Restaurant review: Bellota, Auckland CBD

By Kim Knight

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Address: 91 Federal St, Auckland.
Phone: (09) 363 6000
Rating out of 10: Food: 8, Service: 6, Value: 7, Ambience: 6

Bellota tapas and wine bar at SkyCity. Photo / Greg Bowker
Bellota tapas and wine bar at SkyCity. Photo / Greg Bowker

Is there a stupider restaurant trend than the small, shared plate? Surely, if you have to divvy-up a dish, it's better to start with more - not less - food?

The tyranny of tiny shows no sign of stopping, but if you're sick of figuring out how to stretch a single soft-shell crab three ways, then get thee to Bellota. It serves tapas, a genus that does snack-size without coercion.

When Peter Gordon opened this eatery in November 2006, it was a welcome "quick bite" addition to the central city; somewhere pre-theatre-etc crowds could scoff something more sophisticated than hot chips.

How does it look a decade later? In a word: busy. At 6pm on a Tuesday, every outdoor stool was taken and inside was heaving too.

Architect Andrew Lister won a major award for Bellota's fit-out and the aesthetic - dark, lush and adult - is unchanged. Looks, however, are not everything. Maybe you're not meant to linger, but the high stools, low poufs and straight-backed booths, are hellishly uncomfortable if you're in for a longer haul.

Start with a drink from the extensive Spanish list (with helpful English descriptors). Chaos reigned as we tried to order. The albarino by the glass was not available, the albarino that wasn't available by the glass was, but the waiter recommended the godello anyway. The fourth member of our party arrived 10 minutes after us, and still got her wine first.
I tried to order two serves of charcuterie, but was convinced instead to take an assorted platter. An attempt to get goat's cheese and honeycomb was thwarted by a recommendation to order the (admittedly delicious) deep-fried version later in the menu. The music was loud, I don't think the waiter could hear me and it was, frankly, a bit stressful.

Thank God for the food. It arrived fast and it was good. Great meat and cheese is great meat and cheese, but they were better, respectively, with Bellota's thin tomato sauce and bitter orange marmalade.

We moved on to pinxtos, those small stacks of savoury bits and bobs skewered to slabs of bread, that proliferate the counters of Spanish bars. In Spain, your bill is based on the number of empty skewers at your table. We restricted ourselves to two: beef with strips of sweet roasted red piquillo pepper, and a caper alioli, asparagus and serrano ham combination of salt, crunch and creaminess that was the highlight of my evening.

Bellota tapa. Photo / Greg Bowker.
Bellota tapa. Photo / Greg Bowker.

We kept the Spanish classics coming with croquetas, fiddly sticks of crumbed and fried bechamel that were a bit drier than I've previously experienced, followed by really well-seasoned fat garlic prawns and the empanadilla of the day.

The latter, a meaty, fried pastry, borrowed an Argentinian chimichurri sauce to cut the fat. Bellota does good sauce. Grilled beef ribs (actually a slab of tender meat lying on top of a bare bone), for example, came with a Cafe Paris accompaniment. The exact ingredients of this roux-based preparation have divided the internet, but Bellota's version is rich and mellow and we were compelled to spoon-eat the excess.

More spoons please, for dessert. And more water, thanks. And would someone mind clearing the mains plates? We finished with a citrusy crema catalana with a torched sugar top that arrived a good five minutes before the churros with caramel dunking sauce - to which we couldn't do justice.

Pro tip: the dessert plates are definitely big enough to share.

Our meal: $238.50 for four (eight tapas, charcuterie plate, three desserts, six wines).
Verdict: Sophisticated small bites (don't miss the pinxtos) for people with places to be.

- Canvas

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