Everyone has a Prego story.
Mine started with a bottle of wine, not long after my migration north. Viognier. I didn't even know what it was but I had a second. Probably a fourth. I remember a mushroom pizza, a waitperson using a gold scraper to remove the crumbs from our courtyard table, and being certain I'd never see that in Greymouth.
I rolled back to work. My editor wanted to know, would I be contributing to the major news story of the day? Blankness enveloped me. I gripped a chair because my legs were unsteady and not just from nerves.
She looked at me. "Do you know Don Brash resigned today?"
"No," I replied. "And I will never drink at lunchtime again."
As far as Prego stories go, mine is tame. A colleague told me how happy she felt when, after a long confinement to Christchurch, she came back to Auckland, went to the bathroom at the Ponsonby Rd institution and encountered someone doing something they shouldn't have been doing on the cabinetry. "I felt like I'd come home."
And now Prego is 30.
I have a friend who remembers parking her baby daughter (now 27) under the restaurant's tables.
How had Prego weathered the intervening years? We met, on a rainy Tuesday, to find out. It's entirely possible she presented her opinion over dinner, but she speaks quietly and one thing that may never change about eating here (despite the installation of acoustic ceiling panels) is the inability to hear anything over the crow of the crowd. Maybe somebody at that long lunch actually told me about Don Brash? I'll never know. But I would risk neither break up, nor proposal, at this restaurant, for fear of having to repeat myself.
My friend has been ordering the vitello tonnato ($24.50) since before her child could talk. Her emailed verdict: "Lovely but a little fridge-cold and a touch overcooked . . . still, a delicious dish and their take of having real tuna next to the poached veal is terrific - which is why I've been eating it forever." Plus, she said, "crispy capers" and I couldn't agree more.
A generous bowl of mussels ($16) was harder work than it should have been. They needed a fraction more cooking to ensure they came off the shell easily. Under is better than over, but, I wore a fair amount of (delicious) tomato and smoky pancetta sauce in the battle for extraction.
In deference to the birthday year, we stuck to "Prego classics" for mains.
The surf 'n turf could have been a high risk investment ($42) but the eye fillet was cooked exactly as asked and the accompanying tiger prawns were enormous. Bearnaise was lick-the-plate glossy (more, please), but the "crispy" polenta wasn't really (and needed salt).
Slow-cooked lamb pappardelle ($29), with its chunks of shredded meat and herbed topping was a roast disguised as pasta and I enjoyed it even if some of the pappardelle had glugged together. Some more but(t)s: The tables are too close together - a waiter wiped out a glass next to us, because there just wasn't enough room for everybody's hips. The food was as reliably good as ever, but it wasn't exceptional. We had to repeat a request for a dessert menu. We decided to share a serve of soft cheese ($16.90). It arrived on a board loaded with lavosh and crisp fig bread. It went extremely well with that other Prego classic - another look at the wine list, thanks.