Jesse Mulligan Auckland Restaurant Review: Birkenhead’s Osteria Uno Is Mecca For Pasta & Simple, Perfect Plates

By Jesse Mulligan
Osteria Uno’s Creste di Gallo with confit duck leg, balsamic and fried rosemary. Photo / Babiche Martens


Cuisine: Italian

Address: 140 Hinemoa St, Birkenhead

Phone: 027 216 401

Drinks: Fully licensed

From the menu: Tuna crudo $22; chips and dip $12; arancini $10 each; mussel bucatini $26; duck Creste di Gallo $30; tiramisu $15; strawberry and buffalo yoghurt $12.

Rating: 17/20

Score: 0-7 Steer clear. 8-12 Disappointing, give it a miss. 13-15 Good, give it a go. 16-18 Great, plan a visit. 19-20 Outstanding, don’t delay.

Running a restaurant is always hard work but I’d be surprised if many people work harder than the couple behind Osteria Uno. They’re young parents who also run the cafe Duo next door, which is full of hungry Birkenheadians from 7am until 9pm, Wednesday to Sunday.

For their next venture, they have chosen a pasta restaurant and not one of those ones where you can cut corners and pour a big bag of Gilmour’s rigatoni into boiling water every time a new group shows up.

Uno’s pasta is made by hand, every morning.

“When I arrive at work the floor is covered in flour, and the pasta’s all sitting on trays over there,” the waitress said, pointing to a long window bar that would be a perfect spot for a late-afternoon drink and a nosh once the carbs had dried and been cleared away.

A window filled with freshly made pasta at Uno. Photo / Babiche Martens
A window filled with freshly made pasta at Uno. Photo / Babiche Martens

That window is one of a number of seating options, though when we arrived the only table left was a small two-seater in the path of service, so we repaired to the bar and drank cocktails until a booth became available.

Yes, Uno is busy but if you arrive with the right attitude and aren’t in too much of a hurry I doubt you’ll leave disappointed.

Because as at Duo, the food is excellent.

Salt is a key ingredient in good Italian cooking and it’s very liberally applied here, so there’s a chance that by the time you’ve eaten three or four things, you’ll start to feel a little over-brined.

Still, that’s what cold white wine is for so if in doubt, increase your dosage. There are some fantastic Italian numbers by the glass here and the wine list is a core part of the Uno experience, though if you are cutting back for whatever reason there are some thoughtful non- and low-alcohol options too, including a three per cent negroni that would be a lovely and moderate way to begin a meal.

Tuna crudo with buffalo curd and Sicilian olives. Photo / Babiche Martens
Tuna crudo with buffalo curd and Sicilian olives. Photo / Babiche Martens

Begin with a plate of tuna, sliced into bright red sheets glossy with olive oil, on top of rich buffalo curd with a green cheek of Sicilian olive adorning each. It’s simple and perfect and one of a handful of starters on offer — we paired it with an arancino: risotto super-powered with spicy nduja, pressed into an egg shape around a surprise piece of mozzarella and fried until golden. The waiter returned with more white wine.

“Come back soon!” I said as I dunked a potato chip into a fish roe dip. This was the only dish of the night that didn’t quite work for me — the dip a little one-note fishy and the chips already starting to soften in places by the time they reached our table. But these are minor quibbles.

It’s just a short list of mains, too, though each one is a treat. I haven’t come across Creste di Gallo before but it is a beautiful sort of crimped macaroni named for its resemblance to a rooster’s comb. I guess if they were being cute they could serve it up with real rooster but instead, it was duck (luxury chicken), cooked fall-apart confit-style and served with a snow of Parmiggiano and fried rosemary leaves on top.

Husband-and-wife team Jordan and Sarah Macdonald have transformed a former embroidery shop into Osteria Uno. Photo / Babiche Martens
Husband-and-wife team Jordan and Sarah Macdonald have transformed a former embroidery shop into Osteria Uno. Photo / Babiche Martens

Mum ordered mussels with bucatini, a mould which must really test the Uno pasta machine nozzle but there were no signs it had faltered in the production of these long hollow spaghetti strands served with buttery mussels closer in size and taste to those ones you used to get from the tin than the big fresh greenshells Pak’nSave used to do for a buck a kilo in the 1990s. Who didn’t love those tinned mussels? Here they’re flavoured with a nicely salted fermented chilli too.

“Just leave the bottle on the table if you like,” I said to the waiter.

One of the desserts was a classic, the other interesting almost to the point of challenging. The former, a tiramisu, was perfect (when isn’t it?) and must be popular because when I popped to the bathroom I saw the chefs sending a yard-long tray of it to the chiller. The other was a dish of sliced strawberries marinated in white balsamic and lemon olive oil, served on a buffalo yoghurt that was sour with, I thought, a tiny hint of salt. Some shards of meringue had the difficult job of providing sweet balance to all those other flavours and it was a real tightrope — I liked it but it may be too cutting-edge for some.

Strawberries, meringue and buffalo yoghurt mousse. Photo / Babiche Martens
Strawberries, meringue and buffalo yoghurt mousse. Photo / Babiche Martens

What a wonderful room. The kitchen is big and open and you can see they’ve hired well — busy chefs, friendly waiters and a bartender who acts as the happy heart of the operation. As we left, the owner Jordan was on his laptop outside, no doubt catching up on all the other stuff required of a successful business owner. He’d probably make more money buying a local house and selling it later for a profit — certainly, it would be less stressful.

I’m always grateful when talented New Zealanders choose to devote their time and talents to more meaningful projects like this.

More On The Shore

Restaurants, wine bars, sensational flavours.

Milford’s Portal To Paris? A Wonderful Little Wine Bar. Find a blackboard menu and a charcuterie slicer, scorched sourdough and garlicky burrata.

At This Birkenhead Bistro, Book Your Table & Then Book Your Beef. The Beef Wellington was a dish of such topographical singularity that I can’t forget it.

Stanley Avenue Is Milford’s Gloriously Indulgent Wine Bar. The North Shore wine bar and bistro has an unmistakable nous for creating charming plates.

Tokki’s Refined-But-Comforting Sweet Spot. Find sensational flavours and a room full of rabbits at this Milford restaurant.

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