Herald on Sunday rating: 3/5
Address: Elliott Stables, Elliott St
Phone: (09) 365 1166
Open: Lunch and dinner six days
I wonder how Robert De Niro feels about a restaurant having pinched his name. After all, the actor is no stranger to the hospitality business: he co-owns the well-regarded Tribeca Grill in Manhattan and he has what one of his early characters might have referred to as "a piece of the action" in the uber-hip Japanese fusion Nobu chain which has a couple of dozen branches around the world and has just been sprung for serving diners endangered bluefin tuna.
Maybe he's too busy to care that someone stole his name. He has his hands full with making crappy films that reduce to tears anyone who remembers the excellent Taxi Driver and Raging Bull.
The smiling cook at De Niro's (in Auckland) told me that the signed picture - one of many - on the wall was not given to him by the actor.
"You can get it on the internet," he said cheerfully. "My friend printed it."
"Have you asked Robert De Niro what he thinks?" I asked.
"No problem," was the reply. "He's never even been in New Zealand."
Not so, I'm sorry. De Niro has been here at least once, shooting a river sequence for a 1988 film called Midnight Run (the water was too cold in Colorado). He played a bounty hunter and (although this bit probably wasn't shot here) he shot down a helicopter with a handgun.
So my advice to the proprietors of De Niro is that if a man with a mohawk and a khaki jacket comes in and says "You talkin' about me?", they should duck - and quickly change the restaurant's name to Luigi's.
The tastefully restored Elliott Stables has long been a good spot for a bite: El Faro does great tapas and there's a creperie, a bruschetteria and a wurstbude (the word comes from the outdoor sausage stands which serve some of the very few edible items of German food) where the snarlers are legendary.
In recent months, though, a bit of judicious demolition has opened out the middle space and it's now like a foodhall without the greasy lino and plastic plates. You can grab a table wherever you like and attract the attention of whatever outfit takes your fancy. You can also sit indoors, as we did, in De Niro, gazing at photos of the man himself.
It's something of a misnomer to call this place a ristorante, a name the Italians reserve for a more formal establishment, but I suspect the word is intended to communicate an Italian vibe rather than a strict designation.
In fact, everyone involved is Macedonian, but the food (and the spelling) is better than at several places in town whose chefs are Italian. It's hearty rather than particularly classy tucker but Elliott Stables is not destination dining; it's a place to have a quick meal.
We sampled a potato and chicken cannelloni (those big tubes stuffed and baked) which was rich and tasty. Ditto a veal marsala, whose sauce was a shade salty perhaps, but all mains came with vegetables which made it better value.
I was less impressed with a seafood salad which was really salad greens with a couple of prawns and some greasy, limp calamari, but the tiramisu and cassata were both excellent.
Stick to the bigger, richer dishes, I suggest, and you will agree that this is a good addition to the pre-theatre city dining scene.
$114 for two
Seafood salad: $18.90
Chicken cannelloni: $21.90
Desserts (2): $23.80
Wine (2 glasses): $16
Ambience: Hole in the wall
Vegetarians: Pasta sauces
Watch out for: Bobby the D
Bottom line: Solid if unspectacular