On a chilly autumn night, Lupino is packed with old friends, gathered together in the warmth by the fireplace, clutching globes of red wine over pasta, pizza and tiramisu.
In summer, the outdoor tables will be full of patrons enjoying the sea view over the road, quaffing oysters and Italian prosecco as the sun sets over Mission Bay.
Lupino is a rare, unpretentious gem with hearty food, great service and an extensive wine list.
When he found the restaurant last year, Scott Denning saw an opportunity to evolve it into something more stylish; a modern bistro that’s accessible for everyone, with a choice of wines by the glass.
Down came the dated paintings on the walls and the Italian themed paraphernalia hanging from the ceiling. You won’t find any checked tablecloths here. Scott upgraded the kitchen equipment, the cutlery and glasses. Setting the scene with a black and white photo of two elderly women crossing a road in Rome covering a whole wall, the backdrop to wooden floors lit with bare Edison bulbs, he created a hip, friendly vibe.
It was BYO, but Scott switched to a wine list befitting a proper neighbourhood Italian bistro. It’s been carefully curated and you won’t find supermarket wines in the mix.
There’s Peregrine Saddleback Pinor Noir from Central Otago, Windrush Empire Chardonnary from Marlborough and Hawkes Bay’s Pyramid Valley Cab Franc from New Zealand, and some beautiful Italian reds like the Montecampo Montepulciana and Tricerchi Brunello di Montalciano. At the higher end, there are some chiantis and barolos. Watch this space because he’s adding some French wines too.
The food focuses on fresh ingredients and the pasta is handmade on site. There’s lots to choose from.
“I’ve taken a bit of a punt and gone with a good-sized menu with the confidence that we’ll be busy. Fortunately we are,” says Scott as he scans the bustling room. “We’ve had a great response from the locals since we opened and we’re going from strength to strength.”
Scott has packed each dish with delicious, exciting details. The evening we went, the market fish was hapuka that melted in your mouth, served with crunchy broccolini, tomato sauce and a charred eggplant puree that tasted like smooth, edible smoke. The Chocolate Creameaux balanced dark chocolate cream, cacao nibs, crunchy hokey pokey and a salty knob of peanut ice cream for the perfect contrast. It was rich and decadent. We savoured every bite.
While the lockdown initially caused a few supply difficulties especially with the European products, Scott quickly sorted that out, sourcing local growers and farmers and an Italian wine importer. This lets him constantly evolve the dishes for seasonality.
Luckily, the sudden downturn also rewarded Scott with the chance to pick up a stable of fantastic, experienced staff who had been made redundant elsewhere.
Melody, the effervescent restaurant manager who you may remember from her three-year stint at Prego in Ponsonby, has grateful patrons in the palm of her hand with her impeccable timing and relaxed, easy charm. She has big plans of her own. By summer, she’ll be dishing out the espresso martinis and an array of even fancier cocktails.
Expectations run high from those who have checked the Lupino website. Scott has an impressive reputation, having cooked in such luminary establishments as Le Gavroche and Pied a Terre in London. He was head chef at Auckland’s prestigious The Grove and spent many years abroad adding to his culinary experience, working for wealthy clientele on super yachts and setting up restaurants in Moscow and St Petersburg.
Yet Scott explains, Lupino has no pretensions of fine dining. “We’re trying hard to stay accessible, doing good hearty meals and we’re working our way towards wine matching,” he says.
The restaurant is open evenings from Tuesday to Saturday and Thursday to Sunday for lunches. Scott is rolling out a new Sunday lunch menu and will rotate the proteins each week – “maybe pork, then beef, then a three-course offer”. Special desserts like apple tarte tatin will pop up as a weekend treat.
It’s kid friendly too. On weekends, if you come in early ice cream is included in the family meals.
Whenever you go, you’re sure to find the atmosphere lively at Lupino. The food is fabulous, the service great. Melody will keep you entertained and you’ll never be bored with the everchanging menu.
Updated and revived as a classy, modern eatery, Lupino is a welcome addition to the seaside restaurant mix in Mission Bay.