Pintxos, pulpo and a cheesecake to (seriously) die for. Restaurant critic Kim Knight relives the glory days of a wine-soaked Spanish holiday - without leaving Auckland.
In their own words: "Iberian-inspired cuisine with curated wines and cocktails."
First impressions: Pour me something red and bring me an octopus, stat! There's a vague whiff of incense in the air, Moorish rugs adorn the walls and while it's not exactly Spain, this warm and dimly lit space is the closest I've felt to dining in Europe for a while.
On the floor: The best waitstaff notice that your table ordered both the New Zealand and the Spanish tempranillo and then ask which one won. They fill your water glass often enough to be useful but not annoying. When you wave them down with a late request for bread, it's so speedily accommodated you wonder if somehow, magically, they know you better than you know yourself. Candela has that kind of waitstaff.
The neighbourhood: Much has been written about the proliferation of great food and drink on Karangahape Rd. In my opinion, not enough has been said about the bicycle lanes. When all that great food and drink has made your edges a bit blurry, it is crucial to look both ways. The cool kids of K Rd have grown up, had their own kids, and re-emerged as middle-aged cyclists on electric bikes.
Thirteen savoury food options nicely cover the spectrum of dietary requirements and when-in-Iberia obligatories (cabbage to ribeye; patatas bravas to jamon). When even the cocktails read like they need a knife and fork (exhibit A: The Tinto - mezcal, beetroot, dill, lime and agave) you know you're somewhere special.
Best bite #1: Carnivores should not miss the lamb belly pintxos - charred meat and sweet rendered fat, smothered in hot, minty, bright green chilli salsa. If there are two of you dining, order two. If there is one of you dining, order two. Do not, under any circumstance, be convinced to share.
Best bite #2: Shellfish paella and spaghetti carbonara had a lovechild and they called it fideua. I overheard another table describe this dish as "heavy and light at the same time", which absolutely nailed it. Short strands of vermicelli-thin baked pasta were like slippery rain on the tongue; there was a deep tomato-clam background flavour and the smoky weight of chorizo. Ask for a spoon - you'll want to scrape up every little length of alioli-daubed noodle.
The jury's still out: Candela's food skews slightly sweet. I loved the crunchy-yet-cooked texture of a cabbage that had been grilled to within an inch of its caramelised life (oh, those buttery layers!), but a chilli jam sauce was more jam than chilli. We had to repurpose the lemon from the fideua to balance the dish.
About that octopus: A million years ago I went to the Iberian peninsula and ate octopus almost every day. El pulpo was a multi-tentacled gateway to paprika, saffron, proper risotto rice and a surprising amount of potato. Candela's octopus is extremely tender and comes with a sumptuous lemony-white bean puree. It takes an expert to cook the sproing out of a cephalopod's step. Honestly? I missed the chew.
On the side:
Red beetroot, golden beetroot, a cashew nut praline and a tangy, slightly tahini-like sauce. Order the flatbread from the get-go so you don't have to lick the plate.
Dessert: Remember that very first lockdown when every chef was posting pictures of burnt Basque cheesecake? And then you read the recipe and discovered it required nearly one kilogram of cream cheese and a couple of arteries? Anyway, it's on the menu at Candela and obviously I ordered it, because at this point in my pandemic journey I am practically 98 per cent dairy product and life is too short not to eat actual nirvana masquerading as cheesecake.
Perfect for: Date nights and well-travelled friends who know that you pronounce tempranillo with a "y".
How much: We spent $205 for two. (Sample prices - pintxos $12 each, cabbage $24, octopus $33, cheesecake $16.)
Candela, 155 Karangahape Rd, Auckland, Ph (09) 213 0088
Sip the list
by Yvonne Lorkin
Candela's drinks list is so exotic and adventurous it could have been compiled by Indiana Jones or, at the very least, a boozy Bear Grylls. In keeping with Candela's Spanish-Latina theme, the drinks list is captured under headings like "espumoso" (sparkling), "blanco"(white), "rosado" (rosé), "tinto" (red), Jerez (sherry), "vermut" (vermouth), "cerveza" (beer) and "cocteles" (cocktails). I suggest ordering their famous Pisco Fizz because it's the cocktail kickstart of kings, then fling yourself into sparkling to start because the Unico Zelo Pink pet nat is perfect with the jamon iberico or kingfish ceviche, while a main of grilled octopus, salsa vizcaina, mojo picon goes down a treat with a glass of Cune Pagos del Galir Godello from Galicia. When carnivores choose the succulently spicy Southland plains rib-eye with chimichurri butter, a large goblet of Callejo Flores de Callejo tempranillo 2019 is its most delicioso dance partner. I also can't think of anything more drool-inducing than a slab of Candela's Basque cheesecake and a luxuriously silky-sweet sip or seven of the luscious Lustau Moscatel Emilin. There are delicious drinks from Spain, Portugal, Argentina, Australia, France and New Zealand on offer, more than enough to romp through the comida (food) menu three times over. Bien hecho, Candela.