Restaurant Review: Jesse Mulligan Returns To Amano
Hitting the right balance between comforting & fresh, Jesse gets swept up by the Auckland favourite
Address: 66-68 Tyler St, Britomart
Phone: (09) 394 1416
Drinks: Fully licensed
From the menu: Kingfish crudo $20, Beef carpaccio $26, Courgette agnolotti $32, Brussels sprouts $12, Trifle $15
If you forced me to name the best restaurant in Auckland I would probably spit out “Amano”. There are (slightly) fancier restaurants and there are places with more owner-operator personality but, if you listed, say, half a dozen categories with which to measure quality, Amano would have the best chance of scoring full marks on each of them — not just on a high-profile Saturday night service but when I visited at 3pm on a Sunday, when the staff should rightfully be out the back vaping, yet continue to hurry around the huge dining room floor delivering flawless, energetic service.
The food is perfect too. I’m trying to think of another kitchen that achieves this incredible balance between comforting and fresh — Gareth Stewart’s Euro maybe, or Paris Butter, or the cold-hot thing they have going on at Azabu. But at a lot of places the crisp, raw part of your meal has to be ordered separately or is tucked in next to/sprinkled over the main course.
At Amano the crunchy, vegetal elements of each dish are crucial — there could be no meal without them. This is easier to do in February but was even true when I visited at the end of autumn, season of pumpkin and apples, when still every dish had fresh, uncooked elements that threatened to steal the show from hotter, heartier ingredients.
Amano has an Italian theme (cross your fingers for owner Jackie Grant’s Spanish equivalent, originally due to open around now at a site down the road but delayed for obvious reasons) and at least one of your dishes should be a pasta, handmade with love and attention in the huge open kitchen which forms one side of the restaurant. As at Cuore in Mt Eden and Cotto on K Rd, this pasta reminds you how good the genre can get. I went with the little frilly pillows of agnolotti, filled with fresh ricotta and dressed in a lemony-brown butter sauce with raw zucchini, diced and sliced for textural interest.
Every few mouthfuls you get an intense hit of house-made pancetta in which you can almost taste the hundreds of hours of effort and patience that has gone into it.
“What was your favourite?” Victoria asked me on the way home. But of the five dishes we’d tried, I couldn’t even pick a top four. Kingfish crudo, a seemingly ubiquitous Auckland plate, was better than I’d tried anywhere else, using a fennel cream to bring life to the cold slivers of fish instead of leaning heavily on citrus. Beef carpaccio isn’t so unique either but, as Daryl Kerrigan might say, it’s what they do with it: a generous snow shower of parmigiano, a bright salsa verde and little flecks of salty cured egg yolk. Then they served me a sirloin so tender I confidently asked, “Is it done in the sous vide?” I was wrong — it was just grilled at the optimum temperature for the optimum amount of time.
But I think you’re more likely to remember the service than the food (and the excellent Old World-heavy wine list). There’s something in the way they either source or train their staff that makes you feel like you’ve walked into a different city. (I mean, no offence to our city but the pay isn’t good enough here to inspire many career waiters.) As per the regulations, we just had the one waitress but she was typically charming and informal, yet highly effective. How was the one server rule going for her?
“It’s hard,” she said. “I see empty dishes on somebody else’s table and I just want to go over there and pick them up.”
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