Restaurant Review: You’ll Find Phenomenally Good Food At Bivacco

By Jesse Mulligan
The seafood plate on the menu at Bivacco. Photo / Babiche Martens


Cuisine: Italian

Address: 1 Market Place, Viaduct

Phone: (09) 801 6505

Reservations: Accepted

Drinks: Fully licensed

From the menu: Shaved asparagus $23; chilled seafood $29; scampi mafadine $42; potato pizza $29; wagyu tongue $32; tiramisu $19

Rating: 18/20

Score: 0-7 Steer clear. 8-12 Disappointing, give it a miss. 13-15

I ordered new reading glasses this week, and when the lady behind the counter asked me if I’d like a non-reflective coating I replied, “How much is it?”

Apparently the coating is such a standard feature of modern lenses that it took several minutes of scrolling and mouse-clicking before she found the more basic option, but I was glad I waited. I saved 60 bucks, and the only downside is that I will ruin any photo or film clip I appear in due to the upper part of my face acting as a large mirror.

We are all, in late 2022, looking for ways to save money where we can, so it stung a bit at Bivacco when the sommelier insisted my wife and I drink one particular wine that would be a perfect match for our asparagus, and it later turned out to cost $28 a glass.

He is such a lovely talent that I know he wasn’t trying to upsell us — he just wanted our culinary experience to be perfect. But bro, $56 a round? I could have spent that cash on spectacles that didn’t make me look like a speed dealer.

The white asparagus. Photo / Babiche Martens
The white asparagus. Photo / Babiche Martens

Well, the wine was lovely. A soave, it’s one of a number of Italian varietals available by the glass (most are much cheaper) and I’d encourage you to try out at least one or two of them with the Italian food and enjoy matches that have been perfected over hundreds of years.

The above complaint notwithstanding, the wine service is fantastic and it’s great to see a restaurant invest in this level of expertise.

But you don’t suspect they’ve underinvested anywhere. This is a huge waterfront proposition, with room for 300 happy revellers. I don’t know what used to be here before Bivacco but the new business is absolutely humming, with reservations unavailable for days and a queue at the door of people lucky enough to have booked a table.

The owner, Savor Group (MoVida, Azabu), has put its best people on the job and despite the giddy pace and huge numbers of punters showing up to be fed, nobody waits long for anything.

There is a restaurant space, a bar space plus plenty of outdoor tables too — and though the various areas and unusual topography of the building create a bit of a chaotic energy from time to time, you get the feeling it’ll all settle down quickly, particularly when the sun comes out and the crowd can stretch out a bit.

This is a huge waterfront proposition, with room for 300 happy revellers. Photo / Babiche Martens
This is a huge waterfront proposition, with room for 300 happy revellers. Photo / Babiche Martens

The food is phenomenally good. Heading up the kitchen is Ryan Moore, last seen cooking fancy food at The Grove. Well, there are fancy flourishes at Bivacco too but as far as I can see he’s put aside the long, painstaking preparation of ingredients that typifies fine dining and instead devotes his energy to delivering excellence in much larger quantities.

Still, there are some show-stoppers. White asparagus is sliced mandolin-thin then fanned around a plate like a mandala, drizzled with olive oil and balsamic then served up with sheets of parmesan.

Later, tiramisu arrives at your table in a metal cylinder, which the waiter lifts off carefully, causing the creamy foam on top to pour over the structure and on to the plate like a small, delicious volcano.

But, like the best Italian, this is mostly about incredibly flavoured food, prepared comparatively simply. Victoria thought the mafadine (a sort of serrated fettuccine) was the best pasta she’d ever had — al dente to the point of chewy but with a luxurious bisque-as-sauce and generous fragments of sweet, tender scampi in every mouthful.

The seafood starter is a must-order and makes you wonder why salsa verde isn’t served with shellfish more often — prawns, mussels, scallops and calamari arrive chilled and plated like a wreath, and taste so good that inevitably the dish is all over too quickly.

The ox tongue. Photo / Babiche Martens
The ox tongue. Photo / Babiche Martens

Few people arrive at a restaurant hankering for ox tongue but Victoria knew once I’d seen it, I had to have it. Surprisingly, she loved this dish, and I’m not sure anybody who gave it a go would feel differently.

I will admit that sometimes eating tongue can feel like you’re pashing a cow, but here the thing is sliced so thin you really don’t connect it to any body part in particular. It’s cooked on a skewer with oyster mushrooms that help spread the strong flavour of the beef and mollify the overall texture too.

The kebab is grilled, I think over charcoal given the smoky flavour, but the best bit is the singed edges of the meat, which crunch satisfyingly to the bite. It comes with a dark, sweet ketchup, apparently made from mushrooms too.

Almost all of our food was chosen on the advice of our waitress who was just a small part of this giant machine, but made the night feel personal, and special. God bless good service staff — I know Savor are doing all they can to retain the ones they have, while recruiting hard to take the pressure off them too.

You’d think I’d feel sad that a spectacular restaurant like this arrived just after we finished judging Auckland’s Top 50 Restaurants, but actually I’m stoked.

Bivacco will no doubt be among the awards next year but for now it’s setting a high standard for other openings in 2023. Book now if you can get in, and enjoy being at a restaurant where labour shortages and recessions feel like somebody else’s problem.

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