Venuti is a dark dining spot, though if the table aligns with a beam from an overhead halogen light, it's OK.
This is mostly the case, though I saw diners at a bigger table in the middle leaning at crazy angles trying to find a shaft of light.
Venuti is the place for an Italian fix, though the team takes a broad approach. It's a shock to spot Hawaiian - ham and pineapple - among the pizzas, and brandy snaps and chocolate brownies among the desserts.
It was a restaurant at full pressure. Some delays in taking our orders were a little too long and some of the nattily dressed staff (white shirts, black ties, red aprons) had a touch of the "I'm flat out here" look. But they did a great job.
The tables are packed in tightly and as a couple we found ourselves with the other couples stacked at close intervals along a long bench seat, which seems to be a growing trend in restaurants. It's not my favourite way of dining, but we happily chatted with neighbours who wanted to know what we had and whether we would recommend it.
The starters were excellent and generous. A big flat mushroom was covered in bechamel sauce, parmesan, herbs, lots of garlic and came served in its own mini cast iron saucepan. It tasted as good as it looked. Chicken livers swam in a superb glossy marsala sauce along with mushrooms, onion and sun-dried tomato. The zing of the tomato was a nice surprise inside the richness.
It was another surprise, therefore, when a grilled fish main fell flat. For $32, there was a small fillet of tarakihi hidden by a dry caponata style medley of vegetables - courgettes, peppers, onion and a handful of capers. There was a salad garnish and a scattering of roast vegetables. It was dry and uninspired. It needed a sauce.
However, a chicken fettucine had plenty of sauce. The pasta was cooked perfectly, and the morsels of chicken and mushrooms wrapped in a rich, creamy, silky sauce with lovely parmesan overtones.
A light prosciutto and rocket pizza came with a good crisp base, but minimal sauce and cheese. The rocket was strewn raw and fresh. The risotto choice was a seafood option with prawns, mussels and scallops in a tomato cream sauce. A hearty dish and the rice had excellent texture.
The sorbet dish among the desserts had lime, lemon and raspberry balls - an edible national flag - but only the lemon sorbet had the intense flavours to move it beyond a workmanlike effort. A tiramisu lacked the bitter cocoa bite but had nice coffee flavours.
Venuti is Kiwi-friendly but there's enough Italian authenticity, including some Italian wines available by the glass.
Where: 791 Colombo St
When: Open daily from 6pm.
How much: Starters up to $22; mains up to $36; pasta up to $25; desserts $12
Upside: The starters
Downside: The fish dish
- © Fairfax NZ News