Oct 29, 2023 Restaurants
When I was growing up in the pre-deregulated 1980s, it seemed like the only restaurants Auckland had to offer were Chinese or Italian; every suburb had one of each. Up the road from my house was Perugino’s, where the proprietor Luciano Canestri would welcome my parents warmly and insist they order his signature pawpaw and Parma ham, and I would try to pass the time as quickly as possible until the arrival of the dessert menu. Shortly after, the world opened up and seemingly endless waves of new flavours broke upon these islands: first Japanese, then Indian and Thai and Turkish and all the rest. The old neighbourhood Italian restaurants that were once the only possible destination for a baby-boomer family looking to celebrate a pay rise or graduation began to feel like relics of the Muldoon era — stuffy, stuccoed and parochial.
Remuera, in my mind, is also a relic. An island of New Zealand long past. Full of well-preserved, wealthy retirees clinging to the sunny side of the central isthmus; hopelessly devoted to David Seymour and to keeping their heads down, lest they come to the attention of anyone who might put reo Māori all over their road signs. However, within this odd suburb is one of the nicest suburban shopping developments in the city, 1050 Remuera, which exists in a pleasingly bricked and woody set of walkways behind the main drag and which is home, among other things, to Metro Top 50 restaurant Wakuwaku, a cashmere shop (we’re still in Remuera) and hugely popular local Italian restaurant Spiga.
Like Wakuwaku, Spiga sprawls over multiple tenancies in the development, consisting of a deli-style small goods store and two dining rooms, one of which steps down over a couple of levels. The night we went, there were no bookings available on the website (on a Tuesday!) and no one was picking up the phone when I called to enquire about walk-in space. Can I just say that this has become far too common across the city, and we are being robbed. Ringing up a restaurant and booking a table is one of life’s most pleasurable transactions — all good manners and the promise of satisfaction to come. Please, everyone, start picking up the phone.
Arriving nonetheless, undeterred, we were easily accommodated and shown by the competent staff to some tables kept free for walk-ins. Ours was a small two-person booth set in the downstairs area and constructed, like much of the room, from impressive dark wooden joinery. The booth was a little cramped but would perhaps have seemed pleasantly intimate had we been on a date, which it almost certainly was designed for. The menu seemed simple at first glance, divided into four sections — snack, starter, pasta and pizza — but was as far from what I remember of the one at Perugino’s as it is possible to be while still remaining part of the same cuisine. There were ingredients listed that simply did not exist pre-deregulation. Truffles were shown sitting on a white napkin and were offered in a bell jar as an addition, for an extra $27, to any dish. We did not partake, but the presentation was enjoyable.
Now, I need to say here that the person with whom I was dining has what can be described as a particular palate, which was a little restrictive in this particular environment — particularly his strong position against mushrooms and “white sauces”. This instantly knocked a few things out of contention, most notably a starter that looked fantastic: the carpaccio di abalone e polipo, maionese al plankton, a carpaccio of pāua and octopus (the ‘maionese’, or mayonnaise, being the whitest of all the white sauces). We shared the prosciutto di Parma 24 mesi e gnocco fritto — I found it easiest just to point at the menu when ordering — which, it turned out, was a bowl of thinly shaved prosciutto and fried balls of pizza dough. It looked like a particularly demented, meat-based breakfast cereal in which the two elements paired brilliantly, and was also fun to eat: salty, chewy and crunchy all at the same time. We also had the burrata con culatello e puree di cavolo nero affumicato — a burrata with cured pork similar to our other starter and a kale puree. Like all burratas, it was just not that interesting, missing the amount of salt needed to make cheeses ‘cheesy’.
Next came a pizza, their most popular, the nduja e cavolo nero. It was a Neapolitan base with a nice-enough tomato sauce, spicy sausage, thick slabs of mozzarella and a forest of cavolo nero (again, just kale) perched on top. The heaping of ingredients made it a little difficult to navigate, but when you chomped into one of the sporadic pockets of ’nduja, the sensation was what my dining companion described as “intense big boy shit” — a rich stab of umami which temporarily becomes your whole existence. Alongside the pizza, a pasta dish, the ravioli di cacio e pepe con Scampi e limone, was presented as six squid ink raviolis with Beybladesque serrated edges on a butter sauce. It was made fun with the scampi laid on top and the cacio sauce inside each parcel: lemony and delicious.
For dessert, the tiramisù della nostra Famiglia came highly recommended and did not disappoint. Served in a shallow sundae glass, it was creamy, with tuille (not ladyfingers) to add some texture. The tartelletta ai frutti di bosco con spuma de lime was a berry tartlet with a delicate case, although the promised lime foam could be more accurately described as a cream. Both were excellent and if you get the chance to have them together, the acidity of the tart was a nice foil to the creamy coffee of the tiramisù.
By the end of all this, we had consumed more cream and cheese than anyone should so close to bedtime. Sleep was broken and fitful and the lingering taste of ’nduja remained in my mouth till the following morning. My dining companion texted and mentioned a similar set of symptoms, with his dreams particularly vivid — one of them a realistically rendered romance between himself and a saucier version of Phoebe Waller-Bridge (the Indiana Jones advertising is working) in which she was desperate to marry him but he was scared of her husband finding out.
This trauma aside, our evening was pleasant, and apart from the truffle presentation, there is nothing stuffy or old-world about this thoughtfully playful Italian restaurant in this thoughtfully playful alleyway in Remuera. As we left, both rooms and the alleyway between them were alive with groups large and small, all seemingly enjoying themselves with the Italian wine list, creamy food and each other, blissfully unaware of the surreal night of intense dreams and broken sleep lying in wait for them.
Shop 1/E/415 Remuera Rd, Remuera
09 869 8080
Snacks $8 – $18
Starters $26 – $38
Pasta $32 – $44 (plus a crayfish dish for $120)
Pizza $27 – $43