Review: Altar Cafe, Mt Eden

By Phoebe Falconer

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Address: 465 Mt Eden Rd, Mt Eden
Ph: (09) 631-7184

Slow-roasted duck at Altar Cafe.  Photo / Richard Robinson
Slow-roasted duck at Altar Cafe. Photo / Richard Robinson

On a balmy summer evening (yes, there were a few) the idea of tapas and perhaps a jug of sangria appealed. Altar Cafe in Mt Eden had recently extended their hours to include dinner, so off we went.

The sign on the wall outside the old two-storeyed villa clearly stated that tapas were on offer.

For the proprietors of Altar, we have two suggestions.

First of all, bog-standard starters or entrees are not tapas. Tapas are small, shared plates of Spanish food such as patatas bravas, albondigas, squid, small cutlets and similar offerings. Fries of any variety, vol au vents, wedges and nachos are not tapas, in my book.

Secondly, at the risk of sounding patronising, but in the interests of accuracy and professionalism, if English is not your first language or you are unsure of spellings, for heaven's sake get someone to proof-read your menu.

While the suggestion that you might like to ask your waiting staff for toady's fish of the day caused unseemly mirth at our table, it does not inspire confidence.

Of course, Altar is not the only eating establishment guilty of such glaring errors.
In the absence of anything approaching tapas status, we ordered duck liver and orange pate on house-baked brioche.

Unusually, the pate arrived already spread on toasted slices of brioche but it was perfectly pleasant and accompanied by gherkins and sliced pickled onions.

I continued the poultry theme with a main of slow-roasted duck on a kumara and coriander cake with caramelised shallots and a merlot reduction. It took a bit of getting into, as a duck leg can be awkward, but was worth the tussle, and the jus was excellent. The accompanying green beans seemed to have got lost, although they were offered as a side dish, with chorizo and olives.

Bill's rib-eye steak was cooked just the way he likes it, which is just beyond the point of death. The marquise potatoes and broccolini helped soak up a well-made red wine sauce.

The rather nervous but friendly waitress, Sherry, ventured near enough to our table to ask if we'd like dessert.

We can always be tempted by a baked cheesecake, and this white chocolate and Baileys effort was commendable. And house-made.

At times too many to count, Sherry and her fellow waitress Long Xu enquired about our level of delight or otherwise, but they had to do something, poor things. Apart from a table of four and two diners in the courtyard, we were the only patrons on this Saturday night.

The old house where Altar is based is lovely, but the interior could do with some integration of decoration and imagination. The 300-year-old Spanish altar, for which the restaurant is named, is the only redeeming feature.

It's such a shame that details let the place down. In the words of many of my school reports, could try harder.

Rating out of 10

Food: 7
Service: 6
Value: 9
Ambience: 6

Our meal: $108.50 for a shared starter, two mains, one dessert, two beers and two glasses of wine.

Wine list: Short and to the point. My Allan Scott sauvignon blanc was of the standard one expects.

Verdict: Some extra attention to detail would make Altar much better than it currently is. Its location and the food are worthy of more.

- NZ Herald

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