Though working in the glamorous French ski resort of Chamonix, surrounded by towering peaks and the pick of the Alps, it was the small Italian town of Aosta nearby that captured Ben Bayly’s young imagination. Drawing on that, Bayly has now brought the tastes and flavours of northern Italy to central Otago with his latest venture in Arrowtown, fittingly named Aosta.

“Both regions share the same latitude,” says Bayly (have a look at the smart graphic on the Aosta website, aosta.nz). “It’s a Goldilocks line for food and wine. I see a lot of synergies in the terroir, the schist, the hills and the cool continental climate. When I’m in Arrowtown, looking at the rocks, the hills and the trees I think, ‘Man, I could be in Italy right now.’”

Although Arrowtown and Aosta are geographically separated by about 19000km it’s not a big leap – both towns are rooted in history, settled firmly in an alpine landscape and are steeped in a food culture based on drawing out the best from what is grown, raised, caught and foraged locally.

Teetering on the border of Italy, France and Switzerland, the town of Aosta comes drenched in history and cultural comingling. From Roman roots, Aosta ping-ponged between the houses of Burgundy and Savoy in the Middle Ages, assimilating French, Italian and even German-speaking Walser influences, all of which shine out today not least in the kitchen.

“Aosta is very much a New Zealand restaurant,” Bayly explains, “though it blends north Italian techniques and traditions with produce almost exclusively from this region.” For instance you see the northern Italian heritage in a ravioli, but it’s stuffed with wild rabbit cooked in pinot noir and flavoured with wild thyme, all from Bannockburn.

This is the just the latest venture for Bayly whose roll call of previous successes include being named New Zealand Chef of the Year twice while at the helm of The Grove, serving as executive chef at Auckland’s Baduzzi, and most recently owner and executive chef of The Grounds in West Auckland.

Partnering with businessman, jeweller, philanthropist and Arrowtown local Sir Michael Hill, the two called upon the skills of award-winning local architect, Anna- Marie Chin, to renovate the building and create a sanctuary that doesn’t turn its back on its raw surroundings. Big chunks of white marble and little hints of gold reference the history of both regions, with midnight blue tones, rimu flooring and a big open fire warming the 50-seater dining room.

“It’s refined,” says Bayly, “but still peasant food.” Very well-fed peasants, though.
aosta.nz

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