Venosa is a neighbourhood Italian in the heart of Kingsland so small that if you weren’t paying attention, you might just pass it by. On the Saturday night I visited, however, I noticed many a passerby stop at their white-door front with an Italian flag hanging in the window, consider the menu, and then come inside only to find other people had already had the same idea and had taken their seat. The narrow room is cosy, with a humble and slightly cluttered but charming feel, its walls brimming with photographs and shelves full of Italian ingredients and wine. It is also dominated by a marble-lined bar and kitchen, from which the owner-operators warmly run their wee Italian kitchen.
One of said owner-operators, Harshita, explained many people come in asking where the pizza is; their kitchen is too small a space to make a pizza oven worth their while. If pizza is what they want, instead she often suggests they try Umu down the road, because they hear they’re pretty good. That’s the sort of warm, charitable hospitality you’ll receive from the crew at Venosa, where serving Italian food has always been a dream of theirs. The menu has a slightly different focus to the often favoured pizza/pasta combo. Instead you’ll find a number of small Italian appetisers to share and a number of hearty pasta dishes to follow.
I myself had heard good things when Venosa first opened in 2016. The restaurant has since changed hands a year ago but it seems the menu has retained many of their tried and true dishes. Jesse Mulligan raved about their melanzane fritte (fried eggplant) so naturally, I had to see if I concurred. Sure enough, it was delicious. The thick rounds of crumbed and fried eggplant retaining a bit of bite with minimal grease (a sometimes difficult feat to achieve for this lipophilic vegetable). It was served beneath a flavourful trifecta of molten mozzarella, tangy marinara sauce and rocket pesto. A near home run, except for the bed of borlotti bean puree it lay it; as smooth as it was, there was a dire lack of seasoning making it a superfluous texture at best.
Elliott and I ordered the home-made potato gnocchi with porcini, field mushroom and truffle cream sauce, and the Southern Italian-style slow-cooked pork ragu rigatoni. Both were ideal, warming affairs perfect for the first properly cold night Auckland has had this winter. The rigatoni’s chunks of tender pork in a bright tomato-based sauce had a subtle background sweetness lent by the sofrito and hours of slow-cooking. The gnocchi is a must for fans of mushrooms and the king of fungi, the truffle; its cream sauce toed the line of luxury without being sickening.
Readers of my blog know I rarely talk about wine (although a year living in Blenheim took me from a buyer of $6.99 Obikwa to someone with much more nous). I’m also a steadfast wine patriot who buys New Zealand made wine where ever possible, but an Italian meal is always a good excuse to try something not of Middle-Earth. Elliott and I were both taken by the description of the La Corte Pinot Grigio 2016, and I have to say, their description of ‘lemon, apricot, pears and peaches’ is spot on. A refreshing wine with a bit of tang, is is a very drinkable drop and would please most.
Finally, we couldn’t say no to our favourite dessert, the classic tiramisu (Venosa happens to make a limoncello version, but we weren’t feeling adventurous that night). Theirs was a great example of how to do this classic well. I love, love, love Cotto on K’Rd, but when they served me a shot of espresso with a small soggy sponge finger in the bottom and a scoop of ice cream on top and called it tiramisu recently, I was fuming and thought they’d brought me an affogato by mistake. They thought their new and improved version was better but I beg to differ. Venosa’s on the other hand was a generous scoop of layers of perfectly whipped marscarpone cream and espresso-laced Savoiradi sponge fingers with a dusting of slightly bitter cocoa. Venosa, don’t change a damn thing about yours.
All in all Venosa is a wonderful little place for the locals of Kingsland looking for an intimate, low-key Italian meal that isn’t just pizza.
480 New North Road
Ph. (09) 815 6644