The Italian Job
It’s definitely a ‘wow’ moment as our set lemon cream touches down in a florid flourish of bright colours, looking part exotic terrarium (courtesy of its elegant glass cloche) and all decadent dessert. Not to be upstaged, the lascivious tornado of tiramisu stands proudly at attention, its funnel-shaped glass gently frosting from the chill of its dreamy contents, hitting our homemade and handmade dining experience at Francesca’s Italian Kitchen out of the park.
Perfectly positioned alongside the Isaac Theatre Royal, the newly-minted Christchurch operation of famed Wanaka culinary institution Francesca’s carries its southern sibling’s hallmarks of authentic, traditional Italian cuisine served in hip, welcoming surrounds by passionate and enthusiastic foodies.
Beyond the slick glass exterior, rustic mixes with industrial cool; an ornate gold-framed mirror behind the bar overlooks dark wooden tables topped with quirky jar-potted plants, and flocks of sepia-tinged family photos are scattered across fresh white walls, while a soaring ceiling instils a sense of occasion. Taking pride of place, the open, wood-fired pizza oven exposes the culinary nerve centre, where slackened dough is transformed into crispy, thin-based pizza perfection.
We’re invited to take our pick from the menu or, if we’re feeling up to it, trust the chef with a selection of his favourites – it’s a no brainer. Assigning our trust to the chef, we peruse the drinks menu, where classic Kiwi wines and local and international craft beers (including purpose-brewed house Italian-style lager Birra di Francesca) sit alongside specially-sourced, rare Italian reds. Opting for the Antinori Santa Cristina (an office favourite), we settle in among the buzzing Friday lunch crowd as our wine arrives in stem-less Riedel glasses.
What follows is a degustation masterclass in Italian dining. We’re treated to piping hot, impossibly crispy golden polenta fries paired with an earthy truffle aioli – their reputation as being among the country’s finest is unanimously agreed upon after the first bite. Beef carpaccio (a rich, delicate marriage of tender beef, parmesan, capers and white anchovies) and wood-roasted vegetables (heavenly heirloom beets and carrots are joined by buffalo yoghurt and spiced grains) pave the way for half and half margherita and parma pizza.
The fresh ingredients mean bold flavours smother the aforementioned crispy, thin bases, and it’s a close contender for favourite dish. But the trophy there goes to super light pillows of potato gnocci and the meaty hit of fall-apart-tender braised beef cheeks. Dusted with the tangy freshness of gremolata and a nutty pecorino, the result is a symphony of delectable contrasts between the rich heavy meat and the almost fluffy, delicate gnocci, which is best enjoyed between sips of the sun-warmed cherry and raspberry subtleties of the wine.
But it’s our sweet endings from the dolci menu that steal the show. Like everything at Francesca’s, they’re made fresh daily and ridiculously hard to fault. Creamy, dreamy and cut through with a coffee power punch, courtesy of a shot of Allpress espresso, the tiramisu is a flavour bomb, while liberated from its glass dome, the set lemon cream artfully balances tart rhubarb with the zesty lemon cream, delicate prosecco jelly and a fine rhubarb crumble, ensuring it tastes even better than it looks.
Francesca’s Italian Kitchen
149 Gloucester Street
03 374 9790