Let’s be honest, Prego is an institution as much as it is a restaurant. For 32 years it has not only been a stalwart of Auckland’s restaurant scene, but an integral part of the cultural landscape of Ponsonby Road. Amongst the ‘boom- and-bust’ cycle of the hospitality industry, it’s a forever restaurant, reassuring you by its mere presence as if nothing could ever happen to it.

The simple Italian food is terrific, but it’s the whole kit and caboodle that makes it remarkable. Co-owner and general manager, Brandon Lela’ulu, has been there for 19 years and his instinctive sense of hospitality and generosity is genuinely warm. He leads a team of wait staff similarly in tune with what a diner wants. Such is the family atmosphere here that many of the staff were themselves once childhood diners. It’s that kind of place – you can be here for a sealing-the-deal business lunch then be back for dinner with the kids. That helps explain its enduring success.

For 10 years chef Lennox Bull has been wisely directing a menu that consists of timeless, satisfying dishes. Kava Likiafu has been making the best pizzas north of the Bombay Hills for 22 years. The food is soulful and comforting. They tried changing the menu five years ago, but it didn’t go down well with what is now three generations of regular diners.

Prego consistently delivers a menu full of flavours and combinations done expertly. A jumble of fried calamari is served with aioli and rocket, the cooking caring, accurate and ego free. Chicken saltimbocca with prosciutto, white mozzarella, lemon-sage cream and garlic roast potato is on my list of Death Row meals. The Prego Pie, the filling often changing twice a day, is served on a splendid mound of garlic, parmesan and potato puree, surrounded by a rich port-wine sauce. The fish of the day is reassuringly served on a fragrant risotto accompanied with a butter and lemon sauce. The lesson here – if you are going to do something so simple, then every element needs to be perfect.

A brilliantly executed Risotto All’Anatra is grains of carnaroli rice suspended in the most brilliantly flavoured stock, textured with shredded roast duck, a mixed variety of mushrooms and finished with the merest hit of truffle. It gladdens the heart. As Brandon told me, “It’s so flavoursome it’s almost other- worldly.” What more could you want?

Chef Recipe

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