CHRISTCHURCH

Cuisine - - RESTAURANTS - JAX HAMIL­TON

The Bird­wood

14.5/20

76 Mal­colm Av­enue, Beck­en­ham, Christchurch 03 332 3256, the­bird­wood.nz Din­ner 7 days, mains $20-$40

THE BIRD­WOOD IS a bea­con in the night while all around is sepia, sleepy and quiet. En­ter this food nest through the dou­ble doors, how­ever, and the sur­prise is the cap­ti­vat­ing buzz, warmth, and heady yeast aro­mas from the pizza oven.

The ‘fresh, sea­sonal and lo­cal’ prom­ise is car­ried across both parts of this twin es­tab­lish­ment, which is a cafe by day and a pizze­ria at night.

Dur­ing the day The Eatery has ex­quis­ite cof­fee, cab­i­net food, a small menu and im­pec­ca­ble ser­vice. Light, airy and a ver­i­ta­ble time muncher, one minute it’s 12pm the next it’s clos­ing time.

Then come four o’clock, with the oven stoked, The Pizze­ria opens its doors to a cross-sec­tion of evening pun­ters look­ing for a plate of beau­ti­fully pre­sented Ital­ian fare.

Where The Eatery is bright and mod­ern, The Pizze­ria has a dark magic. It’s a nar­row res­tau­rant with a mix of ta­bles and leather booths and in the back (past the belly of the roar­ing oven), a gag­gle of closely placed, high wooden ta­bles, from which to view and sali­vate over the steady pa­rade of freshly baked, thin-crust piz­zas.

Once seated and wa­tered it was straight down to busi­ness. A small but im­pres­sive drinks menu boasted lo­cal beers from Three Boys and Cas­sels, as well as wine from Cen­tral Otago and Hawke’s Bay. My choice, a glass of Veuve Du Ver­nay Brut Rose – be­cause all girls like pink bub­bles – and for

him, a warmed stem­less glass from which, with ev­ery swirl, a Pere­grine Pinot Noir ar­ro­gantly teased with a hint of vel­vety dark cherry and al­mond nose – cheeky and se­duc­tive.

The menu is very easy to nav­i­gate and piz­zas are are ei­ther Le Pizza Rosse (tomato base) or Le Pizza Bianche (béchamel sauce base). Also on of­fer are ve­gan, veg­e­tar­ian and gluten-free al­ter­na­tives.

As well as pizza, there are primi – a selection of fresh pasta and gnoc­chi (check out the gnoc­chi dish of slow-cooked lamb, swiss brown mush­rooms, lar­dons, kale and red wine with salsa verde).

I’m not a huge fan of eggplant but al­ways ready to be con­vinced, so our choice to start from the an­tipasti was mar­i­nated and grilled eggplant with but­ter­nut squash, whipped ri­cotta, chilli, pesto and gi­ant basil leaves. Yup, now a to­tal con­vert, hav­ing de­voured this im­pres­sively ro­man­tic plate of fresh and sea­sonal good­ness. Each com­po­nent gently al­lowed the next to shine, with a hint of chilli to re­mind us the dish has plenty of sass.

From the sec­ondi I or­dered the twice­cooked pork hock, creamed cele­riac, wa­ter­cress, kale, chicory and ap­ple salad. This is a hugely im­pres­sive dish, with the ten­der, sweet and juicy hock cooked sous vide then roasted, and en­closed in fierce crack­ling that I just couldn’t – for the love of try­ing – fin­ish. The bit­ter­sweet salad, a di­vine mouth cleanser, was a per­fect part­ner to the rich, lo­cally sourced meat. Scooped up on top came my ab­so­lute favourite, a wal­lop of flavour­some creamed cele­riac.

I have to say how­ever, that the dish of the night, or­dered by my fel­low diner, was freshly caught Akaroa floun­der, baked whole with salsa verde, soft herbs, but­tered new pota­toes, fen­nel and lemon salad. Cooked to per­fec­tion, moist, juicy, flak­ing eas­ily from the bone and full of freshness, one fork­ful and I was in love and will re­turn for my own plate (which I won’t share).

From the beau­ti­ful ac­cents of the dis­creet Euro­pean staff, to the spoon-lick­ing, per­fectly bal­anced tiramisu, The Bird­wood has a lot to say, with­out say­ing too much at all.

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