The city's favourite party pizza also has a strong arancini game, writes Canvas magazine restaurant reviewer Kim Knight.
5 Hardinge St
Ph: 0800 868 677
WE SPENT: $269 for five.
WE THOUGHT: 15 - Good
You know you're in Auckland when you go to a swanky event anticipating oysters and end up eating pizza by the metre.
Fashion shows, after-parties, champagne-fuelled significant birthdays. Toto is an institution. Heels-hair-lippy-porcini-breath? Check.
I remember the first time I had the boscaiola. A swipe card to harbour views and a crowd more sparkly than the city below. A long cardboard box. A ripe, dank duvet of mozzarella and mushroom. Funghi, funghi and oily essence of funghi. This was food from the earth and of the earth. When I die, bury me with a slice of boscaiola.
Toto has spawned a generation of Auckland pizza-makers. Farina and the newly established Presto are among those who namecheck an association. The original opened in 1993 and the new version of the newest version opened six weeks ago. It's a complicated story but, in brief, founder Antonio Crisci has stepped in to save his bambino from liquidation.
If you haven't visited Toto since its Monte Cristo Room days, you might be surprised by its slightly less bohemian manifestation in a vastly less-than-happening side street near Les Mills. Neighbours include a post office, a telco and, in the interests of full disclosure, an integrated media company.
Toto is literally underneath the New Zealand Herald. Our car park frequently smells of melted cheese and it's possible I have been subliminally writing this review since 2016. Imagine my surprise when I discovered they cook more than just pizza.
The pasta omelette read like my dream Saturday morning (spaghetti, cheese, egg and more cheese) but it was a dreary Wednesday evening when we took bench seats at the appropriately super-long communal table.
Turns out the metre-long legends are delivery-only. Too big for the table, explained our waitperson - but don't panic, because half a metre is plenty for three people. We were five, so we got two and Toto's people must know their maths because there was exactly enough left over for breakfast for one.
We started with olives. They came straight from the fridge and were too cold to appreciate their salty, oleaginous loveliness. Nonetheless, it was a substantial serve for $8, supplemented by strips of sundried tomato, pickled vege and garlic.
Take a moment to take in the surroundings. Pale green tiles, the wine in ceramic jugs and a large sheet of brown paper clipped to our section of the tabletop. "Europe," said the well-travelled Steph. (To replicate this experience for yourself, please choose a seat that avoids a view of that less-than-happening side street.)
Appetites sharpened, we moved on to crocchette and arancini. Better table service would have advised us there was a small blackboard menu of other entree-sized extras (eggplant, etc) but we didn't see that until we paid the bill.
Arancini are crumbed and fried risotto balls. Frequently disappointing (too dry, too dense), I am so happy to report that at Toto they are portly little globes of perfectly cooked rice with a crunchy exterior and an oozy, cheesy middle ($10 for 3). We chose a beetroot version, which was startlingly pretty and actually tasted like beetroot.
Chubby croquettes (also $10 for 3) were equally good. The kahawai version is apparently house-smoked and the lemon zest was a noticeable and excellent counterpoint to a fishy fish. Steph reckoned a dollop of mayo and/or aioli wouldn't have gone astray, but mostly we were really happy with these superior incarnations of a bar snack that, too often, just tastes "fried".
Yes, they do pasta; and salads with beef, tuna or chicken (vegetarian available on request) but when in Rome or Naples or a side street in Auckland ... Pizza. Specifically, boscaiola. Mushrooms, mozzarella, cream, spinach, pine nuts and truffle oil ($42.50). Earthy, nutty and sweet. As much in the nose as on the taste buds. Not quite as transcendent as that first time but I wonder if that was because it was straight from the oven? The dough was still puffy, the oil had yet to soak in and my wine was okay but it was hardly champagne in a penthouse suite. This is still my favourite mushroom pizza in Auckland though, and one of the few high-end versions in which the funghi gets to go it alone, with no blue cheese to assist.
In lieu of a salad, we had courgette on a pizza. The gamberi ($42.50) is, as the name suggests, mostly prawns and these were plump and plentiful but I also enjoyed the slightly blackened edges of the zucchini and the smudges of nudja - a spicy salami paste - that blurred against the shellfish and garlic. Close your eyes and breathe deeply. Europe. Via a side street in Auckland.