Many elements contribute to the cultural and historical mecca that is Italy; the Colosseum, pasta, the Leaning Tower of Pisa, Pompeii, pasta, the Trevi Fountain, pasta, and pasta. Nicolini’s may bring only one of these elements to Wellington, but it is (arguably, but not really) the most important, and it does so with aplomb.
Courtenay Place is probably the last place one would expect to find a little piece of Italia, but Nicolini’s setting in the grungiest corner of Wellington actually helps enhance the feeling of being whisked away for an Italian evening. Step off the gum-encrusted sidewalk and into the small, intimate interior, and the debauchery of outside is instantly forgotten. It is delightfully rustic, the service is excellent and the entire feel of the place is charming from everything to candles in wine bottles in every table, to the Italian fun facts on every page of the menu.
To top it all off, Nicolini’s is family owned and run (you cannot get more Italian than a big, traditional, pasta-making family). Raffaele and his sons, Antonio, Fabrizio, Gianpiero and Marlon are third and fourth generation restaurateurs and established Nicolini’s in 1997 after being involved in the industry in Italy, the United States and Australia for over 90 years.
They obviously learnt something during that time because holy ravioli, they make some good nosh. The bruschetta ($9.50), beautifully crisp bread topped with fresh tomatoes, basil, garlic and extra virgin olive oil is the perfect way to start a meal at Nicolini’s, followed by the lasagna al ragu Bolognese ($19.70). Lasagne is difficult to make taste bad, I grant you, but they really do make some magic with that age-old combination of pasta, tomato, cheese and beef; it was like eating it for the very first time all over again. Beautifully soft pasta, hearty flavoursome beef and cheese that just made me want to die happy, there and then.
Their drinks list is extensive, comprising of Italian, Australian and local wines which cater to all budgets. The Kahu pinot gris ($9.50) was probably the wrong choice with my meal (I’m unsophisticated, what can I say?) but was a delightfully crisp yet smooth wine.
What would be dinner in Italy (fine, an Italian restaurant in Wellington) without some gelato to finish things off? I had the gelato special of the day ($14.20), Baileys and white chocolate flavoured, served with whipped cream.
I’ll let that sink in a minute.
Baileys and white chocolate flavoured gelato, possibly the greatest ice cream that my taste buds have ever had the pleasure of enjoying. Simply sweet, melt-in-your-mouth, vaguely alcoholic yet intensely creamy delight. The perfect way to finish an evening in (pseudo) Italy.