265 Albany Highway, Auckland
You wouldn’t expect too much from a restaurant that shares a car park with a bright green outdoor power equipment mega store and a day care center, but Caffe e Cucina is actually a sophisticated Italian restaurant that opened near Albany, in October 2010. Although it’s technically located on the North Shore, the restaurant is only 10 minutes from the end of the North Western Motorway.
After a long and busy week of work, the husband and I decided to treat ourselves to dinner at Caffe e Cucina one recent Friday evening. Even though a reservation was made for 7pm, we were requested to wait in the bar area for a further 25 minutes until our table was ‘ready’.
Sitting in the swankily decorated bar area for so long allowed me to sift through their extensive wine list, which included a good selection of international reds (including Penfold’s Grange at $930 per bottle, if you are so inclined). One wall in the dining area has been turned into a display cellar, although I’d worry about storing the Grange in an environment with such fluctuating temperature. They also have many international beers on tap; Kronenberg, Pure Blonde and Asahi (Japan), plus a tap cider – Bulmers Cider (UK), and the bar staff appeared confident in shaking up a few cocktails, while we watched.
Our wait also gave me plenty of time to read about their upcoming events, which included different live music every Sunday afternoon, and their own Wine Festival.
We were finally seated in an enclosed, outdoor area, which is actually a pretty fancy architectural design, that I imagine will bode well in Auckland’s ever changing climate. The space is quite noisy and unfortunately the table filled with screaming children beside us increased this issue. I think their mother could feel my piercing glare, as the children were soon moved on.
Now, you’ll be reading this and feeling like I didn’t enjoy my dinner, but you’d be wrong. I haven’t told you about the food, yet…
The menu is extensive, with separate menu sections for Breakfast, Italian Tapas, Entrées, Mains, Pizza, Pasta and Dessert, and a huge and varied vegetarian selection.
To begin with the husband and I shared the Pane Misto, fresh warm ciabatta with olive oil, herb butter and mushroom infused crème fraiche ($14) and the Involtini Zucchini dish, with thin slices of Zucchini wrapped around ricotta, parmesan and herbs, baked in cream ($10) from the tapas menu. The Involtini was tasty, and I could have eaten the mushroom crème fraiche until the cows came home – simply divine, melt in your mouth, scrumptious.
We both selected items from the pasta menu for our mains. The husband enjoyed his wood fired oven lasagne of beef, ham and mushrooms, and he even liked his side salad. I feasted on Risotto ai Fungi – a risotto of mushrooms, parmigiano and truffle oil. It was a generous portion and I ate far too much, but it was heavenly and I couldn’t stop myself.
I would have loved to try something from their dessert menu – tiramisu, lemon tart, sorbet, gelato … but, alas, I had no room for anything more. As it was, the husband had to nearly roll me out to the car at the end of the meal.
Living in Waitakere, where alcohol is ruled by the Trust, we are very limited for trendy restaurants and bars, so with Caffe e Cucina only 10 minutes up the road, this is quite a find!
Improvements: One word – Service. Although we had very capable looking wait staff, the level of service didn’t match the style and tone of the restaurant. Our entrée had been finished for 10 minutes before our table was cleared, and then they thought about even taking our mains order. Perhaps I expect too much?
In a nutshell: Fantastic food, great décor. We’ll definitely visit again, firstly to try out their breakfast menu and also to see if their service has improved.