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One of life's greatest joys is sharing food.
Having lived in Korea and travelled in Spain - countries where food is designed to be shared - I returned to New Zealand looking for restaurants where one's meal wasn't a closely-guarded, individually- served affair.
Duke Carvell's Swan Lane Emporium is just that kind of place: plates are placed in the centre of the table, allowing everyone to get a little taste of everything.
It was opened about four years ago by brothers Lorenzo and Leonardo Bresolin, who also own Scopa and Crazy Horse Steak House.
Dukes is a homage to their father, Remiro Bresolin, who owned il Casino in Wellington for about 30 years.
Manager Ralph Hilaga said the restaurant began as a place for people to have a drink while they waited for a table at Scopa, before the Bresolin brothers saw its potential and developed it into a restaurant in its own right.
Much of the decor in the restaurant had come from il Casino, giving it a "junk yard, attic vibe", he said.
When my friend and I dined on a Sunday night, the place was quiet on arrival and was picking up as we left, but the friendliness of the staff coupled with the coziness of the decor make you feel welcome, no matter how busy it is.
Our waitress took our drink orders promptly and left us to chat before taking our meal requests.
The flaming ouzo cheese ($18) is a must for the pyrotechnics alone; it arrives at your table ablaze, creating the perfect crust on the outside and gooeyness on the inside.
We were also sold on the roast beetroot and goat cheese salad ($16), which came with amazingly candied walnuts and smooth creamy dollops of goat cheese.
Our waitress recommended we try the gnocchi ($9) on the side. She told us it was the best thing on the menu and was right: creamy and rich in a sage and gorgonzola cream sauce, it was melt-in-your-mouth delicious.
The one miss of our meal was the citrus spiced tiger prawns ($18), confusingly served on peas, rocket and pancetta. The combination did not appeal, although the prawns themselves were nicely spiced.
I've had brunch as well as drinks and snacks at Duke Carvell's, and can attest to the consistently excellent service and amazing food, making it a must-visit culinary spot.
- The Wellingtonian