EARLY ROME AND THE
GREATER ROMAN EMPIRE.
EMPERORS CAME AND WENT.
MEN AND WOMEN LOVED AND DIED.
BUT THE FOOD…
ITS TRADITIONS AND RECIPES
STAND THE TEST OF TIME.
ITS EMBRACE REACHING
THE CRADLE OF EARLY MAN.
PASSED ON FROM MOUTH
TO EAR AND REBORN AGAIN.
THE BIRTH OF THIS RESTAURANT
IS ALL OF ME.
THE DARK CORNERS THAT
ARE ALSO HELD TIGHTLY
BY THE BOND OF LAUGHTER
AND THE DEEP UNSHAKABLE
KNOWING OF BELONGING.
MICHAEL P DEARTH
Executive chef, Benjamin Bayly has
already experienced an illustrious
career by landing senior chef roles at
Michelin starred restaurants in
London and France (The Ledbury &
The Square, London: Restaurant
Jean-Paul Jennet, France). Benjamin’s
food is modern in style whilst using
classic French cooking techniques. He
has recently appeared on the televison
show My Kitchen Rules New Zealand.
At Baduzzi, Ben has curated a journey
from Europe to the Antipodes.
Each piece of produce speaking boldly
of its terroir. Delicacies foraged for,
tendered to, and laboured over,
proudly by generations. The cuisine
is simultaneously familiar and
Baduzzi offers an Italian fix with a stop-off in New York for styling and menu tips. It’s a labour of love for owner Michael Dearth, who also owns The Grove. Benjamin Bayly is executive chef at both eateries and his innovation and dedication shine through in Baduzzi’s rustic yet labour-intensive menu as much as in the dishes he creates at the more formal offering. Baduzzi means meatballs and here they are taken seriously. Well-seasoned crayfish and savoy cabbage meatballs served with a gutsy carrot sauce are very good, as are the grilled Wagyu versions with onion gravy and salsa verde. Other stars included buttered maltagliati with duck and porcini ragu and quality wood-fired meats. Knowledgeable staff guide you through a wine list rich with led-known Italian imports. In brief: An Italian job delivered with pizzazz and integrity.
The trouble with some top chefs is that they forget they're making your dinner. It's an occupational hazard for restaurant reviewers that they put up with all sorts of fashionable culinary nonsense when what they really want to do is have a meal. So when something like Baduzzi happens, we tend to weep with pleasure. I will endeavour to restrain myself in what follows. Baduzzi is the creation of one of the city's very top restaurateur/chef combinations: Michael Dearth and Benjamin Bayly of The Grove, which has quite rightly occupied a special place in the affections of Auckland diners since 2004. They've done so by never forgetting that you've come for dinner: Bayly makes food that tastes like food rather than some concoction prepared for the edification of the kitchen. Unsurprisingly, the same philosophy underpins their pair's new venture in the Wynyard Quarter. The restaurant is what might be called upmarket downmarket - "food of the people", it promises on the front of the menu - a place where pleasure comes first. The restaurant's name is that of some of Dearth's forebears, I assume (it is not explicitly stated), old black-and-white portraits of whom adorn the menu, along with an Italian proverb that means "you don't grow old when you're at the table". Given the speed with which things happen, that's a promise that's easy to keep. The atmosphere is classy but not at all stuffy, thanks to a handsome but understated fitout - leather banquettes, marble tables, bentwood chairs and high-mounted tilted mirrors that expand the space and emphasise its busy cheerfulness. You won't get a booking here unless you're a group of eight or more; you wait for a table at the bar, which is no great hardship. But if that doesn't appeal, it may be worth arriving for dinner, as we did, in the late afternoon rather than the early evening. I've heard it described as a meatball restaurant, which conjures up to me images of gingham tablecloths, and swarthy men with large napkins tucked into their collars. It's not like that at all, but there is a menu section called polpette, which is the Italian word for meatballs, along with the primi and secondi piatti you expect in an Italian restaurant. (There are also excellent vegetarian options). These are not Mamma's meatballs: ones made with crayfish and chickpea are delicate but satisfying, allowing the sweetness of the fish to come through; wild red deer is mixed with mushrooms and celeriac to make a big and brassy taste that would go well with a rich red wine; lamb and thyme ones have a whiff of lemon. I'd preceded this with flame-grilled sardines - why is this lovely fish so rarely used? - paired with golden raisins, pine nuts and feta. Elsewhere on the table, a salad of dreamily tender squid with a subtly tangy dressing and a superb three-level dish of veal bolognese and creamy eggplant topped with mozzarella were meeting with great approval. Space precludes my going on at great length about the chicken saltimbocca (small folded parcels stuffed with sage-infused creme fraiche) which were superbly discharged, if a tad salty; and hearty pasta dishes (rabbit ravioli, and a flat pasta with a duck and mushroom ragu). Two of three desserts were also quite sublime: a chocolate torta and a semi-freddo, sticky with honey and toffee. The evening's sole false note was the cannoli - a ricotta-stuffed pastry of Sicilian origin - whose fried dough had a distastefully fatty taste that bordered on the rancid. It's worth noting that, although individual dish prices are very reasonable (meatballs start at $12; primi at $15; secondi at $18), the servings are small, and a good feed with wine will come in a $70 a head. But there is an exuberance about this place that makes it a memorable and joyful experience. It will certainly be full long after it's stopped being fabulously fashionable. Verdict: Go now - or sooner if possible.
Sometime in 2013, Michael Dearth, intrepid owner and manager of The Grove a fine-dining restaurant in St Patricks Square that has twice won our supreme awards, let it be known he was going to open a New York-style meatball joint. Perhaps he was being modest. Baduzzi, in the Wynyard Quarters North Wharf precinct, was certainly inspired by the kind of Italian-American restaurant that used to pop up in every New York movie and, yes, it serves fantastic meatballs. But its far more than that. Dearths excellent wine list contains everything from rare wines to bargains priced around $40. Hes spared little in the highly styled decor, which features curved green leather banquettes, iron filigree and a lot of beaten copper. Its light and airy, but remarkably cosy too, when the weather demands. In the kitchen, The Groves superb head chef, Ben Bayly, has come across and exploded the traditions of a diner-cum-trattoria. His signature meatballs are crayfish, and gobsmackingly delicious. His steaks are wood-fired and bursting with flavour. Theres fish stew that sings with saffron, and a bowl of eggplant, veal and burrata bolognese that profoundly reinvents the possibilities of spagbol. And so much more: its a big menu. Its tough in this town for restauranteurs, having to compete with SkyCitys celebrity chefs and the glamour of Britomart. Michael Dearth has risen to the challenge, opening Baduzzi while keeping things humming at The Grove (both have our top rating of five spoons), and for that he has won our inaugural Restauranteur of the Year Award. Baylys work in the kitchens of both places made him a finalist for Best Chef
How many more great restaurants can possible be coming? For a while there, these monthly reviews read like a tragicomedy - canteen-grade muck and service grotesqueries; these days your humble reviewers are doling out spoons like we are volunteers at a soup kitchen. And now heres Baduzzi, which could be the best of the best. Known in early adopter shorthand as The Groves 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 youd 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 has a night off and his staff obviously hadnt 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 wasnt 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 Baylys menu is a heroic piece of work - long and lovely, its 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 couldnt 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, its cut like squid rings and littered around the plate for maximum visibility. Still, theres plenty of tasty comfort - eggplant, veal and burrata Bolognese oozes rich fatty goodness, like that 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 dont quite know how they manage that, but given that youre metres from the water in one of the most beautifully decorated rooms in the city, youd better go eat there before they realise theyve got the numbers wrong. Any complaints? I heard grumbles about stingy glass pours, though theyve listed as 150ml and, if your seeking value for money, Dearths generous list of $40 bottles should keep you happy. I wasnt so keen on the very lemony squid and white-bean salad, but there was one on every table and nobody else was complaining, so lets call it individual taste. The Groves one of the top restaurants in the city, so it didnt 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 that I hear The Grove is better than ever. Did I tell you Baduzzis open seven nights a week? Someone find Michael Dearth a knighthood.
For their second restaurant, Michael Dearth and Ben Bayly have parked their fine-dining prowess at The Grove and produced and American-Italian meatball restaurant. Sort of. Forget any thoughts of little old New York corner shop. At this hospitality powerhouse they have aimed far higher, and that is obvious in the decor, the menu and the way things are run. It is classy, it is beautiful and it is so much more than meatballs. Grilled mackerel (in place of sardines) is a highlight, as is the saffron gnocchi with goat curd - the pasta is sublime. The crayfish meatballs are very, very good; the wagyu ones - we argue about this - could be even better. A favourite dish; Buttered maltagliati pasta with duck and porcini ragu, buttercup, and pickled black walnuts.
At last there's somewhere exciting to dine down at North Wharf in the Wynyard Quarter. Owner Michael Dearth, the brains behind The Grove in St Patrick's Square, has dedicated Baduzzi, in the posh new ASB building, to his Italian roots. There are photographs of his great-grandparents and his grandparents on the menu, which bears the words "a tavola non s'invecchia" (at the table you don't grow old). It certainly made us feel young alongside people set for a great night out. The atmosphere is elegant, loud but enjoyable, the menu exquisite, the selection of mainly Italian wine excellent. We started with the polpette or meatballs, which, only a few weeks after Baduzzi's opening, have achieved rave status. The crayfish polpette arrived in a creamy sauce, sweetened with savoy cabbage, and were absolutely stunning. Light and delicate enough to let the crayfish shine through, they are the mark of true genius. The wagyu beef polpette, in their onion gravy with salsa verde, were also a knockout - tender, tasty and again light. Our other entrees included a plate of delicate wagyu beef tongue decorated with tiny flowers and salsa rossa. If you like tongue, be sure to try this melt-in-the-mouth version, delicately corned, beautifully cooked and sliced so thinly it was a work of art. Just one thing to remember, the regular polpette serving is three meatballs, so if there are four in your party, be sure to ask for one each. Our other entree (actually a main course), the fish stew for Oliver, was one of the most fragrant that I've ever tried, with its hint of crayfish, and certainly the prettiest - again decorated with flowers and curls of green. One of the nice things about Baduzzi's service is that even though there isn't a great deal of difference in plate size between entrees and main courses, they bring your meal in two servings, whisking away your entree plates and cutlery, smoothing down the table, checking your wine, before moving on, making the evening more special. By the time our table was tidied and set up for bigger things to come, Baduzzi was really revving up on this dark and stormy Sunday night. Probably not a great place for a heart-to-heart conversation, but marvellous if you want to soak up the atmosphere and go home pumped up with laughter, fun, and in our case saffron gnocchi, rabbit ravioli, chicken saltimbocca and lasagnette (tripe lasagne). All were excellent and, especially for me, the latter. Apparently Italians don't boil tripe to a soggy pulp as my mother did (and which I loved) but serve it fried and chewy, which turns it into something entirely different - and delicious, too. The rabbit ravioli, tagliatelli with fine-sliced paua and the chicken saltimbocca were also glorious. As with so many dishes, the saltimbocca was served soft and succulent, but sadly in this case, way undercooked for safety. Back it had to go. Everyone, from our waiter to the chef and maitre d' apologised, offered us another properly cooked dish and didn't charge us for it, which was just as it should have been. Baduzzi had been open only a few weeks, so I'm sure it won't happen again. Indeed, I didn't want to stop eating that fabulous saltimbocca. Desserts were splendid, too, especially the tiramisu, served in a pastry cylinder that split open to reveal that glorious mix of chocolate, custard and cream. A triumphant end to an exciting dinner.
Don't be fooled. You may hear that Baduzzi is a meatball restaurant. It's not. Baduzzi is run by the same team as The Grove. That's what you need to know. We turned up with a few kids in tow because we all know meatballs are an easy sell to kids. The 10-year-old is now a crayfish convert. The 8-year-old suddenly prefers his meatballs made with wagyu beef and served with a sophisticated onion gravy and salsa verde, thank you very much. "Food of the People" say the signs outside this new North Wharf eatery. Open the big, bright red door and step from the street into the dining room of Baduzzi and you'll sense it immediately. This is one small step for the people, one giant leap for the level of dining on offer in this precinct. The Paul Izzard design is impeccable, there's bespoke wallpaper throughout and a stained-glass window sourced from an 18th century town hall in the south of France sheds its colourful shadows into the restaurant, while a temperature-controlled cellar houses massive wheels of parmigiano reggiano and cured meats alongside some of owner Michael Dearth's precious wine collection, all of which adds to the sense that this new restaurant is serious about every aspect of providing a memorable dining experience. Everything smacks of quality, yet the atmosphere is a far cry from stuffy or pretentious. The menu, with its reasonably priced sections for pasta, polpette (meatballs), secondi (mains) and a kids' menu, gives little sign of the sophistication of the food that will follow. Executive chef is Ben Bayly, backed up in the kitchen by head chef Glen File (ex Wellington's Osteria del Toro and Boulcott Street Bistro) and pastry chef Juan Balsani. Together they're creating magic. Flame-grilled sardines, even for the non-sardine lovers at our table, are a hit. Combined with sweet white raisins, pine nuts, dabs of sharp feta and drenched in olive oil, the small fish are served on charred bruschetta and each mouthful is a wonderful explosion of contrasting flavours, creating a harmonious whole. Crayfish meatballs are soft, sweet and musky and deliriously delicious. We marvelled at the unconventional idea of using such an upmarket crustacean in such a down-home dish as a meatball but the pairing with savoy cabbage, a fine-dining grade carrot puree and braised chickpeas have Bayly's hallmark talent for innovation written all over them. By contrast, the wagyu meatballs are dripping with tradition in a hearty onion gravy, and I'd not be surprised to hear that the dish derives from an old Dearth family recipe. Kids' meals, one a handmade buttered pasta and the other a chicken schnitzel with a marinara sauce and a fried egg of all things, were devoured with no complaints whatsoever, perhaps so the bambinos could get back to doing their Mr Meatballs puzzles the restaurant supplies with coloured pens. A dish of rabbit ravioli is complex and as good as I've tasted. Plump parcels are crammed with rabbit meat and a delicate turnip puree makes you fall in love with this clumsy vegetable. Nearly as good was the bowl of buttered maltagliati, the name given to haphazard pasta off-cuts, served with a dark ragu of duck and porcini, topped with pickled walnuts and showered with a dusting of sharp parmesan. A fish stew is gorgeous with a full-bodied stock, laced with crayfish I suspect. How could we eat more? We had to, it was all so irresistible. Chicken saltimbocca comes as two neat layered rectangles, with a creamy sage sauce and inky green cavolo nero. With each forkful I was in raptures. A gnocchi could have done with less sweetness so as not to mask the haunting flavour of the saffron and the flat iron steak could have had more wood-fired cooking flavour but these were minor details. To say Dearth is a wine enthusiast is an understatement - he is obsessed with wine! As a result the wine list at Baduzzi is a colourful, independent mix of terrific mostly New Zealand and Italian wines, with a few French and Spanish thrown in. The cannoli dessert alone is worth going for. Seldom have I had a pastry shell so thin and brittle and the ricotta filling, sweetened with the right ratio of chocolate chips and candied citrus, spilled easily into each heavenly mouthful. It's hard to imagine a more perfect combination of rustic refinement than the food at Baduzzi. In the detail, Dearth has cleverly captured the essence of a restaurant inspired by family and tradition. Bravo.
To claim you table at Baduzzi we recommend you arrive before 7pm to avoid disappointment. After 7pm you can enjoy our bar while you wait, or leave your name and number and we will call you when your table is ready.
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