Phone: (09) 309 3740
Rating out of 10: Food: 8, Service: 8, Value: 8, Ambience: 8
O' Sarracino was recently sold to another Italian couple, Maurizo and Nadia, but executive chef Gaetano Spinosa remains in the kitchen and, we're told, he still traverses the fish and vegetable markets at dawn every morning looking for the freshest and best ingredients on offer.
So in we swooped. The restaurant itself, once the chapel of W.H. Tongue & Son Funeral Directors at the top of Eden Terrace, is elegant and spacious, with a large bar and chapel-shaped doors leading to the spotless bathrooms. Tables are well-spaced, so you never get shouted out. The walls are covered in posters, paintings and a ceramic plate collection brought by the new owners that ranges from Clarice Cliff lookalikes to a collection from Nadia's great-grandmother.
Overall it's a friendly, family, neighbourhood atmosphere. One patron, who flicked through the newspaper as he ate, spoke in fluent Italian and attacked his food with gusto, comes here every Tuesday "for my best meal of the week". Another group had come from different far-flung suburbs and chose O'Sarracino as their city meeting spot.
It's all very relaxed and mildly excitable. Our waiter, who spoke with a charming Italian accent, was middle aged, if not a pensioner, as waiters tend to be in Italy. He suggested we start with the restaurant's antipasto. So we did. It rolled out of the kitchen on large white platters sporting delicious deep-fried dumplings we had to cut in pieces for fear of spoiling our appetites, delectable seafood (including tiny tender octopi marinated in olive oil) marinated peppers, balls of fresh mozzarella, fresh, seasonal, tender zucchini, fragrant fried basil and much more besides. A steal at $14 a head.
Next was the high point of my meal: O'Sarracino's handmade pasta. Of the two, the ravioli stuffed with duck and drizzled with a white truffle sauce laced with prawns was my favourite, though the ravioli di mare with prawns, snapper and lime served with a cherry tomato sauce was almost as good. And it's worth knowing that, being a proper restaurant rather than a trattoria, the pasta dishes are small. We were served around six pieces of large, well-stuffed ravioli, which gave us about two pieces each.
My main course was a little disappointing after all that - probably because I chose meat rather than the seafood, for which Neopolitan cuisine in general, and this restaurant in particular, are famous. Certainly, the dishes based on clams, prawns and fish were excellent. Benedict's zuppa di flavia, the fish soup that is O'Sarracino's signature dish, was beautiful. Tomato-based and rich, it tasted of sweet seafood on a spoon. Celia's zuppa fagioli with clams and cannellini bean base was also delectable.
Meanwhile, Brian's brasato, which translates into beef braised for four hours, was pretty good and mostly tender, but my scallopina porcini was unremarkable and only just tender enough.
Which brings us to the bellissimo finale, the dolci della casa, which was of course a brilliant tiramisu.
Overall it was a great night, full of Italian personality, fascinating old family photos, fabulous Neapolitan cooking that whipped Auckland's wonderful fresh seafood into the brilliant category and an atmosphere that took us straight back to one of the better restaurants we found all those years ago when we were in Italy.
Our meal: $389 for five antipasto and main courses, two pasta dishes, three desserts and three glasses of wine.
Wine list: A good mix of local and Italian wines, though relatively expensive at $13.50 and $14 a glass.
Verdict: The most authentic relatively upmarket Italian restaurant we've found in Auckland. O'Sarracino offers a delicious mixture of traditional and modern Neopolitan Italian cuisine that at times was quite breathtaking.