Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Serafin Tapas Bar - Restaurant Review

Ahhh, the serenity of a four day weekend.  Nothing quite like it really.  Forced holidays for those of us lucky enough to receive them (apologies to all the hospitality workers out there!).  Being such a planner it can take me a while to get an organized holiday together.  That's why I love Easter.  Without wanting or planning I suddenly find myself with respite.  With time.  A chance to catch up on those things I've always wanted to do but never got round to.  Like gardening, or cooking a big batch of stock for the freezer, or *cough* *cough* changing the oil in my car.   

Nadia and a rather excitable Michael aka Kitchen Ninja
Our weekend started on Thursday night when we joined Michael and Nadia to head to Serafin Tapas Bar in Dominion Road, Auckland.  We'd all seen recent comments from Ray McVinnie praising the establishment on it's opening night and it seemed fitting after the Tapas challenge to head somewhere to witness a Spaniards take on their home cuisine.

My wife and I were lucky to make friends with a few Spanish people in our travels.  The year before last one of my wife’s Spanish friends was holding a photography exhibition in Madrid and she invited us over for the weekend.  As we learned you should never turn down the chance for a local to show you around their home town and it turned out to be one of our favourite weekend’s away.  The way the Spanish entertain and dine out is an experience on it's own.  We had been to Spain before and eaten tapas, the bite size taste sensations that are starting to become popular here, but we did it the wrong way, going to a recommended bar and then ordering five or six different things settling down for the night.  

Eating Arroz Negro in a Madrid square
The Spanish way involves a lot more movement!  Essentially each tapas bar is well known for one or maybe two dishes.  They do this dish better than anyone else.  Your job is to tour round the bars keeping your whistle wet and tasting the best the bar has to offer before hitting the streets to the next one.  This activity starts anywhere from 8-10pm but no earlier.  After all this adventure then, and only then, you can consider heading to a proper restaurant and sitting down for a few hours to have a meal, before again hitting the town to dance the night away until the very early hours.

Tapas seems to be a cuisine that has struggled to make a foot print in this country.  NZ town geography and our dining mentality is probably the main killer in this.  No real kiwi is going to be happy with having only a small morsel and an even smaller glass of beer.  

The few Tapas bars that do exist in Auckalnd tend to go for the more western commercial approach to the cuisine.  Offering a large range of small plates for you to satisfy your hunger.  Order a couple each and then share in your companions selections.  I love this way of eating.  The chance to try multiple dishes in an evening feels almost like cheating and getting two starters, two mains and two desserts all for one.  And being able to share in each others dishes brings a real sense of conversation and vitality to the table.

For this particular newcomer to the dining scene red tape also seems to be an issue after being refused a liqour licence due to one households complaint that allowing a glass of Rioja might result in drunk people which might result in noise.  I feel sorry for Serafin.  The council perhaps get frightened by the word bar.  Perhaps they haven't been to Spain to realise what a tapas bar is? Perhaps they don't realise the community aspect of good food?  Perhaps the complainants shoud realise if they are going to enjoy living close to one of Auckland's busiest roads they might have to suffer a bit of noise too?!  Come on council.  Give them the licence.  We don't want to put a hand brake on the introduction of new and exciting cuisine.

Well placed to benefit from the expected rugby mad crowds expected later this year Serafin has made fabulous use of it's location.  With a very relaxed feel and an open and inviting courtyard I can see the place doing very well on a long summer evening.  Feeling less like a restaurant and more like an upmarket cafe it has the right feel for a Tapas bar so let's see if the food fits the bill too.

Michael suggests that we put our fate in the hands of the chef and ask him to choose us six dishes to sample.  The good thing about eating with proper foodies is we will pretty much try anything you give us!  No need to worry about strange dislikes of cooked carrots or a preference for over cooked meat here.  And it's always exciting to have a sense of mystery about what is coming to the table.  Not knowing what's going to be next to tickle the tastebuds until it finally arrives.  So here's a selection of the chef's choices and a quick review of each:

Pinchos:  The pinchos are the free bar snacks that any tapas bar offers to entice in the drinkers leaving the office on their way home and aiding them, after a few too many cervezas, on the way home!  There is a selection available and we hastily accept the delightful waitress's offer of free food.  Various combinations of typical spanish flavors sit on top of some crusty bread.  I have the spanish tortilla which is nice enough.

Patatas Bravas - Deep fired spuds served with a paprika aioli.  The tapas bar equivalent of the french fries you'd have to do something really bad to muck something this good up.  Crunchy with a soft interior and covered in a gorgeous paprika flavored aioli I would happily get another bowl.  A suitable filler to warm up the evening.

Pan Con Tomato e Jamon - Serrano ham and some dressed salad leaves are served a top lightly grilled bread coated in tomato.  A dish like this is as good as its parts and the ingredients used are quality, with the bread being especially nice.

Bombo de Chorize con Salsa de Mojo Verde - Deep fried potato croquettes surrounding a small piece of chorizo and topped with a Mojo Verde, which is a sauce originating from the Canary Islands, essentially a garlic and corriander vinaigrette.  They look good but wind up being a little disappointing with no real flavor coming from them.  Too bland and not enough seasoning.

Albondigas con salsa de Azafran Guisantes Calamares - Soft pork meatballs with subtle seasoning are dressed in a saffron sauce with finely chopped pieces of squid, a hard boiled egg, corn and peas.  the sauce has a delightfully mild, savory aspect to it that makes the dish.  It serenely carries the flavor to your taste buds, rather than pushing your tongue through the spice and seasoning door.  I'm an instant fan

Langostinos a la Ajillo - I can't enter a Tapas bar without having the Gambas in some way or another.  Serafin's offering is some simply cooked prawns in a chilli garlic and paprika sauce.  Yum.  I could eat these all night.  The hardest aspect when cooking with chilli is to get the heat just right, and this sampling is perfect.  Only getting five prawns for $17.50 seems a bit stiff though.

Paella de Mariscos y Aves - One of the most well known of Spanish dishes Paella is actually a very regional dish originating out of Valencia.  It is traditionally cooked by men around a fire made of orange and pine branches.  Cooked in huge shallow pans which give the dish it's name (paella is a derivitave of the old french word for pan).  It's a very generous serving and the rice was tasty however there was not the crunchy bits sticking to the sides of the pan that you usually get in a well cooked paella.  We all agreed that it could have done with a bit more flavor as well.  Something to lift it.  Perhaps some more saffron?  Maybe we've been hanging round Cameron too much.

Chocolate con Churros:  Fried doughnut batter coated in cinnamon and sugar with a rich milky chocolate sauce.  I don't think I have to say anymore.  Get one each.  You aren't going to want to share.  And you must drink the chocolate when done.  It would be a crime not too.

Torrijas:  The favorite dish of the evening turns out to be a booze laden french toast styled number.  Old bread is soaked in red wine, sugar, cinnamon, milk and then fried in butter to produce the incredibly tasty morsel called a Torrijas.  As it happens this pudding is a typical Spanish Easter treat.  So it is fitting that it is the dish wish makes the most sense.  The combination of the wine and sugar gives the dish a real fruity character.  Topped with some ice cream and orange rind it is a perfect finish to our evening and one which will inspire me to replicate the dish!

After that run of dishes we are all feeling content.  As for the selection from the chef: A couple of stand outs in the Meatballs and the Torrijas and a couple of disappointments.  It did feel slightly like he was giving us the standard round the world Tapas selection, rather than showing us the individuality that Serafin can offer.

The service throughout the meal was exemplary and we also had the pleasure of talking to the chef himself.  He proudly divulged the recipes we wanted stating that 'there are no secrets in cooking!'  Coming in at $120 between the four of us (sin unavailable booze) it really was good value.  While none of us were blown away by the food I would still return.  A convivial environment with food at a good price it may just be a place to know what to order and to stick to it.  Each bar doing one or two good things, enjoy it, and then move on.  That is the Tapas way.

Serafin Cafe & Bar
Ph: 09 630 0228
225B Dominion Road (actually down side street)

Food:  6/10  Some winners, some not.
Atmosphere: 5/10 Good setup but still awaiting a crowd.
Service: 9/10  Looked after with typical Spanish Charm
Price: 8/10 Good value for money.
Overall: 6.5/10  Worth a look


  1. As we learned you should never turn down the chance for a local to show you around their home town and it turned out to be one of our favourite weekend’s away.nice post thankx for sharing

  2. Twickenham Hospitality
    After that run of dishes we are all feeling content. As for the selection from the chef: A couple of stand outs in the Meatballs and the Torrijas and a couple of disappointments.nice post

  3. It can be a perfect choice for a wonderful lavish corporate dinner. I like the ambiance, the food and above all the presentation. Cool guys!!