Herne Bay favourite Andiamo has been rebooted by the Nourish Group. Photo / Rebecca Zephyr Thomas

Restaurant Review: Andiamo, Herne Bay

Jesse Mulligan visits Andiamo 2.0 and finds that its legacy lives on

ANDIAMO
Cuisine: Italian
Address: 194 Jervois Rd, Herne Bay
Phone: (09) 378 7811
Drinks: Fully licensed
Reservations: Accepted
From the menu: Kingfish crudo $17; calamari $16; fennel salad $14; linguine $21; octopus $36; meat loaf $34; panna cotta $15.50
Rating: 17/20
Score: 0-7 Steer clear. 8-12 Disappointing, give it a miss. 13-15 Good, give it a go. 16-18 Great, plan a visit. 19-20 Outstanding, don’t delay.

A survey last week said that the most popular television programme among young people is Friends, a show that finished 15 years ago. Similarly, if you asked Herne Bay residents to name their favourite restaurant I bet they would have kept saying “Andiamo” long after the place had closed down and been replaced by Halcyon, an attractive new suitor that lasted only a year or so (it’s hard to persevere with a relationship when you know deep down that the locals are still in love with their ex).

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Now the Nourish Group has bought the place and rebranded it as Andiamo, presumably coming to an IP arrangement with the original owners and recreating the vibe if not the menu. The original Andiamo wasn’t as solid as its reputation, particularly in the later years, but it served an important purpose: you could say you were going there for dinner when all you were doing was boozing.

There was a legitimacy to six hours at Andiamo that you’d never dare attempt at, say, The Elbow Room, and this spirit seems to be back with its new incarnation — we saw plenty of people who would later tell their spouses they’d been eating when all they were doing was getting slaughtered over a bowl of olives with a basket of deplorables.

The interior of Andiamo. Photo / Rebecca Zephyr Thomas

But I hope you will come and eat the food here, because it’s really, really good. Side note: it’s time we started including Gareth Stewart when we talk about the city’s best chefs. I haven’t had a bad mouthful at a Nourish Group restaurant since he took over the menus, and the level of expertise required to maintain this level of eating across 15 different kitchens deserves the same recognition as a masterchef creating art on a plate for 40 people a night.

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They are different skills, sure, but let’s not discount the executive chef role as some sort of administrative figurehead — though the food styles are different at Euro, Culpeper and Andiamo, there is nonetheless an exacting standard that unifies them, and Gareth should get the credit. The city is lucky to have him.

Of course there are the individual chefs too, who turn this beautiful food out each night under extreme pressure, and they are nailing it at Andiamo, which has a varied menu of light and heavy, salads and pastas, nibbles and pizzetti.

From left: Panna cotta with blood orange caramel and orange curd; The barbecued octopus. Photos / Rebecca Zephyr Thomas

The bright vegetable dishes that Gareth introduced so successfully to Euro’s menu are here too and act as a great foil for the comfort carbohydrates. We ordered a radicchio and fennel salad without high expectations but it came washed in an orange-glowing saffron dressing which made it irresistible.

Almost every menu seems to feature raw kingfish at the moment but here it is dressed in an emulsion of sorrel, a citrusy herb that is criminally underutilised (it’s a good plant for the home garden this one — I’ve been ignoring it for three years and still it grows bushy and green, unconditionally yielding its lemony leaves to hundreds of pestos, green smoothies and salads).

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I wanted to try their pasta but they only had large sizes of the ones I was keen on. Left with a choice of macaroni cheese and squid ink linguine I went for the latter, trying to block out the time I’d ordered it in a tiny Basque fishing village and ingested so much ink I was spitting purple for a week. The Andiamo version was much more restrained, being black in colour rather than flavour and luxuriously endowed with scallops and a fiery chilli sauce.

The calamari wasn’t the usual rings but big chunks, lightly coated and served with a “bagna cauda” — and well they might use these speech marks, as it was no relation to the warmed bath of garlicky oil-butter you might have tried overseas. My memories of this rustic little dish heated with a tiny candle are so imbued with nostalgia that I found it hard to accept this much lesser version, but I should probably get over myself. It tasted great.

The shaved fennel, raddichio and saffron salad. Photo / Rebecca Zephyr Thomas

A quick note that the booking system was working poorly when we tried to use it — with no way of reserving a same-day table online, and an answerphone that referred you to the website. But the restaurant was full and the staff were busy, staying patient, polite and even charming throughout.

There is a little moment I’ve experienced at various restaurants recently, where you arrive at a busy time and the maitre d’ looks right through you as they pick up a menu and work out where the heck they’re going to put you. It’s a crucial minute where the customer is peaking with hopeful anticipation and the staffer is in mid-shift harried robot mode and there’s real potential for disconnect and disappointment.

That busy doorway in and out of Andiamo has always been the place where a great night was either made or broken and, if they can bring a bit of their calm charm to that crucial moment when you first walk in, this will live up to its legend as one of the best restaurants in the city.

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