Address: 65A Mackelvie St, Ponsonby
Phone: (09) 360 1260
Rating out of 10: Food: 6, Service: 6, Value: 7, Ambience: 7

This was my second visit to Pintxos. Last time, we tried it for lunch and found the little tapas bar tucked behind the corner of Mackelvie St and Ponsonby Rd was charming, interesting but almost impossible to categorise. Do four or five open-sandwich-style tapas on toothpicks add up to lunch? Our decision: yes, especially when they're served with an excellent glass of wine.

This time, heading to Pintxos for dinner on a wild winter's night, we were hoping for something more substantial, but it was not to be. Pintxos sticks to its Basque roots - that is, tapas, known as pintxos in the Spanish north, which come on a slice of bread held together by a skewer or toothpick. All add up to two-to-four mouthfuls and most are served cold.

The upside was the friendly service, the relaxed patrons I remember from the days when Ponsonby was unpretentious and arty, the contrived but pleasant European feel of the place and the excellent wine, poured lustily into big glasses. My sample of pinot gris tasted just right and was immediately topped up.

Apart from that there's almost no service. The barista looks after the bar, the on-duty chef wanders out occasionally with another round of pintxos, and when you feel peckish you saunter over to the cabinet and choose a selection to bring back to the table.


We started with three plates selected by Barb. They were all delicious: curly-sliced salmon on bread; skinny parma ham on a swirl of butternut mash, on bread; sweet tomato drizzled with oil on bread; a tiny, barely set quail egg resting on jamon serrano, on bread of course; and my personal favourite, sweet beetroot topped with a creamy mousse and crisp-baked walnuts that worked brilliantly together.

Another high point were the curls of roasted chorizo sausage pintxos the chef brought out halfway through the evening - and which disappeared in a flash. Sadly this didn't encourage him to bring more, though later - and almost as exciting for Brian - came the pork belly pintxos. Is there no restaurant in Auckland that does not feature pork belly?

This version was perched on a smear of gravy covering the white bread. Brian's verdict: "Too fatty".

The unusual thing about this method of dining is that you have little idea of how much you have consumed until suddenly, all that bread expands in your stomach and the game's up. By then we calculated we'd eaten about 10 pintxos each, which, if clustered together, would fill dinner plates all round. Then we counted the little skewers, which is the way they charge you per pintxos, and realised we'd eaten even more. Indeed, five of us devoured 47 small pintxos and 11 large ones, at $2.50 and $3.50 respectively, as well as two enormous pieces of caramel square (which surely cannot be a Basque favourite).

Physically, Pintxos is seriously funky. You can sit out front on the veranda (way too cold for us but some hardy types were having a great old time), alongside the bar, which is cosy and close to the food source (our choice), in the alleyway, in the back courtyard, which is open to the stars, or in the cool-cat back sitting room with its dining table, comfy-looking couches and 50s-style paintings and lamps. Altogether we had an excellent evening. The atmosphere was casual, all wines were excellent and served with enthusiasm. The other patrons were having fun, helped by our barista. As Bob said, "Very young, very New York, very Andy Warhol."

The one catch was that despite the enormous quantity we ate, none of us actually felt like we'd had a proper dinner. It would have helped if the bread part of each pintxos had been a crusty Spanish variety, but instead it was soft and bland. However, if you're after pre-dinner appetisers or a late-night snack, this is the perfect place to eat and drink in a little corner of Ponsonby that remains unpretentious, funky and fun.

Our meal: $223.00 for 47 small and 11 larger pintxos, plus seven hearty glasses of wine.

Wine list: A good line-up of local favourites alongside Spanish wines and beers.

Verdict: A semi-successful attempt at authentic Spanish cuisine that'll bounce you out of your stale routine. Worth a try.