Phone: (09) 6208730
Book online with Restaurant Hub
In Stewart Island last month, I chatted to a bloke who was in the process of shouldering a pack and a very large, rather handsome rifle. He and a mate were heading into the bush for a week.
The conversation would not have been remarkable except that bad weather was expected (I don't think he knows what weather is) and he said he would be hunting deer and he didn't like venison.
"It's all right if you stew it, I suppose," he said, as if talking about survival rations. I can assume only that he enjoyed sitting in the rain. Or shooting things.
I am less adventurous. I can not like venison in comfort. I have not liked it in several places, including the THC Tokaanu back in the 80s, where it was served with blueberries (my bad for ordering it; meat and fruit are not made to go together).
I could have not liked it at Cazador, too, where it was being offered a couple of weeks ago marinated with anchovy before being chargrilled and served with turnips, braised grapes and lemon but . . . see previous sentence. Anyway, I've concluded there ain't enough fat in venison: you can have it either moist or cooked, not both.
Fortunately, there are other options on Cazador's small, neat menu, including a bresaola of, er, venison, which works quite beautifully. It comes as part of an excellent charcuterie platter that, on the night we were there, also featured duck parfait, boar-and-prune terrine and hare-and-porter rillettes. Such platters are deeply depressing most of the time, a grab-bag of pickles, meats and cheeses peeled from packets, but if you eat at Cazador, you should on no account miss it.
Despite its unprepossessing position between Balmoral and Mt Roskill, Cazador is a veteran: founded in the late 80s by Tony and Barbara Lolaiy (the name is Iranian) it was taken over about five years ago by their son Dariush, who presides in the kitchen and his wife Rebecca Smidt, who is a warm and welcoming hostess.
Old-time fans will be pleased to hear they've retained the rough-plastered hacienda interior, now so dated it's almost hip, and the stuffed wildlife still gazes dolefully from mounts and perches. But the menu is leaner and smarter.
They've lost the Iranian specialities and crowd-pleasers like lamb shanks and pepper steak in favour of a chef's treatment of game meats that is, in my experience, unique in the city. Sensibly, there are some decent choices, including a dedicated main, for any vegetarian hangers-on: but this is really a restaurant for people who accept that if you're going to eat, something has to die.
I rather wish I had tried the poussin hearts, the only organ-meat choice on the menu, but I was intimidated by the sound of the word "platter" in our shared entree.
My fabulous main course consisted of slices of perfectly rare-roasted hare saddle, with lentils and cardamom lending the Iranian touch. But a watery rabbit tagine did not really deserve the name: it reminded me of nothing so much as my late mother's endless winter soups - nourishing and warming, but not a dish.
Metro named Lolaiy best chef in Auckland last month, a quite ludicrous decision given that the list of finalists included Ed Verner at Pasture (unquestionably the most interesting chef to emerge in the past year) and Ben Bayly at The Grove. I hope it doesn't put too much of the heat of expectation on Lolaiy.
Cazador is an excellent, distinctive local restaurant that improves on its parent. Expect no more and you'll be thrilled.
Platters $30 for two, $60 for four; entrees $16.50; mains $35; desserts $13.50