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Address: 87 Albert St, Auckland City
Ph: (09) 365 1266
When I reviewed Da Vinci's City Rd restaurant two years ago I was somewhat disparaging about the décor, suggesting that the chipped and scratched walls could do with a little freshening. I apologise. Having since visited Italy and dined in similar establishments, I realise that there is an authenticity in City Rd that is well-deserved after more than 30 years of service.
Now, after four years at the helm of Da Vinci's, Antonio Ariano (known to all as Andy) has taken the plunge and opened a new restaurant in the heart of the CBD. And while the menu exactly replicates that of the older venue, the same cannot be said for the setting.
It's an awkward space, constrained as it is by the bones of a 1980s office building. Great glass walls on two sides create a fishbowl effect, which heavy drapes only partly ameliorate. But mirrors, pictures and paintings help and, if conversation flags, there is always a street view to amuse.
Andy has moved not just his menu but his staff to the new premises, so the new quickly becomes the familiar for regular diners. And the welcome is just as warm and immediate - no one is ignored.
Once we are settled with drinks we turn to the business of the evening.
We forgo the bread selections and look further down the page for our starters. My calamari, always a good test of a chef's skill is, the best I have eaten, tender to the last mouthful and well served by its hints of chilli and lime.
Bill's cannelloni is a rolled crepe rather than a pasta tube, well-stuffed with beef and cheese, and it vanishes rapidly. Ed and Sarah share the chicken liver pate with truffle and mushroom.The staff, who are familiar with my usual order of scaloppine limone, are surprised when I order the lamb rack, leaving the scaloppine to Sarah.
She is delighted with the tender, succulent meat and sliced lemon cooked with it, but feels a little more lemon juice would not have gone astray. The lamb is crusted with herbs and parmesan and is perfectly pink on the inside. One hesitates to pick up one's food and gnaw on it, but a lamb rack demands this sort of treatment.
Bill's rigatoni and sausage is exactly that - spicy sausage with rosemary and olives and a hint of spice in the tomato sauce. Good, heartwarming stuff.
Ed's choice of polpette (meatballs) with sauteed vegetables and bread is delicious.
There's room still for dessert: an excellent tiramisu, a light pancake with Cointreau, and Ido's gelato, which has Ed in raptures.
It is said that 90 per cent of Da Vinci's clientele at City Rd have been there before. It can therefore be assumed that none of the above will come as a surprise to those diners.
What we can look forward to is Andy's success in his new venue, along with some surprises and additions to the menu.
Rating out of 10
Our meal: $221.10 for three starters, four mains, three desserts, a bottle of wine and a beer.
Wine list: An extensive offering of reds, with many Italian inclusions, and a rather shorter list of whites, albeit with a good selection by the glass. Our Te Awa Left Field merlot was excellent.
Verdict: The new Da Vinci's upholds the traditions and values set by the more established venue. Proposed changes to the menu are anticipated eagerly.