ADDRESS: 375 Karangahape Road, Auckland
K Road has been home to many a pop-up venture and one of the more recent ones, Cotto, which started up as a three-month fxture in the old 69 premises, has now become a permanent restaurant.
The layout is essentially the same, with wooden tables and chairs, a cosylooking booth, the tiniest sliver of a deck to watch the sun go down and an open kitchen at the rear. The space is warm and welcoming without being fussy.
For a fresh pasta hit and some delectable smaller dishes you’d be hard pressed to fnd anything better at the price. Hayden Phiskie and John Pountney are ex-The Refreshment Room and Delicious and all the pasta and breads are made in house. Smaller dishes/entrees are around $15 while the larger pasta dishes hit the $20 mark. Which no doubt explains part of the place’s popularity, which is pleasingly along multi-generational lines. It’s fun, noisy and packed, and yes that was Lorde over in the corner.
Do start with a snack of farinata – chickpea batter bread – made of chickpea four, olive oil and water. They make a delectable version here that is ever so crisp, with plenty of crunchy sea salt, rosemary and sage. I’d go back again just to eat the dark JASON CREAGHAN fried brussels sprouts with puy lentils, mint and vincotto. It’s a happy medley of crisp brussels sprouts with tender inners, just-cooked earthy lentils all melded together with a sharp vincotto dressing and plenty of fresh mint.
Less successful on this occasion was the charred cos with anchovy mayo and sourdough crumbs. I’ve had this before and it was glorious; anchovyforward mayonnaise and tender just cooked cos. Tonight the charring was taken a point too far and overpowered the rest of the dish, while the crumbs were so over-dried that I felt I was in danger of losing a flling or a tooth.
But the main drawcard here is the pasta and gnocchi which are made fresh every day. The menu changes frequently and the fllings and sauces change depending on what is in season, but there is alway a stufed pasta such as ravioli or capoletti and at least one form of gnocchi or gnudi. These are made family style, slightly rough in shape but packed with favour.
The autumnal menu featured ravioli with a flling of richly favoured shredded duck paired with a simple Jerusalem artichoke puree and a generous drizzle of balsamic vinegar, while a baked rotolo of tender-cooked beef cheek was stufed generously with silverbeet and served with a light porcini béchamel. So, while the inspiration is Italian, it’s not slavish to tradition. Risotto here is usually a favourful treat. Some roasted caulifower forets provided texture to a simple white caulifower risotto; the genius here is the addition of washed-rind taleggio its creamy, melting qualities and the boost of its piquant fruitiness. The rice was creamy and, to my mind, a tad past al dente but my companions couldn’t give a toss for such nit-picking frippery, and hoovered up the umamipacked dish with alarming haste.
Panna cotta has been done to death, but the burnt orange one here is a delight with a good wobble and bitter caramel to of set the cream while the roasted rhubarb provides some acidity. Cotto’s version of the notoriously difcult-to-make River Cafe chocolate nemesis (essentially a very rich chocolate mousse) is suitably fudgy, and heavenly for the sweet toothed, served as it is with a salted caramel sauce, but the clean sharpness of the creme fraiche keeps it in check.
The wine list is small and pretty much half-and-half Italian and local wines; it’s keenly priced from $10-$17 a glass, and the selection is varied. The cocktails are excellent. There are beers on tap and in the bottle, but it’s a mostly pedestrian choice.
It’s a bustling place and the front-of-house staff are busy, but friendly enough to chat or wait patiently while we dither over what to eat. The service is efficient too, topping up water frequently, making sure that there are more tubs of cutlery on the table and, all the while, moving at a frantic pace in the packed venue.
Sometimes all you want to eat is comfort food, prepared simply and oozing with favour. Cotto manages a rare feat in that it’s joyful to eat in, packed with punters and paired with breezy service that delivers. All that, without the need to take out a loan, makes it very welcome indeed.