When he opened his Arrowtown restaurant in 2019 alongside executive chef Steve Sepsy, chef Ben Bayly (Ahi, Origine) tapped into experiences from his decade spent travelling the world – including a seminal period in northern Italy.
It was serendipitous, too, that in researching the concept for the restaurant, Bayly discovered that Central Otago and the Italian alpine town of Aosta (a favourite of his) sit along the same line of latitude – the 45th parallel. That became the inspiration for his new restaurant’s focus on northern Italian cuisine, exclusively using ingredients from the south of New Zealand.
Find the 50-seat restaurant in a textured metal building on one of the historical gold-mining town’s main streets. Inside, a long bar area runs along the right side of the room, into a semi-open kitchen where you can peek at the chefs from your table as they work. The decor is comfortable and contemporary – traditional, but not overly heavy or austere – with several glass orb lights hanging over the bar and glowing discs over the dining area.
The restaurant is known and loved for its pasta, freshly handmade on-site daily. The menu takes influences from Tuscany as well as Venice, Milan and the rest of Italy’s north; choose from sections including cicchetti (snacks), primi, secondi and contorni (sides). Aside from pasta, you might order Premium Game venison; southern yellowfin tuna crudo; Jerusalem artichokes with golden beetroot; or butternut pumpkin risotto.
The kina pappardelle is a long-time staple (the optional addition of Stewart Island pāua is, we’d say, not so optional), as are any of the filled pastas. The signature Aosta-style salted caramel tiramisu is prepared at your table on a spinning plate – a theatrical finish to any meal.
On the wine list, find a mix of bottles exclusively from Central Otago and northern Italian.
For more family-style, casual Italian eating, Bayly’s Little Aosta can be found in the laneway next door, as can his Blue Door Bar – a cosy den where you can watch live music with a drink.
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