Review: Tango, Grey Lynn

By Peter Calder

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Herald on Sunday Rating: 4/5
Address: 2 Surrey Cres, Grey Lynn
Ph: (09) 378 7888

Alejandro Escalante, an Argentinian, knows Italian food. Photo / Sandra Mu/Getty Images
Alejandro Escalante, an Argentinian, knows Italian food. Photo / Sandra Mu/Getty Images

I wonder what they'll do about the intersection of Surrey Cres and Selbourne St next Sunday morning, when the stupid cars-turning-left-give-way rule becomes extinct.

The intersection has a Stop sign facing the right-turning cars, so the driver turning left has to hope that the other driver has noticed that, on this one occasion, the stupid rule doesn't apply: a counter-intuitive rule is countermanded.

I remonstrated with the council for years to no avail, so I took to turning left on my Vespa without signalling. That way I didn't have to wonder whether I was going to get T-boned; the scowling of the other driver was a small price to pay.

If this is solved by next Sunday, Tango will lose a great source of entertainment at its front door: the "will-she-won't-he?" shenanigans at an intersection that might have been designed by a panelbeater.

Not that Tango needs a source of entertainment to pull in the diners: the food can do that all on its own.

The restaurant occupies the space that was, for barely 18 months, home to the Mexican restaurant Ahsi-Itzcalli. I always felt bad about that place because the family that ran it were such lovely people and it pained me to see it almost empty night after night.

No such problems should face new owner Alejandro Escalante, a personable Argentinian, who, with Brazilian Marcelo de Souza, started Santos in Ponsonby in the 1990s (back when really good coffee was hard to find in Auckland).

Tango is quite without airs and graces - a simple pizza-and-pasta restaurant of quietly confident quality. "I'm wanting to make a local restaurant where people feel like they can just drop in," he told us as we finished up, and that's just what he's done.

The name, a nod to Escalante's homeland, excited some discussion in our group of four as to whether it is a good one for a restaurant in a place where dance studios proliferate. (The naysayers have a point, not least because most of the food is not typical of Argentina, where the indigenous cuisine consists of placing 5kg of beef on your plate, checking that it's dead and leaving you to it).

Escalante's food is instead a pleasingly domestic cucina Italiana: three out of five Argentinians have Italian blood, he explains, and anyway he married an Italian and spent time cooking in Mirano, near Venice, after a stint in Spain.

All the pasta, apart from the (dried and imported) penne, is house-made and the pizzas on the list of 20 are thin-crusted in the Italian way. I ordered the margherita - the simple tomato/mozzarella/basil classic, which is always a good test - and it was great: the base was crisp, but not showily charred and the quantity of the topping perfectly judged so as not to swamp the enjoyment of the dough for its own sake.

We had started with provoleta - a cheese that is an Argentine variant on the Italian provolone and is made to be served grilled. The disc, deliciously brown and misshapen by heat, almost prompted an outburst of fisticuffs at the table as we all struggled to protect our shares. Equally delicious was a board of other cheese, including manchego and a mild gorgonzola, that came with a wedge of the quince paste known throughout Spain and its former colonies as dulce de membrillo.

Eating cheese at the beginning of a meal is a custom more Argentinian than Italian and not one I am used to. But it worked well with the big Argentine malbec that Escalante had recommended (he keeps a good selection of South American and Spanish wines).

The pasta dishes - gnocchi with beef meatballs; a rich and dark crepe cannelloni from the specials board; and some very fine spinach and ricotta ravioli - were excellent. Only the desserts were slightly flawed: with the greatest respect to Escalante's grandmother, whose recipe he uses, the bread-and-butter pudding had a dull texture; the block of semifreddo was more generous than accomplished; and the tiramisu was unwisely served in a champagne coupe with too much cream.

But in general, this place serves a good meal - three courses for $40 a head without drinks. I'm glad Escalante decided to create a neighbourhood place in my neighbourhood.

Need to know

Value: $$

$ = $20-$40; $$ = 40-60; $$$ = $60+.
(Price guide reflects three courses for one person without drinks.)

Also try

Mondial in the Surrey Cres shops for tapas: Delicious in West Lynn for excellent, if pricey, pasta.

- Herald on Sunday

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