Oct 1, 2023 Restaurants
I am a fan of almost every culture’s take on roast pork, and Italy’s porchetta is a prime example of why. The thought of those trucks in Italy that roast suckling pigs, then carve and stuff the meat into ciabatta sandwiches for punters, street-side, stirs up a great longing. Possibly the closest you can get to those pork sandwiches here is the porchetta at Farina’s in Ponsonby: a baked-to-order pork bun where the bubbly crackling adds crunch to soft bread that has been blistered in the oven, and the slice of provolone balances the saltiness with sharpness. Overall, the diner has an impression of glorious, glorious indulgence. “I could definitely imagine just eating that and a bowl of fries on a dusty Saturday lunch,” my dining companion said. It was delicious.
Auckland has always had a healthy crop of places that range between Italian and Italian-ish — it’s a cuisine with building-blocks so familiar that elements of them may be integrated, warped and spat out again until a restaurant is sort of Italian, but not completely. Take Lilian , a Grey Lynn “osteria and wine bar” that I visited recently. There, the dishes are not called by specific Italian names and various cues have been taken from other cuisines. (The woodfired bread and a prosciutto and grape pizza were pretty good.) Or Pici , Cotto , Ada — all of which serve pasta, but we know as Italian-ish, right?
Fabio Buonomo runs the floor at Italian wine bar Cornelia, a restaurant I’d heard little about until I saw it was one of the few places commended by Gambero Rosso, a wine and food magazine that surveys the top Italian restaurants globally. (In Auckland, it also recognised Farina, Spiga, Pasta & Cuore and Non Solo Pizza, among others — all real-real Italian places, where the servers are Italian.) Cornelia is located down a side street in Parnell, and looks like a typical wine bar: a brick-walled room with plenty of bottles on display.
I would say that it’s much more a place to get a drink and some snacks rather than sit down and embark on a full meal, because the portions were so tiny that after the first two dishes came we quietly ordered another plate of sourdough to fill us up. A $28 crudo, for example, had about five thin slices of raw tuna, whereas the equivalent dish at Farina (also $28) had eight meaty, thick-cut pieces. It was a similar story with the polpo (grilled octopus) and pappardelle. While it’s true we were splitting these dishes between three people, so perhaps share some of the blame, we were also astounded by how little food we got for the money we spent. Everything we ate was perfectly fine, if not remarkable; it was comforting and familiar, as well-executed Italian food usually is. My favourite of the dishes was the pappardelle (the pasta obviously made in-house) topped with a white lamb ragù that was salty and rich without any need for that sweet-acidic tomato flavour. My least favourite was the tiramisu, mainly because I love tiramisu. The Savoiardi were not soaked enough and there didn’t seem to be a boozy edge. Come here if you want to try Italian wine and order some small plates to take the edge of.
A few days later, we went to eat at Farina and joked that we could order almost the exact same things — bar pizza, the thing Farina is best known for, many of the entrees and mains perfectly matched up. We reprised polpette, which we’d also had at Cornelia. The Napoli sauce of the Farina version was lick-your-plate tasty and the flavour of the meatballs was, too — but the texture was off, too patty-ish, like the meat had been overworked to compaction.
Apart from that porchetta pork bun, which I really think you should order, we also liked the crudo, citrusy fresh, and surprisingly, a side Caesar salad that was dressed up generously and provided some much-needed crunch to our meal. Another thing I liked at Farina was the service. The servers touched base every so often and the person who took our order seemed really concerned with making sure we had a nice time, flowing out our dishes in the right order, which, when you’re dealing with such disparate dishes, is very noticed.
Everyone knows the pizza at Farina is great — the burrata pizza, with the pistachio mortadella, is a personal favourite — but once you have a pizza, there’s not much room for more. So we saved room, and ordered the pasta of the day, a veal and spinach ravioli. The actual ravioli was boring but good, with an exacting thickness and a delicate filling. It was served in a butter and sage sauce and there needed to be more of this (it was a little dry). Funnily enough, the sauce was almost exact to the one I’d had the week before with my ravioli (specifically, cappellacci) main at San Marco Trattoria & Bar.
Too new to be considered by Gambero Rosso but most definitely real-real Italian, San Marco is a recently opened restaurant in Glenfield — a suburb that people don’t visit much unless you grew up in the area (which I did). It will strike you as big from the outside, taking up a sizable corner lot that’s split into three areas (a daytime cafe where you can get pizza by the slice; the main dining room; and a covered outdoor area with high-top tables), with a dramatic woodfired pizza oven right in the middle. It’s aiming to be a family restaurant through and through, and achieves this.
I like that the menu at San Marco will note which region of Italy the dish is from — when the sauce is “Umbrian style”, or “Trentino style” — and that they offer things I haven’t seen at any other Italian restaurant in Auckland, like the Venetian mantecato, a mashed salted cod dish, served here with polenta chips. There is a lot to choose from — too much — and it can be confusing to figure out what combination of things to order out of the appetisers of soup and stew, bits of chicken, insalata, deli meats, many cheeses, and other little bits to pick at. Most people will probably fall into ordering garlic bread, pasta and pizza.
The actual pasta here, made in-house, was beautiful and springy. There was a satisfying chewiness in the hand-rolled shapes — such as the strozzapreti, which came with a generous amount of seafood and a fresh tomato salsa. Kids will be happy with the woodfired pizza here, which is Roman-style with a thinner, crispy crust (as opposed to the softer Neapolitan). My pick of the mains is the punta di petto, which is a tender wagyu deckle served with a polenta taragna.
They had run out of tiramisu by the time it came to order dessert (Lilian had too, the night I was there), so I had a scoop of pistachio gelato which they make at the restaurant. It was okay, fulfilling its function as a sweet flourish at the end. In the end, the best tiramisu I managed to obtain from these restaurants was from Farina. It came in a tall glass and the ratio of cream to Savoiardi was slightly off. But an average tiramisu is still tiramisu, and I ate the whole thing with gusto.
244 Ponsonby Rd, Ponsonby
09 390 6213
Tues–Thurs 5–10pm; Fri–Sun 12–10pm
289 Parnell Rd
09 218 9080
231 Archers Rd, Wairau Valley
09 216 7163
Mon–Fri 9am–9pm; Sat–Sun 5–9pm