Cnr Jellicoe St and Fish Lane, North Wharf. Ph 309-9339, baduzzi.co.nz
Hours: Breakfast, lunch and dinner weekdays, lunch and dinner weekends.
Dinner bill: Piccolo & polpette, $12-$20; primi $16-$22; secondi $22-$32; desserts $13-$14.
How many more great restaurants can possibly be coming? For a while there, these monthly reviews read like tragicomedy — canteen-grade muck and service grotesqueries; these days your humble reviewers are doling out spoons like we’re volunteers at a soup kitchen.
And now here’s Baduzzi, which could be the best of the best. Known in early adopter shorthand as “The Grove’s new meatball place”, it is in fact an epic, beautiful marriage of Italy and New Zealand, of home cooking and fine dining, of the rare and the commonplace.
My first visit went how you’d possibly expect dinner to unfold for an anonymous reviewer who happens to be on TV each weeknight at 7. The owner, Michael Dearth, greeted me like an old friend, took me to a great table and gave me individual attention all evening.
Next time, though, Dearth had a night off and his staff obviously hadn’t studied up the photos of reviewers he, legendarily, posts in the kitchen for everybody to memorise. It was a full house and at our request we waited at the bar, eventually being shown to the worst table in the room.
And what an easy narrative it would be if the service on that second visit wasn’t up to the same standard. But it was better: attentive, assured and full of personality. The poor maître d’ — when I paid my bill and told him I was from Metro, there was really no reason for him to look like he was having a heart attack.
Ben Bayly’s menu is a heroic piece of work — long and lovely, it’s got that wide-ranging scope you see in all the worst Italian places, though mercifully without the pizzas. But while usually such a list is an attempt to please everybody, this one is more like the work of a chef who has so much good stuff he wants to feed you, he couldn’t possibly bring himself to edit.
Unlike much restaurant-Italian, the flavours are restrained — saffron sings in a fish stew broth, a T-bone steak comes wood fired and condiment free, and lasagna is served with tripe that would have been so easy to hide in a jammy tomato sauce; instead, it’s cut like squid rings and littered around the plate for maximum visibility.
Still, there’s plenty of tasty comfort — eggplant, veal and burrata Bolognese oozes rich fatty goodness, like what the Queen would get if she ordered a mince- and-cheese pie on room service.
Incredibly, prices are good. Multiple courses, expensive ingredients like crayfish, paua and porcini, paired with wines from around the world and the pair of you will leave stuffed and tipsy for under $250. I don’t quite know how they manage that, but given that you’re metres from the water in one of the most beautifully decorated rooms in the city, you’d better go and eat there before they realise they’ve got the numbers wrong.
Any complaints? I heard grumbles about stingy glass pours, though they’re listed as 150ml and, if you’re seeking value for money, Dearth’s generous list of $40 bottles should keep you happy. I wasn’t so keen on the very lemony squid and white-bean salad, but there was one on every table and nobody else was complaining, so let’s call it individual taste.
The Grove is one of the top restaurants in the city, so it didn’t surprise me that this place was good too. What surprised me was how different it was: a new formula, a new energy and despite all the action on the waterfront, from what I hear The Grove is better than ever. Did I tell you Baduzzi’s open seven nights a week? Someone find Michael Dearth a knighthood.