The best fried calamari in the country? Gina’s Italian Kitchen offers an oldie but a goodie. Photo/Michael Craig
The raucous Italian stalwart moved to Mt Eden. Restaurant critic Kim Knight relives her 30th birthday at Gina’s.
In their own words: “We serve fabulous Italian cuisine with exuberant service in the authentic style that
is the generous Italian hospitality. Do you want calm, darling? Then you’ll have to go somewhere else.”
First impressions: Is this a bar? Is it a restaurant? Is it a garlic flavored Tardis? The further you venture into the new Mt Eden Gina’s, the more space there is to sit. A narrow bar opens to a larger dining area which opens to a heated and covered outdoor area, which opens to even more garden seating. Beyond that? The possibilities appear, literally, endless (or Epsom).
On the floor: Circa 2005 and I’m a shy South Islander trying to impress my colleagues in Auckland. They take me to Gina’s on Symonds St, where I don’t hear a word because of the flirting. The waiters (they’re all men) bellow “Ciao, Bella” and my work colleagues show a dangerously impressive capacity for wine. Later I was told that the attractive and wanton waiters aren’t even Italian. According to my informant, they are all from Brazil. I feel fooled. Was it just a vicious legend from the suburbs of Auckland promulgated by a rival restaurateur? The only thing I know for sure is that in my thirties there really was no place like Gina. A decade and a half later, it’s 6:15 p.m. on a Wednesday. The servers (as many women as men) are friendly and efficient and they all wear shirts. They are very happy to turn on an extra heater for the old lady at the corner table for two. Tap water is fine, thank you.
The menu: I suspect Gina’s legendary uproar is just a $50 a head menu and pre-booked shirtless artist, but if you’re a midweek diner with a pasta dinner craving, head straight to the fine print. A $20 “classic” bowl (penne arrabiata, spaghetti bolognese, etc.) is a great way to transition from work to home.
Best Bite #1: When the photographer went to shoot at Gina’s, the manager was appalled at our request for fried squid. “Everyone gets the calamari!” he said before presenting a dish that was a little more “cheesy” than the one I had. He may be right about his ubiquity, but I doubt there’s a better example of this classic in the country. A light and crispy batter, perfectly cooked calamari and a subtle lemon pepper seasoning plus (the night I ordered) a bowl of aioli and a heap of balsamic glazed arugula. It was as if the clocks had stopped and my whole delicious life was once again before me.
Best Bite #2: Gina’s is not upscale or trendy. It’s good food, some of which you could probably replicate at home. Did I have the energy to prepare peppers, eggplant, zucchini, garlic, capers and tomato sauce? Did I just want a big bowl full of veggies and carbs, served with a complete lack of kitchen related tasks? I ordered the ortolana pasta and was not disappointed.
The jury is still out: Chicken, prawns, mushrooms, marsala wine, cream and truffle oil is a mouthful. I sneered, but a little research revealed that “mare e monti” is also a true Italian sea and mountain, surf and grass specialty. James loved it. He’s a complicated guy.
On the side: Arancini are, too often, a disappointment. Not to Gina’s Italian cuisine! The rice was moist, the mozzarella was oozing, and the fried balls were the size of a baby’s fist.
Dessert: The tiramisu was a no-brainer and it gave a great coffee-cocoa kick.
Perfect for: All comers. Gina’s move from Symonds St to the suburb of Mt Eden where it all started seems to have been fully embraced by the pasta-pizza-parmigiana brigade. The tables were as full as the ravioli – single diners, families, couples and groups of friends. In 1973, when Gina Maio opened her first restaurant in Auckland, she had to source her olive oil from a pharmacy. Half a century later, the one thing that hasn’t changed is the seemingly universal appeal of the restaurant that still bears his name.
How Much: We spent $187 for two.
Gina’s Italian Kitchen, 440 Mount Eden Rd, Mt Eden, Auckland. Telephone (09) 302 2061.
by Yvonne Lorkin
While much of Gina’s Italian food menu still dates back to her 1980s origins, nothing quite like a spiral perm or shoulder pad, skinny tie, Fido Dido t-shirt, or bubblegum jeans. washed out on the wine list, no sir. While you could start with something traditional Italian like a bellini, mimosa or Aperol Spritz, why not switch things up with a new kind of negroni sbagliato (Campari, prosecco and gin). Gina’s has a simple and compact drink list that will tick all your boxes when it comes to wine pairings. Want something local? Then Rebecca Salmond’s Odyssey brand will fill your boots with pinot noir, sauvignon blanc and chardonnay, while your bubbles could come from Piccini Memoro or a prosecco. A dry white? Try Antica pinot grigio or Castello del Poggio Moscato for a sweeter option. An assortment of flavors awaits you in reds with Sensi Chianti, Antica Valpolicella, San Marzano primitivo or a rich and crispy Amarone d’Antica. Yum. I have Bolognese in my brain just thinking about it. And of course, you can complete your gustatory splendor by treating yourself to a cocktail. Tiramisu Martini anyone? more please