Purveyors of the iconic metre-long pizza, Toto's, now has a kid brother on Ponsonby Road - Farina, occupying the busy corner where Nando's used to be. It's pared-back Italian cuisine, heavily influenced by street food from the motherland and, as owner Sergio Maglione promises, "always fresh and simple".
Sergio, who hails from Napoli and has lived in New Zealand for over two decades, has designed a really gorgeous and unique space that looks more like a boutique wine bar than a restaurant: pearly white and neon green tiling, red corduroy banquets, a long marble counter overlooking an open kitchen, and a pop-art print of Mount Vesuvius gracing the whitewashed wall. There are shelves groaning under the weight of oversized jars of house-made pickles, preserves and sauces, and a gleaming pasta machine in the heart of the kitchen.
Farina is walk-in only, and on the Sunday night we popped in there was a 15-minute wait before we were led to the corner of a large communal table at the back of the restaurant. I was slightly disappointed as I love watching people at work in open kitchens - Farina's has a pastificio (fresh pasta station), a pizzeria featuring Toto's pizzas and fantastic porchetta sandwiches, and a salumeria, where prosciutto, cured meats and cheeses are sliced to order.
For starters we had the arancini ($7) - deep-fried saffron risotto balls stuffed with mozzarella and peas - followed by the gnocchetti alla Norma ($20), served with Napoli sauce, eggplant and smoked mozzarella. Both were excellent and, as promised, simple: nothing was heavy-handed or overwhelming, allowing the smokey flavour of the cheese or the hint of saffron to shine. From the Dolci menu, we ordered the torta caprese - a rich and generously-sized gluten-free chocolate and almond cake ($10).
We had to leave early because it was a school night, but I definitely want to return on a Thursday - Saturday evening with a large group: the cocktail list looks amazing and you can just tell it'll be a cool cat magnet post ten o'clock.