It has been a seamless transition from Maria Pia’s to MariLuca Ristoro, with Richard Klein handing his beloved trattoria over to a true blooded Italian. New owner Giuseppe Malaponti is no newcomer to the hospitality scene having served at Hummingbird, Il Casino and Zinos in the 16 years he has been in Wellington, as well as having extensive restaurant and bar work in London and the Continent before settling here with his Kiwi wife Isabel. Though regarded as an institution at Hummingbird, Giuseppe hankered to get back into the focussed dining scene, also wishing to devote more time to his young daughter Marina and son Gianluca in what are their formative years. Hence MariLuca was born, the name a combination of both of the children’s names and a tribute to them.
Giuseppe has gathered a formidable team around him; Giulio Ricatti heading the kitchen and Simone Berliat as sommelier. Giuseppe is from Turin, and his staff from Roma through to Sicily, covering a wide range of the provinces. And that’s what the cuisine at MariLuca is all about, the menu with classics from different regions. And not surprisingly, the wine list features a broad range of Italian whites and reds first, supported by a more compact list of local offerings.
You can choose a Ca del Matt Cortese 2008 from Piemonte, a Palmadina Pinot Grigio 2009 from Friuli or a Castello della Sala ‘Bramito’ Chardonnay 2010 from Umbria among the whites. Among the reds are Allegrini ‘La Grola’ Valpolicella 2006 from Veneto, a Leone de Castris Salice Salentino Riserva 2006 from Puglia or if you are feeling rich a Frescobaldi ‘Castelgiocondo’ Brunello di Montalcino 2004 from Tuscany. For those with New World tastes, you can have a Starborough Marlborough Pinot Gris 2011 or a Heart of Gold Gisborne Chardonnay/Viognier 2009 in the whites, and the likes of a Mount Edward Central Otago Pinot Noir 2008 or a Hewitson ‘Miss Harry’ GSM 2009 from the Barossa Valley. The only gap is that of a Bordeaux-varietal red. Giuseppe and Simone carry the Italian theme in the aperitifs, cocktails and beers.
We attended MariLuca on the ‘soft opening night’ where there was a preponderance of friends and familia. The interior has had a makeover, with lighter colours and a fresher touch, five of the walls adorned with hand-written Sicilian sayings quoted by Vito, Marina and Gianluca’s granddad. The tables have the luxurious addition of crisply starched white tablecloths, lifting the game for Italian eateries in the capital city. Yet the interior with its combination of close-spaced tables, open plan, combined with hidden nooks and crannies has a truly Continental atmosphere. The dining room hummed with conversation and laughter from guests, interspersed with swift and efficient, stylish service, and we were flooded by memories of dining in many places in Europe.
We began with a starter, the Grigliata impanata di Pesce, grilled prawn, squid, scallops in herbed breadcrumbs and an entrée, Risotto ai funghi porcini, Giulio’s classic mushroom risotto. And for mains, the Tagliolini carbonara alla nonna concetta, Marina’s favourite with pancetta, eggs, pecorino cheese and black pepper, listed in the entrees, and the Saltimbocca a’la Romana, veal scaloppini with Parma ham and sage. The essential theme that came through was authenticity and quality ingredients. Our portions were too big, leaving us no room to try a dessert or cheese. It is better to make a complaint on excess rather than deficiency, for sure! Our lush, and complex Mount Edward Pinot Noir 2008 suited our choices very well, the mushroom risotto especially.
For a first night open, we could see Giuseppe’s many years in the hospitality trade making MariLuca very workable and very positive in all the vital areas. This eatery will be different to the hearty Puglia fare that was Maria Pia’s, being somewhat wider in scope and with a toe in the fine dining camp. It’s the attention to detail that gives this aim away. Fine tuning will see MariLuca settle into an even better operation and business. Giuseppe says that ‘Ristoro’ has many meanings, including that of a place to restore oneself. With good food, amicable atmosphere, family values and sincere service, MariLuca Ristoro will be true to its name.
MariLuca Ristoro, 55-57 Mulgrave Street, Thorndon, Wellington. Tel: 04 499-5590, Email: [email protected]