O’Sarracino has all the elements of a great Italian restaurant. Apart from the robust flavours and generous servings of the authentic Neapolitan food, there is a heart-warming backstory (see website), the cosy restaurant is decorated with many family photos and a famous poem about ragu (‘rrau in Neapolitan language) by the Napoli writer and poet Eduardo De Filippo graces the backwall. The staff are gracious, and best of all, owner Gaetano really looks after his guests. When Gaetano suggests ordering for you, the right thing to do is to immediately say ‘I am in your hands’, and you can be assured of a scrumptious outcome that will far exceed your expectations.
O’Sarracino has single-handedly restored my faith in Italian cuisine in New Zealand. After three highly forgettable Italian meals in succession, I was close to closing the book on ever finding Italian food beyond factory-made pasta, rubbery gnocchi and pannacotta that is more jelly than custard. O’Sarracino specializes in Neapolitan cuisine, food from Southern Italy, and predominantly from Naples, the hometown of owner Gaetano, and does it brilliantly.
As I was part of a group of 12, we were on a set menu ($62), which consisted of shared plates of antipasti, followed with a choice of 3 mains and 2 desserts. There is also an option, which includes a shared platter of 5 mains, and desserts. Once you are seated, your drinks order is taken. As the only teetotaler in the group, I had a choice of orange and lemon juice (happily, these were San Pellegrino Aranciata or Limonata).
5 laden platters with 6 antipasti quickly set my taste buds alive. These are glorious morsels showcasing different specialties. The lightly seasoned squid was succulent and tender. The mozzarella was fresh and chewy, and the little cherry tomatoes on the bruschetta were sweet and fragrant. There was also deep-fried bread, crisp and tasty. I was very impressed by the homemade bread with salame, pancetta and mozzarella; this would be a perfect lunch. And there was also deep-fried eggplant, sautéed vegetables and pancetta. I could not believe these were just the opening act!
It was difficult choosing from the three main course option. O’Sarracino has kept to the Napoli tradition of slow-cooking their ragu for 6 hours (anything less cannot be called a ‘ragu’). In the end, I ordered the duck and porcini ravioli in a white truffle sauce and prawns. This was a delight; the aroma of the truffle hits you as soon as the plate arrives. The duck and porcini filling were deliciously savoury, and the pasta was perfectly al dente. And the prawns were sweet and generously sized. The third option was the brasato al vino primitive (beef braised in red wine) and served with mashed potatoes with black truffle. A minor letdown; the complimentary bread tasted stale. A couple of diners in our group could not decide between the mains, and Gaetano brought them a half and half of pasta with ragu and the duck and porcini ravioli to their great delight.
For dessert, we had a choice between tiramisu and panna cotta. My panna cotta was fresh, creamy and lifted by the chocolate flourishes. One person in the party asked Gaetano to decide for her, and she received three desserts!
At the end of the evening, I asked for some tea. Gaetano explained that he doesn’t like tea, so doesn’t offer it. They do have coffee though. When I hesitated, he said he would bring me a traditional lemon digestif. This was lemon rind seeped in hot water until soft and it releases the fragrant oils and flavours (which it turned out, was on the house). Gaetano’s remark was that he doesn’t charge for hot water! It was a very lovely end to the meal.
This was a fantastic evening; Gaetano and his team at O’Sarracino know great food and great service. I can’t wait to find another occasion to go back to try the other offerings on the menu.
O’Sarracino Restorante Italiano
3-5 Mt Eden Road, Eden Terrace