LEONARDO'S Pure Italian might be a relative newcomer on the restaurant scene in Rotorua but it's quickly shot up the ranks and firmly become one of the top places to eat.
It's ranked number one of 150 Rotorua restaurants on Trip Advisor and won the outstanding restaurant award at this year's hospitality awards. It prides itself on authentic Italian food with a menu changing to reflect seasonal and fresh produce, according to owners Leonardo Baldi and Yuka Nakamori. It's open for dinner seven days a week, and does lunches on Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays.
The food was authentic Italian fare, but don't make the mistake of being fooled it's all about pasta. The Tagliatelle alla Cabonara was cooked to perfection and showed that sometimes simplicity is the key. The serving size was definitely generous. But as good as the pasta dish was, it was outshone by the special of the day - Porchetta - an Italian take on pork belly cooked for five hours with crackling crisped to perfection. The flavours they managed to get into the meat were amazing. We also sampled the Papa al Pomodoro as an entree - a dish that somehow combined tomatoes, basil, and bread into one of the best soups we've tasted.
The service was impeccable. We were welcomed like old friends coming around for dinner and service was prompt, but not in an overwhelming way. The specials were explained by Leonardo who could have talked us into eating just about anything. It was lovely to hear the stories behind some of the dishes. It's clear the staff, particularly Leonardo and Yuka, are passionate about people. Meals were quick but we didn't feel like we were being rushed through.
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The drinks came from an impressive wine list which included a good mix of local and Italian wine labels as well as a decent beer selection. We were impressed at the Italian varieties available by the glass.
The prices were about what you'd expect for dinner at a restaurant. Pasta dishes were $22.50 while the other mains ranged from $30 -$35.
Overall we reckon the hype surrounding this restaurant is well deserved. The atmosphere is casual, jovial and bustling and they've got the decor just right without being over the top. The restaurant is on the smaller side, and the secret is definitely out so we recommend that if you want to head along, remember to book. We'll definitely be heading back.