The thing with love, they say, is that it hits you when you least expect it.
I had no idea what to expect when arriving at Bastardo last Friday, except that it was started by the same folk behind Cicio Cacio in Newtown. Cicio Cacio has been my favourite place in Wellington for relaxed trattoria dining. I have a love affair with Italian food after studying the language at University. So there is certainly a natural preference towards liking Bastardo. However, all expectations were exceeded and then given a slap around and punched through the roof. Bastardo is THE place you NEED to try this Winter in Wellington. Period. This is my new favourite restaurant and I have a strong suspicion it will be yours too.
"...the most delicious Negroni I have ever tried!"
We arrived and were warmly greeted by a turn of the century New York Italian restaurant. An Italian flag and family photos grouped artfully adorned cream white washed walls. The low twisted iron lighting was as nostalgic as mamas bolognese. From the warm atmosphere, a highly charismatic front of house maitre'd, Maurizio, greeted us. It felt like arriving at the house of an old friend, as we were gathered together, had our coats taken and shown a seat at the bar. It wasn’t that Maurizio attempting to delay us - rather, the feeling was he wanted to spend time with us, expand the evening into the full experience he somehow already knew we’d love (the restaurant wasn’t full). We were being entertained by an old long lost friend we’d newly acquired - and the first thing was a sparkling Italian wine and then a cocktail.
They say that a bartender's second favourite cocktail is ALWAYS a Negroni. Fortunately, it happens to be mine too. Our highly talented bartender from Chile (Maurisio with an ’S’ - so many Mauris/zio's!! ) conjured up a thick white Manuka smoke which was infused into the most delicious Negroni I have ever tried!
After drinking the best drink of my life, we were shown a delightful corner booth table where the kitchen was in plain sight. The kitchen staff even waved at one stage of the evening, seeing I was struggling with my main dish. The first thing you should know about Bastardo is you won’t leave hungry. The portions are generous, to say the least! We tried a range of food from the menu, dining as Italians do with a Primo Piatto, Secondo (spaghetti), the main course and finally dolce. Feeling daring, we asked Maurizio and the kitchen to show us what they had!
First up for me was Beef Crudo (raw beef). This may sound like something you’d never want to try in a million years but was, for me, probably my favourite dish of the night. Finely sliced raw beef on a bed of mascarpone and with Jerusalem artichoke chips blended creamy, crunchy, rich and smooth all together in a perfectly balanced mouthgasm ($19). Matt had Octopus Pizzaiola ($17) of tomatoes, provolone and oregano. It was fresh, zingy and robust like a walk in the Mediterranean sun! Bastardo also has several dishes on the menu to delight vegans (Pasta and Beans) and vegetarians (Rigatoni Vodka). This was matched with some simply stunning Pinot Gris and Sav - a perfect delightful acidic dance over the tongue while the flavours of our food marinaded on the palatte.
Second, it was time for pasta. Deciding that well, when in Rome, eat pasta, I went for Fettuccine Scampi (Creme Fraiche, tomatoes bisque) ($35) while Matt was floored by a simply splendid Pumpkin Cappalleacci ($29)(which literally translates as ‘tiny hats’). This vegetarian dish was my greedy boyfriend's favourite of the night, a concoction of butter, sage and hazelnut cream surrounding pumpkin blend inside those tiny pumpkin hats. I loved the scampi and the rich thick paste the were swimming in, only wishing for a little more meat to chew on. The pasta was freshly made and had a real bounce to it when you pulled it away with your fork. For this course and our main, we drank Montepulciano.
Finally (we were getting quite full by now) it was time for the main event. Matt had the exquisite Salmon BBQ ($35), simply prepared, generous salmon which he was most gleeful about. ‘This is the kind of food you could eat every single day’ he remarked, correctly. I, on the other hand, had the slightly less photogenic but equally scrumptious Beef Ossobuco ($33). This dish reminded me of real Italian ‘cibo pesante’ (peasant food) which was filling and flavoursome, using up all parts of the beef. It had a sticky, sweet, gelatinous texture which was kindly offset by the simple risotto and spices. After about four or five mouthfuls I had to admit defeat and felt no shame whatsoever in asking for a takeaway bag to bring it home with me for the end of the night. It was at this point that the aforementioned chef smiled and waved at me from the kitchen, reassuring me that he didn’t mind my loss of heart over the dish. He may have even given a few chuckles. The next day I demolished the end of my Beef Ossobuco and could not have been happier with my life choices to wait to finish the rest at home.
There is always room for dessert. We really were absolutely stuffed by now but couldn’t resist the temptation for a little ‘dolce’ (sweet). The Bastardo bar cart was wheeled out brimming with bottles and little desserts to select from. This experience was made all the more pleasant by a shot of Amaretto. I picked a piccolo tiramisu and Matt had a little chocolate cake. Just the perfect end to polish off the evening.
"Bastardo is a delicious familiar old soul, with zealous energy that will make you want to come back time and time again!"
As Matt and I rolled out the door, at almost 11 pm, we had been fed and watered (well, liquored) within an inch of our lives. We simply couldn’t have been happier and were so grateful to Maurizio and his team for a wonderful evening of banter and ‘Cena’ (dinner). You could just tell from being at Bastardo that this restaurant was to the front of house staff and chefs more than a job. In the words of Maurizio “This is my home now. I treat it as my home”. You also will feel on dining at Bastardo - that finally, you have come home, and that you are being welcomed with open arms. This is dining for everyone - whether you be vegan, vegetarian or gluten-free. Bastardo is a delicious familiar old soul, with zealous energy that will make you want to come back time and time again!