Restaurant review: Viva, Auckland CBD

By Peter Calder

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Address: Bledisloe Lane and Aotea Sq, Auckland CBD
Phone: (09) 377 3423
Online: vivaitalianrestaurant.co.nz
The grilled calamari on pearl barley and gorgonzola. Photo / Fiona Goodall
The grilled calamari on pearl barley and gorgonzola. Photo / Fiona Goodall

A menu without misspelling is rarer than a table with a pepper grinder, so the fact that the menu at Viva gets pappardelle, margherita and tagliata wrong should not be taken as evidence of inauthenticity.

It is slightly more disturbing that the section of the menu that should be headed "antipasti" is called "primi piatti" (first plates), a term usually applied to pasta and risotto dishes. But what the hell.

Viva is in that ghastly cinema building inspired, I assume, by MC Escher (I got separated from a mate in there years ago and no one ever heard from him again), but fortunately the restaurant has its own entrance, virtually on the front doorstep of the Aotea Centre.

It's a long room brightened by large illuminated images of St Mark's in Venice, the Trevi Fountain and the like. But as you settle in, you realise that it's open on the other side to a mall of sorts, with a coffee franchise and a busy Malaysian restaurant.

Viva turns out the food, including pizzas and fried chicken, for the customers of the adjoining bowling alley, as well as attending to its own diners' needs. This is not a problem in itself, of course, but it does suggest a singularity of purpose may be missing and may explain what the food's like.

In fact, the food is not bad and, if not bad's your thing, you might enjoy it. (The couple at the table next to ours, off to see the Proclaimers, were swooning with joy). But it promises much more than not bad. The menu is adorned with the legend "The discovery of a new dish is more precious to human beings than the discovery of a new star", which I would have thought rather depended on the dish and the star. I did enjoy the take on caprese salad, in which mozzarella di bufala came in a cold tomato consomme, but dumping a slab of hot-smoked salmon on a risotto smacked of a failure of imagination.

I gather the kitchen was once staffed by some of the alumni of Delicious in Grey Lynn, whose pasta was wonderful. If so, their departure is regrettable, to put it mildly. That risotto was ordinary at best and pappardelle with a duck and porcini ragu was short on salt, flavour and porcini.

A simple pizza (tomato, basil, good mozzarella) used excellent ingredients, but the crust was far from the crisp leopard-skin standard of the 90-second classic pizza napoletana - I suspect the oven was just not hot enough.

In all, it was something of a letdown after some promising entrees: that caprese; a stellar vitello tonnato - thin slices of rare veal on a deliciously sludgy tuna mayo, with sliced caperberries and the faintest whiff of truffle; and raw kingfish lifted by grapefruit and fennel.

Viva is planning a pre-theatre deal of three courses for $55 which will probably pack the punters in. But it stops well short of being a restaurant to seek out.

Starters: $7-$21; pasta $23-$26; pizza $22-$24; mains $28; desserts $12.

- Spy.co.nz

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