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 twice- cooked 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.