Who can resist an Italian eatery? Not me. When Delicious first opened in Grey Lynn a decade ago, I went too often, indulging myself with their gloriously hand-made pasta, then a few times I got such drastically unwelcoming service that I stopped going altogether. But that was years ago and since then there's been a change of ownership and then another, and now this local eatery is in the hands of Anthea Potter, so I braved it again.
It's exactly as I remembered, with its two street-level dining rooms, and one upstairs, decked out in dark wooden furniture, bustling open kitchen and counter cabinet of gooey, creamy-looking Italian desserts oozing rustic charm. The menu is exactly as it has always been, with a strong focus on pasta, all of it handmade on the premises.
We started by sharing zucchini ravioli and a caprese salad. There's no other way to say it, the ravioli were exceptional. Large handkerchiefs of tender pasta sandwich a filling of finely grated zucchini, torn basil and that gentle cheese, ricotta. The whole lot brimmed with the herbaceous flavour of a sage butter sauce, freshened up with the zing of lemon juice. It was the taste of summer in Italy on a plate.
Caprese salad has to be one of the most stellar flavour combinations on the planet and at Delicious they do the right thing in using small, very ripe cherry tomatoes, ensuring blasts of flavour, and generous amounts of basil. A little more of the fresh milky mozzarella would have been nice but we're not in Campania now, I suppose.
What I love about a decent neighbourhood eatery is the informality with which they can be approached; a good one is really just an extension of the dining room and kitchen at home. It struck me that we could do with more of these types of operations in our suburbs; small restaurants to liven up groups of run-down shops that inevitably contain a dairy and a booze shop but with more closed doors than open. I'm ever-hopeful.
Pappardelle, that wide thin fettuccine invented for ragu to cling to, had always been my favourite dish at Delicious, but you could say, the years have not been kind to me, and these days I am one of the many who endeavours to limit my intake of gluten for the sake of comfort, so I opted for the risotto. (I need to point out that by way of insurance, I persuaded my dining friend to have the pappardelle.)
My risotto arrived and was quite "loose" and sloppy as I like it, tinged with the tang of gorgonzola but with little sign of the promised caramelised onions. To be honest, it may have been the best risotto in this city but alas I had eyes only for the plateful of pasta that lay temptingly over the table from me. Broad ribbons of pasta lay tangled up with dark chunks of lamb shank, bound with a rich tomato sauce. My friend abandoned it early, finding it too filling, and it was then that my "strict dietary practices" became as loose as an Italian president's morals and I dived in, twirling my fork recklessly for mouthful after mouthful of the most divinely cooked pasta that was the perfect demonstration of "al dente" - cooked so that each bite still hung on to some semblance of firmness yet forgiving enough to melt in the mouth also. The rich rosemary and tomato ragu was flecked with shank meat that was soft and tender and the whole dish was as sublime as I remembered it. I took the left-overs home and a third party enjoyed them at the office the next day, to rave reviews. It was the dish that kept on giving. It struck me that the new owner is making a clever choice in not mucking around with the glorious formulas from the kitchen.
We passed up tiramisu for the cheesecake on hearing that it was made with fresh ricotta which they make themselves. It was light and fluffy, with a crown of fresh berries that bled joyously into the cheese, and best of all, it wasn't cloyingly sweet.
As I left I felt all the wrongs had become rights again; Delicious is now open for lunch as well as dinner, they take bookings, the staff are marvellous, and best of all the food has remained as good as it ever was. Molto bene - which in my language means I can't wait to go back.
From the menu: Ravioli (zucchini) $19, insalata caprese $14, pappardelle with lamb shank $32, risotto $29, fresh ricotta cheesecake $14
Drinks: Fully licensed