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