Address: Unit 3, 40 Hurstmere Rd, Takapuna
Phone: (09) 489 9973
Rating out of 10: Food: 7, Service: 6, Value: 8, Ambience: 7

Even the most patriotic Colombian might admit that although their country has a high profile in some of the less savoury areas of life it is not really world-renowned for its cuisine.

Most of us would be hard-pressed to come up with a list of national dishes but it seemed reasonable to guess that, like other South American venues, El Humero, the newish Colombian restaurant in Takapuna, would rely heavily on meat.

So it turned out. This fits neatly with the current Auckland vogue for barbecue-style food.

It is pitched at the more modestly priced end of the trend and the approach certainly seems to work for them if the throng on our Friday evening visit is anything to go by.

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Set in the new hospitality hub of Fortieth and Hurstmere, the restaurant's physical layout is distinctly utilitarian, with ringside seats looking into the kitchen, where the cooks labour over glowing charcoals; or outer tables, where you sit on wooden benches - unforgiving for the less well-padded bottom.

But there is an agreeable buzz and a cheerful atmosphere complemented by very charming Colombian staff.

We were beginning to think we might have preferred a little less friendliness and a little more speed as we waited rather too long for service on what was admittedly a busy night. But the food arrived just in time to avoid a hunger-fuelled meltdown by one of us who needed urgent sustenance.

The starters provided a sign of the shape of things to come with six of the seven choices featuring meat, the one exception being fried green plantains.

We were tempted as, apparently, they are one of Colombia's national specialities but decided to stick to the meat, meat and more meat route.

I chose empanadas, which were quite different to the more familiar Spanish examples which I tend to think of as the Iberian version of the Cornish pasty with its mixed filling and pastry case.

The Colombian variant was deep-fried and coated in a crispy cornmeal exterior with a minced pulled beef and potato interior that was less spicy than I expected. The morcilla - black pudding - was much more flavoursome and served, as are many dishes, with arepa, a small cornmeal flatbread.

We are all familiar with pork belly but the chicharron here was different from the usual melting style, being fried to a crisp state reminiscent of a thick slab of bacon. A dietitian's despair but high on the taste stakes as was a really good chorizo, again with arepa.

The transition to the main courses did not bring much change of emphasis but the marinades and slow cooking techniques came to the fore. The marinated pork shoulder, according to the menu, is cooked in a wood-fired oven for more than four hours and the melting texture of the meat certainly testified to a prolonged exposure to a modest heat.

Perhaps more routine was the lomo ancho of sirloin steak, marinated and competently grilled but not outstanding, a verdict which also applied to the punta de anca described as "beef bottom round cut".

I had chosen the carne empanada, beef marinated in beer and onions, which was tender and juicy with a good smoked flavour. There is a choice of half a dozen sauces with the meat. The guacamole was surprisingly bland but the tamarind-based salsa with a touch of chilli and coriander was piquant and stood up well to the grilled meat.

The salad was uninspired and the french fries standard issue but the wedges were a hit.

There didn't appear to be a dessert menu but the portions, while not of USA dimensions, are generous and we were all loaded past the plimsoll line.

There's not much refinement about the food but if you like decently prepared meat at a reasonable price in a cheerful atmosphere, this could be the place for you.