from the restaurant (try the Tuscan eggs with beans, spinach and tomato, or fried polenta with mushrooms) and eat in the café or courtyard. On the menu for 2015: Italian cooking and wine appreciation classes and meals to go.