Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Review: Prego on Ponsonby Road

Some restaurants come with a lot of baggage, and Prego is one of them. Famous for being famous, it's almost destined to be slagged off. Your first meal there is a bit like meeting a celebrity for the first time – every move they make is closely examined, every inch of their appearance scrutinised for its potential to provide comedy fodder for later. Best of all would be meeting an obnoxious celebrity for the first time during a bad meal at Prego – you'd be centre of attention at cocktail parties for years to come, telling your enthralled coterie all about the time Colin Mathura-Jeffree ate the rubbery calamari rings with his FINGERS.

But actually I've been to Prego several times now including today, and the bad visit never happens. The calamari rings are always tender, the pizzas arrive hot, thin and crispy, and the market fish shows every sign of actually having come from a market. As far as I've experienced there's not a bad thing on the menu, plus the specials change regularly and there's a rare loyalty to Italy in the food.

Most surprising of all is the service. Going to a restaurant which is big in 'the industry' you pretty much expect the staff to be sullen and condescending or, equally bad, cocky and over-familiar. There's a third category too, bravely pioneered by SPQR down the road, where ambient music is replaced by the combined noise of a dozen service staff sniggering. But Prego does none of this.

I don't know how, but somehow they manage to breed the personality out of these waiters and waitresses, in a good way. They're warm, and friendly, and knowledgeable, and obliging, but you feel like they've been born and raised just to work at Prego – your wish is their command; your unusual request is their raison d'etre. Today I dropped a potato cube, reached down to pick it up and when I looked up their was a compliant looking blonde girl waiting silently with a napkin and an open palm. And these are people who have to make cocktails for actors. How do they have any patience left?

Good food, good service and beautiful new leather menus to boot. “These are going to get stolen!” I enthused to the maitre d' by way of a compliment, which she took with good grace, declining the opportunity to snigger when I held one of them to my nose and inhaled deeply of the leathery goodness.