409 Mt Eden Rd
(09) 630 9130
Tuesday - Saturday
11am - 7.30pm
11am - 3pm
Italy is the dwelling place of some of my happiest food memories, not just because of the quality of produce – the sweet tomatoes, creamy mozzarella, rich ragu – but because the entire culture has food and family at its heart. When you eat in Italy, you understand that life revolves around the kitchen, the hearth, the table. In my opinion, Italians have their priorities right. I idolise the place and the people, but most of all, the food.
I used to live in Melbourne, where Italian cuisine can be found on every street corner. When I moved back to Auckland I missed that. There was less, far less, to choose from. I loved Delicious in Grey Lynn, but it became unreliable (and is now Siostra). I still love the food at Baduzzi and Gusto at the Grand, but they don’t quite capture the relaxed, generous atmosphere of Italy. Coco’s Cantina is a diamond, but I just want more.
Pasta e Cuore is time-space gateway to the other side of the world. Italy does not feel so far away, a piece of it is right here in Mt Eden, in this glowing little pasta shop and restaurant. There is a leafy courtyard out back that’s divine, almost Tuscan on a summer day, and an expansive upstairs dining room for when downstairs is too busy.
The menu is long because every dish is explained in both Italian and English. The first page simply says, “there is no such thing as spaghetti bolognese.” Chef and owner Stefana Ugolini is from Bologna, the city in Italy famed for its rich meat sauce, called ragu alla bolognese. She cooks the traditional cuisine the region is famous for, like tortellini en brodo, and ragu in many forms. Her pasta is made from scratch, daily, and you can buy it by the gram to take home and cook yourself. In my mind the better option is to take a seat and let them cook it for you. The experience is utterly charming.
When I visited there was a special of pappardelle with portobello mushroom and sausage ragu. A rich, hearty sauce combined beautifully with the delicate silken texture of fresh pasta. There was beetroot tagliatelle with tomatoes and basil that was summer itself. The tiramisu came in vintage glassware and was one of the best I’ve tried, a balance of creaminess and coffee that still managed to retain a quality of lightness. Pasta e Cuoro was a dream, but one I can return to at will, six days a week.
The wine list is all Italian, a perfect match for these powerful flavours, and the Kokako Organic coffee is brewed with skill and care – my long black had a golden crema, with a hint of fruit and dark chocolate and a subtle bitter note. At Pasta e Cuoro, as with all good modern eateries, they care deeply about the origins of their produce, there is a list at the back of the menu that tells you where everything is sourced – either directly from Italy, or from the very best New Zealand has to offer.
Pasta e Cuore is a real place, it’s not in the least bit contrived, and that’s something that’s hard to achieve on this side of the world. Authenticity comes as naturally as breathing in Europe, with its long history and great wells of culture and tradition. In Auckland I believe it’s only achieved in the balance between old and new. One part tradition, one part bravado.