Arguably the most contentious of all foods, the appraisal of pizza will always be highly subjective, however the ultimate arbiter has to be children; not to be underestimated in their gastronomic adroitness, most are pizza aficionado’s moreover all have the power of veto when it comes to the restaurant of choice.
My daughter and I had been travelling for seven weeks–on summer school holidays–’wandering’ in England, New Zealand, Australia and have been eating our fair share of pizza along the way. On the whole, we were disappointed with most of our pizza encounters, too often the crust was heavy or base soggy. Indeed the worst of them was at Sydney’s purportedly best pizza establishment, Pizza Mario, and so soft and floppy in the middle yet burnt on the edges, it was as bad as the service was aloof. You don’t go to a pizza restaurant for attitude.
Our best pizza by far has been at Scopa Caffe Cucina, www.scopa.co.nz on the corner of Cuba and Ghuznee Streets in Wellington, New Zealand, indeed on par with our favourite pizza in the world, at Supermaxi www.supermaxi.com.au in Melbourne, Australia.
You get a good feeling immediately as you walk into Scopa with a warm welcome from the staff beckoning from the large central bar to a table, and a waiter right behind us bringing glasses of water and menus, asking on drinks as we sat down. You may think this is all standard, but it’s not always the case; we waited 15 minutes at Pizza Mario without a drink and the place was practically empty as we arrived early, on a bleak Sydney winter night.
It was a Tuesday night mid-winter around 6,30pm when we arrived at Scopa and it was buzzing, actually almost full, yet it appeared totally under control and humming along. We ordered calamari fritti to start which arrived within minutes, lightly coated in flour and finely-chopped parsley and flash-fried, it was wonderfully tender and perfect with my ParrotDog ‘Dog’ beer, served on tap (You must visit the website to get a grasp their amazing range and marketing). Sensing I was from out of town, our waiter proudly explained the ParrotDog comes from just two streets away up in Vivian Street; you can’t get more local than that.
Actually the ‘garage’ beer scene is Wellington is amazing with several small breweries right in the inner city. Indeed, there is a small brewery called the Garage Project now housed in the old petrol station (read garage) on the very street I used to live, Aro Street; if only they were around when I use to walk home from work in Willis Street, would have made a nice local! Visit www.craftbeercapital.com for all the skinny on Wellington’s local brews.
Our pizza’s arrived promptly, my daughters standard order of Margarita–the acid test of any pizza restaurant–looked the real deal, the crust perfectly light and crunchy and she woofed the whole thing down in record time. Taking my time with an equally excellent Prosciutto Funghi pizza, I enjoyed several glasses of Toscolo Chianti Classico Riserva which was listed as 2010 but turned out to be 2006, thanks to the distributor delivering the wrong vintage.
We had great time at Scopa and the service was genuinely friendly and the whole experience left us thinking if only we had a place like this around the corner from us (in Singapore). Judging from the throngs of happy dinners and mojo of this place, it is clearly doing everything right.
I did a Google on Scopa the next day and it suddenly all made sense; the owners are brothers Leonardo and Lorenzo Bresolin, established in 2006 with their legendary father, Remiro Bresolin, who sadly passed away in 2007.
Remiro Bresolin introduced Wellingtonians to pizza and more when he opened il Casino in 1972 with genuine Italian cuisine that endured for almost 30 years, closing in 2006. It was one of the first ‘real’ restaurants I ever dined in and left a lasting impression of both rustic Italian cuisine and wonderfully slick service.
After some gelato for my daughter and a little digestivo for dad, we left Scopa feeling mightily content and quenched, moreover it was remarkably good value. Notwithstanding the excellent pizza, the whole experience was made all that more enjoyable by the exceptional service and our waiter really looked after us with a discernibly personable and commendable effort, to which I acknowledged with a sizable tip; which New Zealanders rarely do.
The Bresolin brothers also own the Crazy Horse Steak House on Willis Street, which I had a meal at on my last trip to Wellington and was totally impressed by the selection and provenance of the steaks, and a no fuss wholesome approach to the whole dining experience. www.crazyhorsethesteakhouse.co.nz
I have not been to their other restaurant, Duke Carvell’s Swan Lane Emporium but I envisage this will be run with equivalent professionalism and flair and I applaud the Bresolin brothers for instilling such high standards in food and down to earth, fun establishments.