Restaurant review: Cazador, Mt Eden

By John Gardner

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Address: 854 Dominion Rd, Mt Eden.
Phone: (09) 620 8730
Rating out of 10: Food: 8, Service: 8, Value: 8, Ambience: 7

Chargrilled boar fillet with nettle, walnut, olives and crispy tripe. Photo/ Getty Images.
Chargrilled boar fillet with nettle, walnut, olives and crispy tripe. Photo/ Getty Images.

Whenever a new eating venture opens in Auckland there is a rush to its door, such is our enthusiasm for novelty and for something different. But offering something really distinctive is not the exclusive preserve of the new.

Cazador, for instance, has been running for about 30 years but there's nowhere else like it. The old fashioned decor, with its rough plaster walls hung with hunting trophies is a far cry from the designer fit-outs in vogue and the game-dominated menu is completely individual.

For those of a liberal persuasion, the consumption of meat is becoming more ethically difficult. The kale smoothie evangelists say it is bad for us and we are constantly told how producing one small lamb chop is more ecologically harmful than growing five gazillion tonnes of lentils.

Perhaps wild game is different, this meat lover hopes, although it seems likely some of the offerings here are less wild than others. The spectacularly tender pheasant, for example, was a different bird from the dark, gamey, lead-shot-infested creatures of my youth.

You can, in fact, avoid meat here if you wish, with the baba ghanoush appetiser tempting, along with the entree of fried zucchini blossom with spring onion, lemon and chervil, but I confess we didn't even bother to inquire about the vegetarian main.

It was straight into the hare rillettes for me. The presence of fat is essential with the more usual pork rillettes and as hare is notably lean, I wondered how this would turn out. Delicious was the answer, with savoury crisp Persian flat bread and a little pickled cabbage to offset the richness.

The tuatua on a neighbour's table (and your neighbours are quite cosy here) were going down very well, but we stuck to meat, choosing one of the day's specials, a rabbit liver parfait that was smooth and robust without that bitter edge sometimes found in chicken livers.

The main menu offers three meat options from goat to venison, plus one fowl and one fish dish, which on our visit featured one of my favourites, flounder. My eventual option of the boar fillet was special indeed, delivered perfectly cooked to the ideal of a tasty, chargrilled exterior with a pink interior. No messing about, just the fine flavour of the meat and a sympathetic accompaniment of nettle with walnut, olives and crispy bits that the menu informed me was tripe - again, rather different from the dish of my youth.

Our other choice was the pheasant, just meltingly tender and with a delicate flavour and accompanied by sweetcorn, polenta and a pimenton aioli. No sign of tyre marks on the bird, which seemed to have had a genteel upbringing reflected in the civilised pleasure it brought. We succumbed to one side dish of beautifully young zucchini, lightly dressed.

When it came to desserts the idea of dill icecream was intriguing although it was paired with blueberry shortcake, not anywhere near my list of top 10 choices. However, here the shortcake was light and a good foil for the distinctive flavour of the icecream, as promised by the front-of-house presence, whose hospitality, knowledge and advice were impressive across the whole of the wine and food spectrum. Our other dessert was satisfyingly rich dark chocolate and brandy mousse with an appropriately almost Edwardian accompaniment of candied orange and nuts.

The food had been good, the atmosphere cheerful, the prices reasonable, the wine choices sufficient and the service impeccable and we left feeling that, despite its years, Cazador can give the new kids on the block more than a run for their money.

Our meal: $182.50 for two entrees, two mains, one side and two desserts plus four glasses of wine.

Wine list: An impressive sherry selection tops a respectable wine list featuring family producers in keeping with the family nature of this restaurant and there is a decent range by the glass.

Verdict: If you are looking for completely different venue of high quality, this is for you.

- Canvas

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