Happy birthday Cazador!
Cazador celebrates 30 years as a family-owned business next month. The restaurant was passed down from executive chef Dariush Lolaiy’s parents Barbara and Tony to Lolaiy and his wife Rebecca Smidt (pictured above) in 2012. A locally sourced, game-centric menu has been heavily refined over the years, seeing Lolaiy crowned Metro’s Chef of the Year for 2017, and the restaurant winning Best Neighbourhood Bistro, too.
November is going to be a month-long celebration, so mark these sweet events in your diary:
A revised menu features throwbacks to early 1990s dining, with classic Cazador dishes such as jaghor baghor (fried liver, kidney and heart with tomato and coriander sauce); venison with whisky cream sauce; and Barbara’s baklava with cardamom ice cream.
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.
Let's say you've wandered in off the street, without knowing anything about Cazador restaurant. First, you might register a small, or large, amount of shock when you see what's on the walls for decoration. Taxidermy. Lots of it. Deer, ducks and flaxen-haired goats.
But then you'll notice a bunch of niceties; young fresh-faced co-owner Rebecca Smidt will greet you with a grin, posies of fresh flowers bounce out of old-fashioned vases and jars on the tables, a sign at the doorway to the private dining room proclaims cheerfully "for feasts & functions" and if you happen to spy head chef and co-owner Dariush Lolaiy in the kitchen you'll find him more handsome than gruesome - that's for sure.
It will begin to dawn on you that this restaurant, dedicated to serving game and wild food, is one of a kind, in a good way.
If this is a repeat visit, you'll probably notice Cazador has had a modest but clever re-fit. They've kept all the best features - the 70s white plaster roughcast walls, the small bar area, the street-front windows and, of course, the proudly displayed conquests from successful hunting expeditions - but velvet banquette seating, new dark flooring, Persian-inspired wallpaper and other small changes have transformed and freshened the space.