“ARISE, SIR MICHAEL”
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