Herald ethnic affairs reporter and dedicated foodie Lincoln Tan introduces you to a world of hidden restaurant delights around Auckland.
Operating from a prime spot on Ponsonby Rd, Farina is far from a hidden eatery, certainly compared to many in this series.
But what you may not know about it is that head chef and co-owner Sergio Maglione loves to create dishes that are not on the menu.
He greets regulars by asking, in his thick Italian accent, 'What do you feel like having tonight?' And then answers his own question: 'Don't worry, let me look after you.'
A dish that came from such hospitality is scampi truffle risotto. He's been cooking it for friends and special customers for months, but has only recently put it on the menu.
"One night, my mate Johnny asked me to come up with a dish that can showcase the best of New Zealand and Italy that also features truffles," Maglione said. "I thought, what's better than scampi, risotto and white truffle sauce?"
Good Italian food is all about freshness and authenticity, says Maglione, who hails from Napoli but has lived in New Zealand for more than two decades.
"I have the authenticity and New Zealand has the freshness. So this dish shows off the best of Italy and NZ, with the truffle bringing the dish together."
Risotto is a rice dish that originated in Piedmont, a region of northern Italy that contains Milan and Turin. Base ingredients are usually onions, white wine and a particular kind of rice.
The New Zealand scampi, a species of small-clawed lobster, is a highly sought-after delicacy found in deep water.
Maglione makes the risotto by adding a lobster and seafood broth to the rice, stirring frequently for a creamy consistency, before adding white truffle sauce.
"The sauce is the magic that brings the dish together," Maglione emphasised.
"Italians love the taste of truffles because they are seen as rare and very precious, like food for the gods."
In November, Maglione served the risotto as a secondi (pasta course) at a long lunch event at his restaurant.
"The guests just loved it, and that made me so happy," said Maglione.
Other dishes worth trying include Neapolitan street food - frittatine, crocchette and arancini.
Maglione came to New Zealand 24 years ago to gain experience as a chef under his uncle Antonio Crisci, founder of the iconic Toto Restaurant.
He later took over Toto, and started Farina in 2014, specialising in Italian street food, pasta and wood-fired pizza.
Maglione remembers growing up with his grandfather in Naples, where they would buy grapes and make wine.
"At Farina, we are very proud of our Italian roots and keeping it authentic. But we are also very proud to support local and use fresh New Zealand produce," he said.
The Covid-19 pandemic has made for a tough and challenging year. But he's grateful for continued community support, especially from Ponsonby locals.
"As Italians, we are big on family, and at Farina we like to treat everyone who walks through our doors as family," Maglione said.
"Yes we have a menu, but that is just a guide. People can just tell me what they like, and they can rest assured I will look after them."
It's an invitation from the chef, go take it as a challenge.
• Farina, 244 Ponsonby Rd, Ponsonby; https://www.farina.co.nz