The owners of Cucina 1871 could not have hoped for a better location for their new restaurant. Located at the intersection of Oamaru’s Itchen, Thames and Tees Streets, anyone driving down Oamaru’s main street cannot help but see the building, which forms a sort of dead-end for Thames Street. Originally the home of the Australian Mutual Provident Society, and until recently the home of the North Otago Club and Annie’s Victorian Tea Parlour, the building was constructed in 1871 in typically ornate Oamaru style, with beautiful detail throughout.
As a heritage building, prior to the restaurant’s opening it had to go through earthquake strengthening, so now it is as safe as houses, as it were, but happily the interior was left unchanged (at least not to the naked eye) so diners can enjoy the ambience of this older building without hindrance. And because of its location, as you sit and enjoy your meal you can also enjoy the view of the stunning St Luke’s Anglican church across the street (probably the most beautiful church I can think of still standing in New Zealand), as well as the streetscape along Thames Street.
But most diners will come for the food, rather than the building or the view. Happily for them, the kitchen does not disappoint. Our group of four on opening night arrived a bit early for our table, giving us an opportunity to enjoy a drink at the bar. There I was able to enjoy a Negroni, a very popular Italian cocktail made with Campari, vodka (or gin) and sweet vermouth. While the bartender was initially reluctant to make one, since she had not yet been trained, I was able to walk her through it and the end result was quite good. With practice, I’m sure she’ll nail the recipe. The wine list includes a number of New Zealand (including Waitaki) labels, along with several Italian wines, and all are priced very reasonably. For aficionados, there is also an oenophile section with top labels on offer.
The menu is broken down into antipasti, pizzas, pastas, mains and desserts. Among the antipasti are bruschetta, scallop salad, and arancini, while the pizzas include all the usual suspects. Among the pastas are seafood linguine, orecchiette with duck, and risotto with asparagus. The main courses include stuffed chicken breast, lamb rump with olive and parsley crust, and slow-roasted pork belly, all beautifully presented on the plate. Side dishes (“contorni”) are ordered separately, in the Italian style, but most of the mains had sufficient accompanying vegetables that we did not order any.
Our dishes were almost all very good. The asparagus risotto was particularly tasty, with the rice cooked just right, and with a suitably creamy texture. The scallops were cooked well, though the orange vinaigrette was a bit too acidic and prevented the sweetness of the scallops from shining through. The “pane pizza”, a flat bread with onions, feta and olive oil, was huge, and would easily serve four people (as it did us). The only disappointment was the mushroom bruschetta, which did not have much flavour and the bread was a bit too thickly cut. (I am also on a one-blogger mission to correct the pronunciation of this dish’s name: it is “broo-sketta”, not “broo-shetta”. Thank you.)
Our main courses were also very good. I particularly liked the pork belly, whose skin was perfectly crispy and delicious, though some portions of the meat were slightly dry. The lamb rump and the prime ribeye filet were perfectly cooked, and just lovely. All dishes were a bit on the salty side, however, but that may have just been a matter of our personal preference.
Two of our party had dessert, sharing an affogato (ice cream served with a cup of espresso and a shot of the liqueur of your choice), which was very nice. Also available were tiramisù (not made with coffee, so non-coffee drinkers can enjoy it) and a yogurt pannacotta, as well as a cheese platter.
Prices are extremely reasonable, so this is a restaurant that is sure to be popular, both with locals and visitors. They will be open 7 days a week through the summer months (hallelujah!) and will be open 6 days a week in winter (day off to be announced). For bookings, you can contact them by email on firstname.lastname@example.org.