Spuntino, ‘A Quick Bite,’ is the Latest from Luigi
‘Legend’ is an over-used word, but when it comes to Italian or Mediterranean food in Tauranga, Vespa-riding Luigi Barattieri has earned the title.
The urbane but under-stated Luigi has usually operated a little under the radar, unlike some of the city’s more flamboyant and less successful restaurateurs (Unless you count a bright red Vespa motor scooter as flashy).
The Italian first served up authentic dishes from his country in the 90’s, when local Italian restaurants were somewhat ‘fake.’ Luigi and his wife launched Picola Italia in Willow Street, before moving the eatery to Grey Street. The restaurant was so successful their quietest night was 100 people, and they averaged well over 200 diners for lunch and dinner most days.
Luigi’s next project was another Italian restaurant, Vivo at Mount Maunganui, which has since been sold. Then came the up market restaurant and tapas bar, Volare on The Strand. He also found time to launch Gourmet Pronto, a business producing up to 500 kgs a week of fresh-made pasta and gnocchi, supplying restaurants in Auckland (including Sky Tower) and Hamilton. That too has been sold, Luigi admitting he had perhaps over-stretched himself. It ‘lost’ him his marriage, he smiles ruefully.
The restless entrepreneur’s latest offering is an ‘Italian pizzeria and Mediterranean cafe,’ with a new twist to the Italian dining formula. ‘We say in Italy, Mi faccio uno - I’m going to have a Spuntino – I’m going to have a snack, a bite to eat. So it’s a place where you get little things, quick things...not very formal, something quick and easy, relatively inexpensive,’ says Luigi. So Spuntino is therefore, ‘technically not a restaurant,’ but more of a trattoria (An informal Italian eatery).
Spuntino opened in January this year, in Wharf Street, in the former Shiraz premises. The menu concentrates on the Mediterranean countries of Greece, Spain, and Italy with a touch of southern France, says Luigi. ‘We are not going to get into Middle Eastern, because there is so much of that,’ but definitely Greek dishes like a lamb burger with yoghurt and mint sauce.
Traditional Italian pasta dishes include lasagne, carbonara, and marinara, which Luigi describes as simple, ‘everybody knows’ dishes. The pizzas are also Italian-style; thin and crispy bases made with tomato and mozzarella cheese.
He and his staff aim to keep the menu simple so they can cater for groups, and serve people in 15 minutes at the most, from order to table. He acknowledges, with the country still feeling the effects of recession, offering ‘relatively inexpensive, still good quality food’ is a smart approach.
If you’re feeling ‘Oh My God, I shouldn’t go out,’ you can dine out cheaply in nice surroundings without going to an ‘ugly takeaway.’
(You can indeed; the special of pasta with a creamy sauce of bacon and artichokes, set me back $15. An excellent glass of Italian pinot grigio added $7, and I couldn’t resist the home-made, delectable gelato, coconut and berry flavours, for $7.50 – Ed)
You can of course, buy Italian wine, including a well priced ($29.50 a bottle) fruity pinot grigio from central Italy. There are also reds like Chianti and Multipulciano, and Beaujolais. Italian beers like Moretti and Menabrea are also on the menu.
An appealing feature of Spuntino, softly lit with walls painted in different shades of brown and reddish ochres, is a choice of very different eating areas. The popular courtyard at the back is quaintly mock-Italian complete with shutters, and a creeper that produces a leafy green carpet along a couple of the walls.
Inside, a small, intimate room interestingly decorated with some historic Italian photographs, seats 12 to 16 people, ideal for a birthday party or similar occasion. Out front, the main roomy part of the restaurant has tables big enough to seat large groups, and there’s even a few tables and chairs outside, for al fresco fans.
Ever the Vespa aficionado, Luigi’s restaurant has decorations such as a Vespa-brand clock, and historic wall plaques – presents from a Kiwi girlfriend, he laughs. A painting on one wall shows a young couple standing beside a Vespa at the Colliseum.
The highlight of a satisfying meal at Spuntino is undoubtedly the home-made gelato, with lots of flavours to choose from.
Browny’s Brewery – Museum Revs Up with Bikes and Brews
It’s curious to think that New Zealand’s first motorcycle museum and brewery at Katikati - owes part of its existence to one at Brands Hatch race track in England back in the 1970’s. It was a great era of motorcycle racing with famous names like Hailwood and Agostini.
It was there in 1978 that Malcolm Brown - the former Western Australian motorcycle champion - was taken around a boutique brewery and cafe with motorbike memorabilia hung around the walls – including the helmets and worn racing leathers of famous racers like Bill Ivy and Phil Read, Mike Hailwood, and Giacomo Agostoni. Malcolm even fondly recalls the smells of the food and the beer brewing.
There were no bikes, Malcolm recalls, but some engine parts like Manx, Norton, AJS. He was so inspired that he told his boss at the time “this is what I’m going to do one day when I stop racing.” From then on, he kept a folder of ideas collected from around the world.
Brought up in Rotorua, Browny had started motorcycle racing in the early 70’s and followed his dream to England, of competing in the Isle of Man TT races. After jobs that included three years as mechanic for the Honda Racing Company, he moved to Perth and ran his own tyre and mechanical repairs business. He continued racing and won the 2005 Western Australia 250cc production champs on his new Aprilia.
He also gained some insight into the business of brewing – helping set up a boutique brewery in the Swan Valley owned by Erich and Gisela Masberg. Brewing had been in the Brown family, with a young Malcolm watching his father brewing beer and thinking “I’d like to have a go at that one day.”
When he left home and went flatting, Malcolm began brewing his own beer. “I tried lots of different ideas – honeys instead of sugars – can’t tell you too much – other people will do it.” He learnt brewing on a commercial scale, helping Erich produce 300 litres of beer a day. In the new museum and brewery, where his brewing machine made in the South Island will be set up, Malcolm will be brewing 600 litres a day.
Browny’s Brewery Cafe and Motorcycle Museum will start with three beers - draught, lager and dark malt, “perfecting those” before moving up to six beers. In the meantime, Browny is serving beers from the South Island – Moa Original and Weka Native Lager and perfect-sounding for bikers, Wobblyboot dark ale.
The decor is what you’d expect of a motorcyclists gathering place - not rough but certainly rustic, functional and unpretentious. The long bar is a huge slab of wood atop corrugated iron. The walls are sheets of pine and the furniture is suitably rough-hewn, with tables to match.
Bikers leave their stuff on a tall, purpose-built wooden rack by the front door marked for ‘Rider’s Gear.’ The restaurant area is spacious, with the right sort of props. Malcolm is displaying six of his own racing bikes, while he works on assembling a large collection in the museum area next door. “I’ll have as many as I can shove in here,” he says gesturing at the space. Some of the motorcycles will be on loan from locals and he will display more of his own.
A cabinet is packed with collectable motorcycle models and a reading area is furnished with motorbike magazines and books like an encyclopaedia of motorcyling. In another area, bikers can sit and watch racing tapes on flat screen TV, and there’s even a children’s corner complete with wooden motorbike for youngster to play on.
A lot of the dishes on Browny’s menu are the sort of hearty food you need after a chilly road trip in the elements. Breakfast (until 11am) features the likes of eggs on toast, pancakes and French toast. The mains include Browny’s Burgers, genuine Kiwi-style ones with beef, chicken, or bacon and egg – all served with lettuce, beetroot, tomato and carrot. If you have a big appetite, Browny’s ‘V-Twin’ runs to no less than 3 patties, egg, cheese, bacon and pineapple. If your tastes lean more to pain-fried fish, or fresh-cooked fettuccine, you’ll find them on the menu too.
Grey-haired but tanned and fit thanks to two wheels of another kind – a mountain bike - Malcolm Brown is adamant that Browny’s Brewery will be not only a centre where motorcyclists feel at home, but a place for families (gang patches and insignia are banned).
“It’s for families, Katikati people but most of all for motorcyclists. Because when I left New Zealand in 78, they’ve always been rated as second-rate citizens- we must be idiots wanting to ride two wheels when you can buy something with four.”
Malcolm Brown acknowledges the number of wealthy and respectable owners of large motorcycles on the roads these days, but insists “it’s not as bad as it used to be, but we’re still rated as second- rate citizens – definitely.”
“We are in a minority and there is nowhere in New Zealand where you can go to something like this. This is what I’m creating. A guy when he comes here with a motorcycle (or a family don’t get me wrong) can say yep, this is home. ”
Browny’s Brewery and Motorcycle Museum is sure to become, as he hopes, a favoured stop off for groups of riders on club outings. But the facility is bound to have wider appeal to families or visitors looking for somewhere different to go. Plans have been underway for a motorcycle museum in New Plymouth, but Browny has taken the chequered flag first. Let the good times roll, as he puts it.