Auckland Restaurant Review: Newly Renovated Farina Is The Happiest Italian Spot in Ponsonby

By Jesse Mulligan
Farina's recent renovation has seen it expand into the space next door on Ponsonby Road. Photo / Babiche Martens


Cuisine: Italian

Address: 244 Ponsonby Rd, Ponsonby

Phone: (09) 390 6213

Drinks: Fully licensed

Reservations: Accepted

From the menu: Vitello tonnato $29; conetto baccala $18; olive ascolane $20; mushroom pappardelle $39; salad $13; crudo $27

Rating: 17/20

Score: 0-7 Steer clear. 8-12 Disappointing, give it a miss. 13-15 Good,

On Saturday night I walked down Ponsonby Rd and it was cranking. Kol was full, Daphnes was full, The Blue Breeze Inn was busy as usual. Earlier in the day I’d tried to book a table online at the newly renovated Farina and they had nothing available either.

But a good reviewer does what he has to, so I’d visited in person around 4pm to see if they could possibly squeeze us in, even though they were full.

“Could you possibly squeeze us in, even though you are full?” said the guy in front me to the maitre d’, who had already begun shaking his head.

“I’m sorry,” he replied. “I’ve turned away so many people today.”

The poor bloke left, presumably to convince his date that Italian food is, in fact, overrated. I stepped up to bat.

“What about … if we arrived at 8.30pm and ate at the bar?” I asked (many New Zealanders view late meal times and bar seating as signs of failure, but to me they’re a marker of sophistication). He sighed and studied his reservation book.

“There is a storm expected tonight,” he literally said to me. “Perhaps somebody won’t come. I will put you in the window, and if somebody cancels I will let you know.”

“The first thing to say is that this is a tremendously inviting new space,” says Jesse Mulligan. Photo / Babiche Martens
“The first thing to say is that this is a tremendously inviting new space,” says Jesse Mulligan. Photo / Babiche Martens

Someone cancelled. And so, at 8.30pm, my friend and I walked into Farina full of cheer (we’d also talked our way into a bar seat at Kol, for pre-dinner cocktails) and joined a room full of the happiest crowd I can remember seeing in an Auckland restaurant.

I was here because Lance, the Aucklander I trust most on Italian food, had sent me a message talking Farina up. He must really love it, because when I walked in, by chance, he was there again, with his wife and a group of friends.

“He was here last night too,” said his wife.


More on the cornetto shortly. The first thing to say is that this is a tremendously inviting new space — a warm, noisy, convivial front room then a walk through to a cosier back room, heated in part by a large brick pizza oven. In between the two main spaces is the kitchen, with a 180-degree pass allowing the owner-chef Sergio Maglione to keep an eye on everyone, and everyone to keep an eye on him.

The mushroom pappardelle. Photo / Babiche Martens
The mushroom pappardelle. Photo / Babiche Martens

Floor staff are very good. Even the new ones, who are watched closely by the seniors, exude a friendly efficiency in everything they do. And a couple of waiters really know what they’re doing.

“I’m thinking about this verdicchio,” I said, “do you know it?”

“This wine comes from a town on the mid-east coast of Italy,” he began. “It is an important port. Every container ship that goes through Italy stops in this town.”

He shared some other choice facts then considered what they all added up to. “What I’m trying to say is that this wine is good with seafood,” he decided.

You could never go out and find a waiter like that, no matter how much you paid. It’s pure personality, mixed with years of experience, and when you discover it in a restaurant you should eat there as often as you can.

The cornettos, or cones made of pizza dough. Photo / Babiche Martens
The cornettos, or cones made of pizza dough. Photo / Babiche Martens

Speaking of which, we took Lance’s advice and ordered a cornetto — a cone made of pizza dough, which might sound to you (as it did to me) a little stodgy. But it was light, airy and nicely chewy. You have a choice of fillings but we chose bacalao — a very traditional European ingredient made with salted cod. Inevitably, it went well with the wine.

The menu is very approachable but includes a few dishes you won’t have seen before. I’ve been to Italy plenty but that was my first munch of a cornetto, and I also got my first taste of another treat: giant green olives, stuffed with braised beef then crumbed and fried. Each one felt like a small meal, dipped in aioli and downed in three or four bites.

You can’t go to an Italian restaurant without ordering pasta and we opted for a pappardelle, which is vegetarian-ish. It’s made with mushrooms which are chopped rather than sliced, so they stay plump and meaty. The sauce was a “beef demi-glace” which was even more meaty, and there were also big bits of stretchy stracciatella cheese throughout the dish. I don’t think this combo is traditional (my Italian food mentor Katie Parla, who runs culinary tours in Rome and has written three Italian cookbooks, tells me she’s never heard of it), but it’s unbeatable.

The vitello tonnato (cold, sliced veal with a mayonnaise-like sauce). Photo / Babiche Martens
The vitello tonnato (cold, sliced veal with a mayonnaise-like sauce). Photo / Babiche Martens

My editor rightly mocks me for always ordering the raw fish and I’d decided to skip it here (full disclosure, we’d just had an incredible kingfish sashimi with creme fraiche at Kol) but I guess it was in my destiny because a plate of trevally (simply dressed with olive oil, fresh chilli, orange segments and a little balsamic ) arrived at our table by mistake and we ate it anyway. Sorry, Jo. It was fantastic.

The music was up, the party was on. I eventually got to my feet and paid a pretty reasonably priced bill, before farewelling anybody who’d listen then beating the feet home.

Ponsonby has a big “Eat Drink Love” festival about to start but on this night there was nothing about the strip that suggested it needed more promotion. If you want to eat dinner around here, I’m delighted to say you’ll have to book ahead.

More restaurant reviews

From dining out editor Jesse Mulligan.

Okome is a petite neighbourhood Japanese spot with plenty to love. At the Eden Terrace restaurant you’ll find sublime sushi, yakitori and much more.

Hamilton’s Mr Pickles would make an Auckland top 50 restaurant list any day of the week. Locals are lucky to have it; out-of-towners should find an excuse to visit.

The North Shore has a little gem, and it’s an alfresco pasta spot. It is a food truck, with hand-made gnocchi and excellent individual tiramisu portions.

New Epsom restaurant doubles as ‘somewhere James Bond might drink if he was priced out of Herne Bay’. It’s the right kind of neighbourhood spot — suburban but sophisticated, classy but casual.

Parnell has a beautiful new Samoan restaurant. You won’t find anything else like it. ‘I’ll be very interested to see how this one goes.’

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