The rain was coming down in curtains the night we made a mad dash for Papa's Italian Eatery.
Outside: misery and mayhem. Inside: garlic, melted cheese and a family playing Uno at a table by a fireplace. Frankly, I wanted to sleep over.
Papa's is a Tardis-like space that starts with a squeeze past the kitchen and the cash register and opens up to a tiny dining room and a bigger, fairy-lit courtyard. On busy nights, there are more tables upstairs.
Throughout, the vibe is laidback and relaxed. It's dinner-at-a-mate's-place, assuming your mate has a recipe for ravioli filled with slow-cooked pork and served with apple cider reduction and (be still my beating heart) crackling.
Papa's used to be all about the pizza. It's still there, but they've diversified into more things delizioso. If I'm honest, it was that pig with pasta ($25) that prompted me to book a table for two on a rainy Tuesday.
Yes, you can book. And yes, ravioli-loving rugby-heads, you can book on game night. Papa's is on the Sandringham Rd side of Eden Park and is, in my humble opinion, a far better pre-match option than over-priced chips with watery sauce.
The newly expanded menu says "handmade, rustic Italian food". There's an emphasis on slow-cooked meats (including a braised lamb pappardelle), alongside a fish of the day (groper, when we visited) and steak, via a scotch fillet with lentils.
The dish I plan to eat next time, because there is a fine line between doing a menu justice and continuing to keep your pants buttoned, is a particularly delicious sounding chicken picatta with capers, lemon and fried polenta ($26).
In the cosy dining room with the candle-in-the-Chianti-bottle aesthetic, we started with arancini ($4 each). Crisp on the outside, not too dry on the inside, we paid the extra dollar to drape the rice balls with salty, chewy prosciutto and, together with a dish of tender, very sparingly battered calamari ($14), it was the perfect little entree.
But I was so glad we'd ordered the mini meatballs ($14). "Mini" was actually a bit of a misnomer. Five decent-sized pork and beef mince balls were drowning in a deliriously cheesy tomato soup-like sauce.
At the time of writing, Auckland was clocking 21C and 92 per cent humidity at 3am, but should winter even make a cursory nod in the city's direction, this is the dish to salute it with.
Of course we were going to have pizza (although, for the record, we are never going to have the butter chicken pizza). They add a little wholemeal to the dough to ensure a robust crust, and, while I would have liked a few more mushrooms, the generous piles of meat on our prosciutto ai funghi ($25) kept a carnivorous companion very happy.
And then that ravioli. Sunday roast in a soup bowl. The pasta wrapper could have been rolled a little thinner, and a hotter plate would have held the sauce at a more optimum temperature, but the filling was meaty and flavoursome, and the cider reduction was a smart, sweet-meets-tart choice. The crackling? Can't talk now, my mouth's full.