Memories On A Plate: Why Baduzzi Is The Heart Of The Auckland Food Scene
It started out with a little ‘meatball accounting’. Two brothers at a dinner table in Connecticut, squabbling over who got the last meatball, as if they were two businessmen negotiating a billion-dollar merger. Memories of those days inspired a dream in owner, Michael Dearth; a dream of opening a little meatball shop on a street corner. What came of that dream was Baduzzi, a restaurant which preserves the earnest nostalgia that provided the original inspiration, while at the same time offering a completely realised dining experience.
As I headed through the front door with my M2 colleagues for our ‘End of Financial Year’ lunch, the first thing I took in was the immediately welcoming atmosphere. Sibling to one of the city’s most popular fine dining outfits, The Grove, Baduzzi offers a more modest, homely experience, yet doesn’t skimp on quality one bit. Stylish but unpretentious, cool but comfortable, Baduzzi impresses from the jump.
As I suggested before, the menu at Baduzzi isn’t just about offering some great food. It’s about paying homage to an upbringing where food was a constant inspiration and honouring the “respect and reverence for food” that was instilled in its owner from a young age. Every dish comes from somewhere, nothing is on the menu just because it sounds like it fits. From dishes like the delicious snapper crudo with clam cakes (which Dearth cleverly points out symbolises “predator and prey on the same plate”), inspired by weekend walks on chilly New England boardwalks; to the woodfire grilled steaks cooked on their custom made Spanish grill (which Dearth argues might be “the best place to get a steak in town”, and I think he might be right); to the aforementioned meatballs. Baduzzi is about combining a lifetime’s worth of precious food memories into one seamless menu, allowing each guest to feel a part of this unique and personal food journey, from a modest middle-class home in Connecticut, U.S.A., around the world to the busy streets of Wynyard Quarter, one step at a time, with no step out of place.
It’s a little gem in Auckland’s Wynyard Quarter. And it has to be, as Dearth admits, as the quality of dining in the city seems to rise year after year; “We live in a town where there’s a lot of competition and we want to make sure that we stand out”. Never does a waiter arrive without a warm smile and a friendly demeanor. The bar whips up an impressive espresso martini, and maybe a second one provided you promise to stay on good behaviour (which, of course, we were… mostly). Dearth welcomes you in as if you were walking into his own home and in a way, you are. The only difference is, in this version, he makes sure everyone gets the same amount of meatballs.
Our set menu kicked off with a couple of fantastic seafood ‘piccolo’s’, the first being a snapper crudo with those wonderful aforementioned clam cakes, citrus, fennel and avocado. Accompanying the dish came a story of a time and a place, as our host chronicled the inspiration for the dish, a childhood in New England where a good clam cake is practically a work of art.
Second was wood fired king prawns with pancetta and gremolata picante. The prawns themselves were cooked wonderfully and were delicious, nonetheless.
Then came a pasta dish, agnolotti of gurnard & scampi with lemon and crayfish butter. This was delicious, with a wonderful ‘melt in the mouth’ creamy texture. With that came a Karitane crayfish meatball dish, which fell particularly close to our host’s heart.
Our next course brought a change of pace with two ‘secondi’ offerings, one an OP Rib eye with creamed potato and rocket salad, the other a black truffle gnocchi with Ora’s farm mushrooms and parmesan crema. Apologies to my dad, who likes to think he cooks the finest steak on this side of the Tasman, but man. The rib eye at Baduzzi was a little (well, actually at 550grams, it was quite big) piece of magic, perfectly tender and beautifully seasoned. The truffle gnocchi had a lovely soft, almost melting texture which paired nicely with the steak that came out with it.
Finally, we arrived at dessert, a classic Tiramisu with Bailey’s and amaretto ladyfingers and a Torta di riso (which translates to ‘rice cake’ in English) with carnaroli rice, seasonal fruit and salted caramel. The tiramisu was one of those desserts that genuinely looks like a piece of art, a gorgeous beige cylinder of goodness with biscuit coating. So pretty, you feel somewhat guilty breaking it up with your spoon. Fortunately, that guilt quickly faded once it hit the taste buds and you get the reminder that the real artistry is in the taste. The Torta di riso held its own on the table next to the majestic Tiramisu, provided a neat combination of sweet and rich flavours, and a put a nice little bowtie on what was a gift of an afternoon’s eating at Baduzzi and trip back to the heart of some wonderful recipes.
Experience Baduzzi for yourself by booking a table.