Amanda and Mark leave shortly to join their yacht in Panama and continue their round-the-world voyage. Honestly, the lives some people lead. What could be more appropriate, then, but to meet at a restaurant that bills itself as the first Latin American gourmet restaurant in New Zealand? And a chance, of course, for Amanda to polish her conversational Spanish.
Besos Latinos (besos translates as kisses) is tucked away in a quiet back corner of the Elliott Stables compound in the CBD. The exposed brickwork that characterises this complex lends a warm ambience and the presumably native Central American banners and pictures add to the joyous atmosphere.
Alonso, our Chilean waiter, showed us to our table, introduced himself (a gracious but infrequent touch), brought water and menus, and generally made himself useful. Amanda and I ordered the Peruvian ceviche, which was excellent.
The fish was almost raw but very fresh, and the marinade of lime juice, chilli and ginger held interest until the last mouthful.
Mark loved the chilli hit in the butter of his street-style grilled corn, while the beef in Bill's empanadas was lean and pleasantly spicy, with no chewy bits and not overloaded
Bill and I both went for the Argentinian asadito, grilled skirt steak (a cut of beef I have never been brave enough to cook in this manner) with chimichurri salsa, an artisanal pork sausage, traditional egg and potato salad and a tomato and onion salad. The steak was tender and flavourful and the sausage soft and tasty, although the egg and potato salad was a little insipid.
Amanda and Mark shared an El Che platter, named for Che Guevara's route around Latin America. It held a selection of entrees, empanadas and corn tamales or humitas, as well as tiger prawns with beans, rice and salsa. Plenty for two and well-presented.
With room remaining, Mark managed the rice pudding with prunes, coconut and port; an unlikely combination he swore worked very well. Cuban coffee to finish, made with cane sugar and cinnamon (a little bitter for our taste), and we were done.
Besos Latinos, under the control of head chef Luis Cabrera, produces unusual and interesting flavours and combinations that are seldom found in this country. Long may he prosper.
Rating out of 10
Our meal: $260.60 for four starters, two mains plus a shared platter, one dessert, eight glasses of wine and one very expensive beer ($18 for half a litre), and one coffee.
Wine list: Predominantly Chilean and Argentinian, which made for an interesting time, as they are mostly unknown to us. Our Chilean Millaman sauvignon blancs and chardonnays were excellent, although they could have been chilled a little longer.
Verdict: An exciting and unusual menu, which made for a highly entertaining meal. Recommended.