Herald rating: 3.5/5
Address: Federal St, opposite SkyCity Grand Hotel, City
Phone:(09) 363 6000 Website: skycity.co.nz
Open: Daily, 4pm till late and from midday till late on Friday
Cuisine: Spanish tapas
It was an impromptu get-together. Three sisters each with a night free. The same night. A rare occasion.
We'd meet in town. Have a drink. Grab a bite to eat. See where the night took us.
Starting point? Bellota (pronounced 'Bey-oh-ta') - Peter Gordon's tapas bar tucked away under SkyCity. Time? 7pm.
It's Thursday night, and when we arrive the bar is full. A boisterious after-work crowd rubs shoulders with theatre-luvvies dressed in their finery enjoying a drink and tapas before hitting a show at the nearby SkyCity theatre (Four Flat Whites In Italy, Roger Hall's latest play. Bellotta no doubt getting them in the European mood for "the holiday from hell").
We squeeze to the bar, nab some stools and order bubbles. Why not? This is, after all, a rare occasion. The Musa de Vallformosa Brut is suitably dry, light and alluring. Saludos, my sisters.
Our request for one of the small tables is duly noted by the calm, efficient front-of-house, Marcia Hebling. Who reassures us in her alluring Brazilian accent that it won't be long. Indeed, before we have time to finish our first drink, she is guiding us to one of the intimate booths where we are cocooned from the action but are still able to watch the comings and goings.
The theatre crowd soon goes and the bar quietens to a gentle buzz.
Architect Andrew Lister's design of the bar - with its warm, dark wood flooring, orange and brown leather seating, red-brown textured walls and teardrop mood-enhancing pendant lights - which won awards when it opened, still holds it own and gives Bellota a feeling that you could be tucked away in a side-street bar in Madrid.
A jug of sangria is ordered next. A little too cold for a winter's night, but we laugh and reminisce about holidays in Spain where we would drink sangria like water. With a tapas menu in front of us, it is hard to resist ordering a few nibbles. And, as we moved onto more palatable glasses of Armantes Old Bush Vine, Garnacha 2006 and Nekeas Viura, Chardonnay 2006, the unanimous decision is we stay put, and make a meal of the tapas.
While there is the option of Tapa Grande with more substantial servings, we want to mix things up a bit. We take turns choosing what tickles our fancy from the extensive menu, which draws inspiration not just from Spain but other countries on the Mediterranean and, of course, New Zealand. The dishes arrive on the table at a suitable pace, and are cleared efficiently to make room for the new. (An important touch when eating tapas, there's nothing worse than being surrounded by piles of plates.)
The deep-fried goat's cheese with runny honey is a Bellota must. Smoked salmon, anchovy and piquillo peppers pintxos (served on bread) hits the spot, while the beetroot and red onion relish with creamed goat's cheese pintxos works wonderfully to refresh the palate. The patatas bravas with aioli is delicious and a substantial serving, as is the polenta-crusted, deep-fried calamari. And then there's the hearty portions of succulent pork belly.
The conversation flows as smoothly as the service and, as we talk into the night, there's no sense of having to move on. We're comfortable, warm, relaxed and feeling... a little decadent. We turn to the page headed "Dulce Dulce" or "Sweet Sweet" and can't resist sharing the Spanish version of creme brulee - crema Catalana. And a budin de pan - a bread and butter pudding with red wine poached pear and whipped cream. Mmmm. The desserts are worth coming here for alone. Perhaps, after the theatre, I make note for the future. They are served with a delicious coffee cortado - a macchiato with condensed milk.
Well, we haven't painted the town red tonight. Bellota's warm embrace was too hard to leave. The sharing of tapas has added an extra intimacy to our evening together - a rare occasion we vow to repeat soon.
From the menu: Deep-fried goat's cheese with runny honey $10.50. Freedom Farm organic crispy pork belly, creamy nutmeg mash, sherry-glazed onion and pomegranate jus $22.50. Budin de pan, a bread and butter pudding with red wine poached pear and whipped cream $10.50.
Vegetarian: Plenty of delicious options. Try the Tapa Grande sundried tomato and olive-braised puy lentils topped with goats' cheese and served in a roast capsicum with Catalan spinach and grilled courgette $20.50.