BayBuzz hasn’t been in the biz of doing “reviews” of cafes and restaurants.

But we’ve been so impressed by the buzz at Pipi’s in Havelock North — buzz undiminished after almost eighteen months — that we couldn’t resist inquiring into its secret.

So as wonderful as the flounder, cappricciosa pizza and apple crumble are, this is NOT a review … it is an inquiry.

On the surface, it seems pretty obvious … fantastic atmosphere matched with great food. But exactly what is it about that combination at Pipi’s? And why is it a formula that seems to be so lacking in the area?

Too many of the other choices in the area fit one of the three “P’s” — pretentious, pedestrian, or pubfare. Pipi’s seems to have discovered — and for the moment, uniquely occupy — a niche that is grounded in relaxed enjoyment of simple but high quality food.

The experience is delivered by co-owners Chris and Alexandra*, and their chief aide-de-camp Carina. I interviewed Alexandra and Carina.

When Alexandra said, “I want people to feel like they are eating in my own home … I want them to have a sense of ownership … not to feel like they’re in someone else’s space,” I began to see the secret. Then Carina relaxed her shoulders with exaggeration and added, “without pretention and without fuss.”

If you’ve eaten at Pipi’s, doesn’t that nail it?

Think about it … you get your own beer and sodas … you set your own table, often a shared one … on a busy night (which is most nights) you can be elbow-to-elbow with just about anyone … if you’re at the drafty table you shut the door out to the loo … you could probably help in the kitchen if you felt like it.

I grew up just outside New York City amidst lots of big extended Italian families … and nothing was more enjoyable than walking in the door (usually the kitchen door) at my closest friends’ homes and being swallowed by conviviality and smothered in fabulous smells.

That’s what happens when you walk in the door at Pipi’s … call it Kiwi-Italian.

Now Alexandra probably will be alarmed by the term “Kiwi-Italian.” As she sees it, Pipi’s is offering a dining experience, not an ethnic cuisine. But with my past immersion in Italian home cooking, I find it impossible to separate the anchovies from the ambiance.

In fact, as I write this, I’m wondering whether Pipi’s appeal to me is unique, given my personal history. But then I picture everyone else I’ve seen there enjoying the place with gusto. And realise that there’s an “inner-Italian” in each of us … at least the lucky ones.

Is there anything they could do to enhance the Pipi’s experience? Just let us come in through the kitchen door … and never run out of flounder!

Tomasio

*Interestingly, all this is delivered by proprietors with no formal training in the “hospitality” biz, though Chris and Alexandra have nurtured customers in Sydney, Wellington and Greytown. Makes you think, either you’ve “got it” or you don’t. Watch for their in-store brand, Poesy, at the New World. That’s another story that maybe Mark will tell some day.

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