There’s a thrilling sense of occasion as the blade of my Broggi knife theatrically catches the candlelight as it cracks the perfectly crispy skin of the pan-fried duck breast and glides through the blushing meat. Set down with a flourish in the super luxe enclave of fine dining stalwart Saggio di vino, it’s an artistic sight to behold; tender towers of ruby beetroot topped with left-of-centre, near-transparent discs of golden pickled butternut and glistening beet conserves joining a loose tangle of marinated orange fennel and flanked by fillets of the exceptionally prepared waterfowl.
Lightly gamey and meltingly moreish, the duck breast seamlessly marries with the earthy sweetness of beetroot and the crisp aniseed and citric tang of the fennel, while the salty crunch of the seriously addictive skin brings a next-level textural hit. Add an expertly paired glass of Château du Cèdre Cahors 2012 (all black cherries and dark berries on the palate, with a smooth mineral finish) fished out of one of the country’s premier cellars by sommelier extraordinaire Quentin Sansault, and you have peerless fine dining sophistication in the city. A shining star on the Christchurch dining scene since its inception in 1991, Saggio di vino has created a fine reputation with its script-flipping menu, which pairs modern European fare with a carefully curated selection of the world’s favourite wines, packaged in the refined opulence and broody intimacy of its sexily sleek fit out. Stepping into the pass as chef patron, new owner David Napier is no stranger to the Saggio legacy, having worked in the kitchen for its previous owners before heading overseas and furthering his craft in the two Michelin-starred restaurant Marcus Wareing at the Berkeley Hotel and the internationally renowned Dinner by Heston Blumenthal in London’s Mandarin Oriental. His goal now, alongside culinary alchemist and sous chef Christian Bochsbichler, is bringing Michelin-star-quality food to the plates of lucky Christchurch diners and, if our experience is anything to go by, he’s nailing it! Joining the duck in our mains is the loin of Lovat venison, a crescent moon plating of love-heart-shaped, precision-seared rare deer medallions in a light jus that are teamed with piquant pickled red cabbage, cubes of roasted kumara and sautéed broccolini, with golden-cased crispy duck fat potatoes on the side making perfect accomplices to the duck and wine match. We start the evening with the rare meaty goodness of Saggio’s signature dish of carpaccio, which sees finely sliced fragile beef fillet laid flat and glistening with sprinkles of tingling lemon oil, which soars with salty punches of anchovies and capers and the nutty sharpness of slivers of parmigiano reggiano. The steak tartare, meanwhile, presents a perfect pink disc of premium tender meat studded with bright yellow hen’s yolk, tiny mounds of mustard seeds and a crown of crispy, stain-glass wafers of baguette. It’s a revelation in its restraint and is pure magic between sips of Greywacke Wild Sauvignon Blanc 2013, which charms with hints of herbacious lemon curd and short pastry.
But it’s the fittingly sweet finale of the basil parfait that has us literally seeing stars, as had been duly promised by our preternaturally attentive, there-whenever-you-need-him, front of house host Sebastian Gonzalez. A riot of colour, the plated pretty sees perfect cylinders of vivid green fresh parfait joined by the explosive intensity of marinated strawberries (flavour is off.the.chart!), pearls of crunchy meringue, a luxuriously fierce strawberry foam, and earthen sweetness of a pistachio crumb. Quentin pairs it with the hardworking, multi-tasking off-dry Kerpen Whelener Sonnenuhr Riesling Spätlese 2012, which not only holds its own with the freshness of the basil, but launches the strawberries into orbit.
Saggio di vino
03 379 4006
179 Victoria Street