Phone: (09) 929 2737
As one door closes, another opens. A truism for our dynamic dining scene, that's for sure. Last month the wonderful Roxy, the flagship restaurant of Pack & Company's Imperial Lane development, closed after little more than a year of trading. This decision, from one of our largest hospitality groups, would have been based purely on business - not enough of it.
The fine dining end of the market is under pressure with restaurateurs forced into a tight space, pressed to getting it right from the start or changing tack. So, like any agile business group, Pack & Company pulled the pin on one venture but it's straight in with their next - Blunderbuss, a "new concept in pizza". I was off to find out what that meant.
The first Blunderbuss (another is planned for Takapuna) is in the heartland of mediocre dining, Kingsland. The Italian theme is lost on me - collaged walls and menus with nods to Vespas, nuns and the Mona Lisa an authentic Italian restaurant do not make - but with chef Nick Honeyman in charge of the menu I couldn't have cared less as I was there for the food.
Let me tell you about the pizza first. I think they're overstating the "new concept" bit, unless they're referring to the stands on which the pizza is balanced. We opted for one traditional pizza, the margherita, and a new invention which I had to be talked into as I am not in favour of license taken with pizza toppings.
Miss Margherita was bland - it needed salt to counteract the sweetness of the base in which, incomprehensibly, manuka honey is used - while the other, with a topping of lamb shoulder, gorgonzola and dates, was way out of balance, with the dates and gorgonzola fighting it out. It was just wrong.
We were assured it was proving to be one of the most popular pizzas, which, frighteningly, I don't doubt is true. My conclusion is, there's better pizza than this in Auckland.
But unexceptional pizza was not enough to spoil our night. Though Blunderbuss bills itself as all about pizza and vino, its real strength lies squarely with the small plates. They're like a whole different restaurant and when you remember it's Honeyman - of The Commons in Takapuna - in charge of the menu, it makes perfect sense.
He has a way with flavour so there are interesting twists, like the miraculously light parmesan custard on the small, flavoursome meatballs, the mere hint of orange in the courgette and radicchio ribbon salad that brings it alive, and the dazzlingly fresh snapper with its aioli wonderfully heavy with anchovy.
A pumpkin and ricotta-stuffed pasta is heavenly, accompanied by an inventive chickpea and tomato relish and the portobello mushrooms that come with the fried haloumi, tasted nostalgically of having been cooked on a campfire. Polenta crisps were a delicious mix of crunch and creaminess but, like a few of the dishes we ate, were overly salty, a fact confirmed when I woke in the night, unreasonably parched.
Having our leftover pizza boxed up meant we had room for a dessert - a dense chocolate mousse with a macadamia crumb, a dab of dulce de leche and gelato; good enough to have qualified for any fine dining menu.
Blunderbuss is already doing a steady trade and my guess is it will stay that way, given the drift towards dining that doesn't require too much effort. For me, places like this make me appreciate even more those eateries, not all of them fine dining or even top of the line, where the experience expands and moves you, either through dishes of such delightful originality or food that comforts and transports me to the familiar. Had I gone to Blunderbuss for a slice of Italy, I'd have been disappointed. As it is, there's sufficient fun, intrigue and comfort for a casual night out.
From the menu: Pumpkin & ricotta lumaconi $10, Fried haloumi $12.50, Italian meatballs $9.50, Tempura market fish $12, Polenta crisps $6.50, Courgette Ribbons $11, Margherita pizza $15, Angello pizza $15.50, Chocolate mousse $10
Drinks: Sangria, cocktails, Italian beer on tap