A taste of Napoli; In the pink

Hand your­self over to the mae­stro and trust his mother’s recipes

Weekend Herald - Canvas - - CONTENTS - Kim Knight

There is a menu, but you don’t need to read it. Gae­tano Spinosa will tell you what’s best, what you should order and, when your food ar­rives, he may even lean in and cut it up for you. “It’s all com­ing back to me now,” said my din­ing com­pan­ion.

Re­mem­ber O’Sar­ra­cino, the Sy­monds St restau­rant where Spinosa would sort of pre­tend to listen to what you wanted, mut­ter some­thing about some­thing, and then re­turn with plat­ter af­ter plat­ter of squid, olives and egg­plant that you were al­most cer­tain you hadn’t asked for? You ate with a kind of joy­ous aban­don and you drank be­cause you were a bit ner­vous about the bill.

The charis­matic Spinosa’s lat­est ven­ture is Monzu, in the space that was, most re­cently, Mered­ith’s. The lat­ter’s most distinc­tive fine-din­ing aes­thet­ics (those strangely for­mal white-painted twig things and that dark pan­elling) re­main. I’m not con­vinced this is a good thing.

I went to Monzu look­ing for ex­u­ber­ance and ex­cess but what I got was an odd re­straint. It’s a cliche to as­so­ciate Ital­ian food with cheer­ful charm, but there was a dis­con­nect be­tween the for­mal ser­vice (Spinosa ad­mirably ex­cepted), the aus­ter­ity of the room, and a menu packed with ref­er­ences to child­hood mem­o­ries and mamma’s recipes.

Take the an­tipasti. It ar­rived as in­di­vid­u­ally por­tioned plates. Forks up, heads down, re­peat. I missed the pass­ing (and grab­bing) I’ve come to as­so­ciate with this pre-course.

Viewed from above, our $16 plates were dol­lopy lit­tle is­lands of vegeta­bles, fresh moz­zarella, and deep­fried things. Divinely soft tan­gles of cap­sicum and aubergine melted like an oily tongue kiss; zuc­chini, cel­ery and cu­cum­ber pro­vided con­trast (and also our only green hit — there are vegetarian dishes avail­able but no ex­plic­itly leafy sides or sal­ads).

The moz­zarella needed longer out of the fridge to loosen into its tex­tu­ral glory but, over­all, it was a tasty start.

In the early 19th cen­tury, a “monzu” was a mas­ter chef, an hon­orific given to a hand­ful of men who first cooked for the King of Naples. Monzu the restau­rant in­cludes mo­ments of royal in­dul­gence — a white truf­fle cream, fresh lob­ster tail — but “rus­tic” is the over­rid­ing theme of the food.

On the week­ends, din­ers give them­selves over to the kitchen. Order a la carte Tues­days to Thurs­days, but, hon­estly, you might as well close your eyes and point at the page.

Con­sider the Uova in Pur­ga­to­rio ($30). Ac­cord­ing to the writ­ten menu it is “im­pos­si­ble to de­scribe … you must try and you go to heaven”. The Spaghetti Pu­ver­iell ($29), is sim­ply “Monzu Gae­tano’s mother’s recipe … from my child­hood mem­ory”.

We or­dered that hellish egg, and it was charm­ing — rich chunks of slow-cooked beef in a tomato sauce that rep­re­sented the devil’s do­main with an egg that you break to be­gin your as­cent to the an­gel’s.

I had the spaghetti of child­hood mem­ory, which you might mis­take as a kind of DIY car­bonara if you hadn’t hit the Google trans­late but­ton and found a recipe with in­struc­tions to “lay down the eggs cooked in a cow’s eye”.

For­tu­nately, Spinosa ap­peared ta­ble­side to ex­plain his ver­sion, where the pasta is cooked in wa­ter in­fused with a lit­tle fat, a lot of parmi­giano rind and no eye­balls. When he leaned over to dredge the soft egg yolk through the cheesy spaghetti (“like my mother did”), the smell was amaz­ing even if the taste was a touch salty for me.

My friend with the cray­fish tail and fresh pap­pardelle ($34) won the night. She, too, was as­sisted by Spinosa, who help­fully deshelled the crus­tacean. It was re­ally good, with bursts of cherry tomato and a back­ground bot­targa-driven fishi­ness.

I was sad for the man with the “fresh pasta with home­made fen­nel and pork sausage with white truf­fle cream ($29)”. It read so beau­ti­fully, but the lit­tle plugs of ex­truded sausage were vis­ually off-putting, and the promised casarecce pasta (which usu­ally looks like a loose ringlet) was a spi­ral perm, circa 1986.

Dessert de Monzu ($15) was in­ter­preted as a sweet ver­sion of our an­tipasto starter — in­di­vid­ual plates, plopped with por­tions of rum baba, choux buns, tiramisu and more. Not too heavy and just the right amount of sweet, but quite a lot to get through. I would have hap­pily shared.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from New Zealand

© PressReader. All rights reserved.