The Nuvolari Restaurant

Last year I wrote an article for the magazine about my visit to the Tazio Nuvolari Museum in Mantua, Italy. For those of you who aren’t familiar with the great Nuvolari, here is a brief reminder of some of his achievements. He drove mainly Alfa Romeo cars in the grand prix races between the wars and won countless races and hillclimbs. The hillclimbs in Europe, incidentally , in those days were between ten and twenty kilometres long and were a real test of man and machine, unlike the blink and you miss it events of today here in Australia. He won the equivalent of the World Championship in 1932, the Italian Championship twice, the Italian Grand Prix three times, the Monaco, French, German Belgian, Milano, Donington, Vanderbilt Grands Prix amongst others as well as the Tourist Trophy in the UK, the Le Mans twenty four hour race and the Mille Miglia(twice).  A truly amazing record.  Needless to say he was as famous as a major rock star in Italy and indeed throughout Europe.

However, earlier this year I went on a golfing holiday to the North Island of New Zealand. After an enjoyable day at the Rotorua Golf Course my fellow travellers and I decided to go out for dinner. It’s a large town with good facilities for tourists and with the most fascinating volcanic features such as boiling hot geysers spouting ten metres up into the air, steaming fumeroles, boiling mud pools and the occasional earthquake. The downtown area has some excellent restaurants which made it very hard to choose where we would have dinner. Whilst wandering down Tutanekai Street I noticed a restaurant called Nuvolari. I just had to have a look at that. I dragged the rest of the crew in the front door to check it out. It is a classy, modern place and it was almost full of customers – an empty restaurant is always to be avoided, as I am sure you all know. What immediately impressed me was a huge painting on the wall of the great man himself. I was determined that this was the place for dinner.

We were led to a table by an attractive young Italian gal which fitted my expectations. When we were seated she gave us each a menu. That’s when I almost fell off my chair. The pizza selection was amazing because they were all named after great Italian racing drivers. In small letters under the names was a description of the ingredients so at least you knew what to expect. Some of the names of pizzas were: TAZIO (named after Nuvolari of course), ROSSI (after the great Valentino of moto GP fame), ASCARI (after the 1952 & 1953 Grand Prix World Champion who drove Ferraris and in 1955 was the team leader of the Lancia Grand Prix team and who won the Mille Miglia in 1954 in a Lancia sportscar ), VARZI (after Achille Varzi who was Nuvolari’s greatest rival and who won many races for Alfa Romeo and Maserati ), Scarfiotti ( works driver for Scuderia Ferrari and who won the 1966 Italian Grand Prix ), MUSSO (works driver for Ferrari and  Maserati in the 1950’s ), BRILLI-PERI (named after Count Brilli-Peri who won the 1925 Italian GP at Monza ), AGOSTINI (after the great Giacomo Agostini who won more motorcycle world championships than anyone else and who mainly rode MV Augusta 500 cc motorcycles.)

What was in these pizzas, I hear you ask. The TAZIO had margherita, mozzarella, fresh tomato and basil. The SCARFIOTTI had roasted eggplant, capsicum, zucchini with olives and sundried tomatoes. The BRILLI-PERRI had parma ham, gorgonzola, walnuts, sliced tomato and rocket.  In the list of Secondi were featured BISTECCA MONZA (named after the historic racetrack north of Milano ), PESCE DESMOSEDICI (after the famous six cylinder desmodromic valved Ducati motorcycle engine ) and McLAREN LAMB (named after Bruce McLaren, the New Zealand grand prix driver of fifty years ago who founded McLaren Cars ). Amongst the Dolci are ENZO ( named after Enzo Ferrari and which is described as white chocolate and vanilla pannacotta seved with a fresh berry coulis and cream ), and MAMA FERRARI ( sticky fig and date pudding served with hot caramel sauce and fresh cream ).

I also checked out the lunch menu which also was full of motor racing references. The theme here was famous racing circuits all around the world. I scanned the list for an Australian circuit and there was PHILLIP ISLAND which was described as Shepherds Pie with Kumara and Potato mash. Kumara is a New Zealand sweet potato of golden colour. Most of the red wines were Australian but local whites dominated. Wine from Hawkes Bay to the south of the North Island was reliably excellent.

Amazed at all these motor sport references, I asked our waitress why was it so. She suggested that I ask the boss who was behind the bar doing the drinks. I introduced myself to him (Geof is his name ) and asked him why. He was pleased to explain that he used to be a keen rally driver in New Zealand in his youth and when he opened his restaurant he wanted to give it a motor sport flavour. Hence the menu.  Geof said that very few of his customers know where these names come from but they generally like them because they sound Italian. I asked where he got the big picture of Nuvolari from and he said that he found a good photo of Tazio on the Internet and had a local artist paint it based on the photo. I think that Geof was pleased to be able to explain his passion for motor sport and how it ties together with his other passion for Italian food. All six of us enjoyed our food as well. I had a FETTUCINE NUVOLARI which made up of tender chicken in a sweet chilli, white wine and garlic sauce garnished with pinenuts. It was excellent and cost $NZ18.90.

If you are ever in Rotorua I hope that you follow up this tip and seek out the NUVOLARI at 1122 Tutanekai Street, phone 07 3481122 or e mail   Speaking of e mail, I discovered via the net that there is another Nuvolari Restaurant but this one is in the USA at Mandeville in Louisiana. They claim that they “celebrate the genre of Creole Italian food”. I think that poor old Tazio would be spinning in his grave if he heard that.  I checked out YOUTUBE for any Nuvolari references and was delighted to see that there are sixteen videos starring the great man including the 1933 Mille Miglia, 1934 Italian GP at Monza, 1938 Donington GP in England and, of course, what many consider to be his greatest victory driving an Alfa Romeo, the 1935 German GP at the Nurburgring.

Jim Stratmann