15 Blair St
Ph: 801 6615, fratelli.co.nz
Price range of mains: $26-$33
Food: 3 1/2 stars
Service: 3 1/2 stars
Ambience: 3 1/2 stars
Wine list: 3 1/2 stars
Cost: $91 for two, excluding wine.
Fratelli means brothers, in this case Ferdi and Carlo Petagna, of Island Bay.
In the lobby of their restaurant, old black-and-white photos show the Petagna ancestors standing in the back yard of the family house in Trent St, the closest Wellington ever had to a Little Italy. "On Sundays after mass, there was the smell of bolognese coming from nearly every house in the street," recalls retired food photographer Sal Criscillo, who still lives there.
As Italian restaurateurs then, the Petagna duo's credibility is beyond question, and after almost five years in business, they are still busy, regularly turning tables over two or three times in an evening.
They inherit an elegant room layout from the old Boulot and Mondo Cucino restaurants, to which they have added an enormous mural - a melange of romantic Italian motifs, designed to stir the yearnings of New Zealanders to be elsewhere in the world.
It certainly had the desired effect on my friend P.
"Wouldn't you love to be walking down that street?" she asked, nodding to the middle panel's depiction of a Renaissance colonnade.
"Um, actually I'm happy to be here now," I replied.
To the right, another panel depicts a virtual pizza parlour - Pizzeria Napoli. Quite by coincidence, since the installation of this mural an actual Pizzeria Napoli has appeared around the corner in Courtenay Pl (where the pizza lives up to name).
Pizzeria Napoli has an idyllic mural for daydreamers too. As big as a theatre set, it depicts a folkloric Naples street scene from which unpleasant contemporary details are omitted: cars with fitted steering wheel locks, beggar girls tugging at your sleeve, and idle sleazoids in white belts and gold chains slouching against pillars, eyeing tourists with bad intent.
Let's face it: nowhere's heaven.
Although the Petagna brothers centre their menu on pizza and pasta, they've taken account of the incredible fusion of global food styles we've seen in Wellington restaurants during the past 10 years and applied it to Italian cuisine.
Hence the Lemon & Dill Mayo, the Wholegrain Mustard & Dill Mascarpone and a most delicious creation, Confit Duck & Cauliflower Risotto, with Toasted Walnuts, Spinach & Pecorino finished with Micro Greens, Crispy Duck Skin, Truffle Oil & Chilli Crumble.
That said, Fratelli's chef Blair Waddington is staunchly old school. He makes his own pasta, pizza bread and gnocchi.
Rather than fill up on pizza, I ordered the antipasti platter for the sake of the flatbread that accompanies it. Thin, puffy, crisp on the outside, soft in the middle, the wedges were very nicely seasoned with garlic, rosemary and sea salt.
Another reason to order the Antipasti per Due ($32 for two) is value for money. While perhaps not as laden as some antipasti platters around town, it does include two suppli - if you were to order the suppli as a separate entree here, you would get only four small balls at a cost of $16.
Our antipasti platter included a substantial sample of the daily special - three veal chops, which might have been nice, had they been cooked properly.
I'm on record as preferring rare meat, but there's a difference between rare and raw, especially when the meat is served bone on, as here: attempting to chew raw flesh clinging to bones made me feel uncomfortably like my Cro-Magnon ancestors, and I soon gave up.
My main course lamb rack came beautifully medium-rare, but I'd ordered it only because it promised an anchovy crust. However, there was none of the promised fishiness - at least none that I could detect, having cut off a section of this crust and tasted it specially.
With the lamb came some house-made gnocchi, feather light and thus technically good, but lacking in flavour. "These are bland," corroborated my daughter, a trainee chef whose palate I respect.
But Marco was pleased with his rare Bistecca di Fratelli (Char grilled sirloin on a Leek, Prosciutto & Sweet Potato Bake with a warm salad of Manuka Smoked Beef, Confit Garlic & Rocket). Like my lamb main, its gargantuan size left no room for dessert.
ONE THING YOU SHOULD TRY:
Antipasti per Due
Granted, my veal chops were undercooked, but everything else on our antipasto platter was pleasing: best-quality warmed olives of all hues and shapes; tasty Italian salami; lovely suppli; two generous wedges of Italian provolone; and some delicious, crisply crumbed black pudding (morcilla), its richness cut with a sharp salsa verde.
- The Dominion Post