Proud Sicilian Antonio Aram inherited both name and an adoration of cooking from his father. “My whole family loved food, but my dad especially had real flair in the kitchen,” he says in a deliciously rich Italian accent (Antonio has lived in New Zealand for over two decades and later jokes that he sounds like he’s been here two days). “So I definitely get my love of cuisine from them”.
A few weeks before Christmas, Antonio opened Italia Square in Parnell, a European-infused space which stretches across the entire ground floor of the Geyser building at 100 Parnell Road, inspired by Eataly, an Italian gourmet superstore. “It’s the first of its kind in New Zealand,” Antonio beams as we sip espresso on the sun-kissed courtyard.
Italia Square is made up of a café, marketplace, bar, restaurant and ice creamery spread out over three building spaces and interconnecting courtyard. Food can be ordered from one part of the complex to be consumed anywhere you please. All meals are prepared using in-house stock, so technically if you love a dish from the restaurant, you can buy all the ingredients to replicate it at home from the marketplace across the courtyard – though doubtful with the same finesse.
The large, open and versatile space lends itself as a popular corporate venue for private functions, a local restaurant, as well as being a breath of new life to the Parnell café scene for breakfast, a long weekend brunch or coffee stop. “People can also swing by after work to pick up key ingredients for dinner or take advantage of our food to go,” says Antonio.
Among Antonio’s skilled restaurant staff – the vast majority of which are Italian – is one who has worked with Jamie Oliver in the United Kingdom and another, a top chef from O’Sarrancino. “It’s a very experienced team, among the most talented in Auckland and they have created some exquisite dishes,” says Antonio. “We have dishes from all regions of Italy, including specialities such as our Sicilian pizza and Napoli cuisine. I want people to experience the whole Italian feast without having to travel abroad. I don’t believe anyone else can offer this.” The open-plan kitchen affords the opportunity to see the culinary artisans at work, as well as offering a setting for cooking classes.
“Around ninety percent of the produce is Italian, exclusive to Italia Square and cannot be found anywhere else in New Zealand”, says Antonio. The rest, including fine cheese and chocolate, is supplied by gourmet New Zealand brands such as Kapiti and Bennets of Mangawhai. Tastebud-teasing treats include cured meats, jars of Italian preserves, pesto, stuffed peppers and fresh pasta made by hand. Antonio will also be offering trips to a collection of Tuscan vineyards later in the year.
“We’ve been getting amazing feedback,” says Antonio. “I’ve been flooded with emails thanking me for what we’ve created and it humbles me that New Zealanders have been so supportive and taken our concept into their hearts.” It is a concept, he tells me, which he dedicates to his late family. “I’m the last survivor and through Italia Square I am keeping their name alive. This is their legacy, it’s not about me. It was my father’s dream to run an eatery. He was an exceptional man who celebrated food. He loved cooking for people. He’d pull them in off the street. He was so hospitable and now, here, I want people to feel as though they are part of my family.”
100 Parnell Rise, Parnell, Auckland 1052
09 222 2898
Words: Jamie Christian Desplaces