Restaurant review: Cazador, Auckland
Winner: American Express Best Specialist Restaurant
Cuisine rating: 16/20 (two chef's hats)
It's the taxidermy you notice first – antlered and winged, the pieces gaze down at you from the walls. Rather than feeling macabre though, their presence invites respect – if you're going to feast on beasts, you should at least look your dinner's ancestors' in the eye(s). Cazador specialises in game, and chef-owner Dariush Lolaiy cooks it beautifully. Perhaps poussin hearts, so tender they yield immediately to the bite, tossed with lardons of bacon, the earthy green of parsley and sweet shallots. Or a perfectly cooked pheasant leg and breast, paired with sweet prawns and a smoky, nutty romesco sauce. Desserts are also a highlight, as in an outstanding plum and fennel trifle. Co-owner Rebecca Smidt is an engaging front of house and will ably guide you through your choices, from advising a Spanish sherry to complement your meal to extolling the virtues of a particular ingredient. This is great food cooked with flair in a warm, welcoming setting.