Holding pride of place in what once stood as the much-lauded Meredith's, you'll discover a taste of Napoli.
The ambient Dominion Road site is now home to Monzù, an inspired new venture from Gaetano Spinosa (O’Sarracino and Spacca) and Executive Chef Flavia Nascimento. This is Southern Italian fare at its most refined, while serving as a labour of love to the nostalgic dishes from Gaetano's childhood.
"I was working at Spacca in Remuera, and now I've come here with my chef, Flavia (Nascimento)," he says, when asked how the opportunity came about. "Michael (Meredith) is a very good friend of mine. When he asked me if I wanted to take over this site, I said yes. After I sold my restaurant in Mt Eden, I was looking to do something for myself. A new concept with Italian food, nothing extravagant, but something new."
Unbeknown to most, Gaetano's indulgent Italian menu can be loosely credited to Queen Maria Carolina of Austria – the "snooty" sister of the ill-fated Queen of France, Marie Antoinette.
According to the history books, when Queen Maria of Austria married King Ferdinand IV of Naples – "He wasn't very nice, but he ate well" Gaetano assures me – court's culinary offerings received a well-earned shake up. For Queen Maria, the 18th century Naples kitchen wasn't quite cutting it, and the food at the palace failed to impress. Rather than adjusting her palate to suit her new surrounds, the queen called in a favour, employing a French chef to head up the kitchen.
Addressing the head chef formally as "Monsieur" soon became "Monzu" and an entirely new category of aristocratic chef was born. It's this same regal backstory that inspires Gaetano and chef Flavia.
Make no mistake, the food on offer here is Napoli fare done right. Pared-back dishes where pasta and legumes are the hero, dressed with seasonal ingredients topped with grated pecorino, black truffles and basil. Gaetano explains that his secret ingredient, his mother's home-cooking, is prevalent within every dish. With lofty ambitions to change the menu almost daily, this is Gaetano's third restaurant in Auckland.
"I try, in a different way, to apply memory to each of my dishes. I change my menu basically everyday, everything I find fresh. All of the dishes on the menu are very traditional, Napoli-Italiano cuisine. Napoli cuisine is an interesting (hybrid) of Spanish and French influence."
"We have a dish called Pasta e Fagioli Del Monzù, a dish of fresh beans and pasta. We serve with fresh spaghetti – my mother used to break the spaghetti and add it to the sauce, there's no boiling. Then there's another dish, with fresh pasta with white cauliflower, spices and olive oil, cooked until it's soft and tender. We finish with a little bit of pecorino and white truffle cream."
"One night, my mother was cooking for my sister and I, and said "tonight, I'm going to cook you a very special dish." It's (a simple) dish of fresh pasta, boiled until white, mixed with little bit of olive oil, parmesan and finished with a fresh egg on top. I make my own version of this dish, using a cold broth. I'll use the crust of the pecorino cheese and soak it for about 24-hours, then I'll take the parmigiano water and boil it. It's very tasty."
It's honouring the simplest of fundamentals that makes Monzù an authentic and unique dining experience. Sure, be prepare to be coerced into ordering a dish you may not have considered otherwise, Gaetano makes no secret of this. And it's not necessarily a bad thing.
"Expect the unexpected," he says with a smile. "And don't look for tiramisu, you won't find it on my menu."
365 Dominion Road,
Tuesday to Saturday, 6 pm–10 pm
Friday lunch, 12 pm–2 pm
Sunday and Monday closed.