Italian fare is generally characterised by its simplicity and basic humble ingredients.
However, Auge Ristorante ignores those traditions for a fine-dining experience based on complex cuisine with high-end seasonal produce.
A modern Italian restaurant, Auge sits in a discreet alcove on Grote Street, marked by a trademark Vespa parked out the front of its shiny copper doors.
We are greeted upon entry by a smartly dressed sommelier who shows the party to an elegantly set table.
A long “spuntini” (meaning snack) bar runs along one side of the room, which offers pre-dinner aperitifs and drinks, and a cheaper “tapas-style” food menu for lunch and dinner.
The dining area setting is dark, classic and high-quality, with tables draped in white linen.
The menu is written in Italian with English translations beneath. It starts with bread and olives and moves through to appetisers, entrees, pasta, mains, sides and desserts.
Combining all these is the option of a three-hour, eight-course degustation or a slightly shorter six-course with or without matched wines.
The wine list is extensive and moderately priced. A long list of Australia’s best mingles with a decent range of Italian wines; a small selection of prosecco is a nice touch.
The night kicks of with a little amuse-bouche of beetroot-cured salmon. It is a pleasant enough combination; the bright purple and pink makes for an impressive-looking spoon, although the flavours are subtle at best.
Bypassing the degustation, we select a supposedly traditional favourite: antipasto della casa – or a selection of daily house-made appetisers.
It is quite the meal: a large heap of fried whitebait bathe in aioli and four large chunks of pork-belly terrine fill the corners, while slices of sweet onion frittata, cubes of panko-crumbed beef cheek and a pimento crostini decorate the plate.
It is quite a heavy combination of fried and rich food. Tender nuggets of beef cheeks are nice but overwhelming. The pork-belly terrine is lighter with a nice amount of salt and goes well with the house-made grissini.
The whitebait is delicious, while the frittata is sweet and dense. It is probably a little too much and a bit of a heavy start. We ordered for two ($39), but a single serve ($22) could probably have sufficed.
The service is quiet, well presented, and keeps both wine and water glasses full. The sommelier is confident and well versed in his craft.
Normally, there comes an awkward moment where you can feel you are being taken advantage of – bottle after bottle of water poured and served without asking. Auge removes this discomfort with a $6 per head unlimited sparkling water rule which is a small but nice touch.
For mains it is hard to look past the pasta section, which offers daily hand-made pasta and risottos cooked from scratch to order.
We settle for the thin tube pasta with shredded pork, chilli, black garlic and broccolini, and the gnocchi of figs, air-dried beef, cheese and hazelnuts.
The pasta, served in large bowls, is outstanding.
Large chunks of sweet shredded pork sit in a rich garlicky stock, kale and broccolini add colour, and a hint of chilli gives it a kick. It is almost an Asian-style pasta in a way, but who cares? It’s delicious.
There really is not much that compares to decent, hand-made pasta, and Auge’s version is one of the best. Long strands of what would have been pappardelle are rounded over on both edges, creating tubes, which suck up the sauce.
The gnocchi, although a seemingly weird combination of fruit, meat, cheese and nuts, works a treat on the palate. The pillows of light potato are baked with layers of bresaola and asiago and fontina cheese. Fresh figs are placed on top with a scattering of hazelnuts.
It is a clever and rich dish with a multitude of flavours. The figs add some tartness to the salty dried beef. The hazelnuts, although maybe slightly too sweet, add a great crunch to the cheese-baked gnocchi.
Both main courses were perfectly sized.
After two courses of such substance, we had no appetite for dessert. Seeing some of the dishes delivered to other tables we wished we did.
Although not a cheap night out, Auge has been around for nearly 15 years, which is no accident. It has built a solid reputation for fine dining and excellent service with a contemporary and seasonal menu.
Auge’s modern twist on Italian cuisine takes diners out of the traditional comfort zone, which makes the experience all the more rewarding.
Four out of five.
Auge Ristorante and Spuntini Bar
22 Grote Street, Adelaide
Tel: (08) 8410 9332
Open Tuesday – Friday lunch and dinner
Monday and Saturday from 6pm
Frank’s Valentines Day footnote
Just a tip for all those couples thinking tonight, being Valentines Day, is a great night to head out for a lovely dinner.
Kitchens and restaurants gear up for Valentines Day with set menus designed to cater for numbers, not quality.
Some places take multiple sittings and cram as many customers through as possible, serving food designed for easy and fast reheating.
While there are some exceptions to the rule, I have never enjoyed a Valentines Day meal. Indeed, some of my worst dining experiences have been had on Valentines Day in otherwise great culinary establishments.
Stay home instead, cook something, enjoy a glass of wine and go to dinner next week.
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