Words LIZ FRENCH | Images ALEX SPODYNEIKO
Oscar has relaunched as a Spanish tapas bar in a move to satisfy Tauranga’s growing appetite for small bites and the relaxed grazing style of shared dining.
Two years since opening, Oscar & Ottos’ change builds on its reputation for great food but focuses on offering a more casual experience with fresh, tempting tastes.
Introducing a taste of Spain was a no brainer for Catherine MacLoughlin and Hamish Carter. These seasoned caterers and restauranteurs have spent quality time in Spain and, during a break in their 20-year hospitality career, ran a business importing avarcas, Spanish leather sandals, made on the island of Minorca.
They spent many happy hours in Spanish tapa bars. “We found our favourite in Barcelona and went there every night!” Hamish says, laughing. “We loved the simplicity of Spanish life and food.”
In Spain it is traditional to serve tapas, their version of bar snacks, to accompany drinks. “Simple, uncomplicated food with great flavours,” recalls Hamish, adding that they really enjoyed the fun, energetic atmosphere of Spanish bars and restaurants. “Spain’s straightforward approach to life is surprisingly similar to New Zealand’s. They produce fabulous flavours without the fuss that the Italians and French often bring to their cooking.”
It is this casually professional approach that Hamish and Catherine bring to Otto and Oscar, their cafe and restaurant/wine bar ‘twins’ on Tauranga’s Strand. The tapas and Spanish theme are simply an extension of that.
“It’s also a fresh offering for Tauranga. Spain’s rich history has infused its cuisine. It has its own identity and a lot of dishes share more in common with Moroccan food than with Italian or Mexican for example.”
Testing the Tapas
To get a taste of what I was writing, I invited my very willing partner down to Oscar to test the tapas. To get a good overview of the ten tapas on the menu, we opted for the Oscar Platter, a chef’s selection for two. The ideal accompaniment to a beer for me, a wine for him. Suffice to say we did not need dinner that night. We sampled the croqueta plate, mussels in vinaigrette sauce, chilli garlic prawns, Spanish meatballs, and empanadas, to name a few—all very moreish and worth savouring slowly.
The Spanish theme permeates Oscar’s menu, notably in classic dishes like paella, as a main or for two, and rib-eye with roasted peppers served as a sharing plate, while the region’s flavours flow through the desserts.
As the days get cooler, you will appreciate Spanish sherries and robust reds on the expertly curated wine list Oscar is known for. Gin is the thing at the moment and Oscar offers some interesting takes: try shiraz infused gin. Happy hour from 4.30pm till 6pm on Fridays is a great time to be intrepid with your tastes.
But some things are not changing at Oscar, including the popular Sunday roast which offers a great way to round out the weekend with family and friends.
The twin hospitality concept has proven very complementary. Otto was set up as a daytime cafe and continues to grow in popularity, its regulars spanning local business people, coffee connoisseurs and anyone with a love for its compelling breakfast and lunch menu. Oscar starts where Otto leaves off, as the edgier evening venue, wrapping you in warmth, atmosphere and good food served with good humour.
“We’ve always aimed to be at the heart of our community, a place where everyone comes together and feels like it’s their place. Almost like the Spanish plaza!”
Maybe you can’t travel to Spain, but you can dine out as if you are in Barcelona at Oscar!
Oscar and Otto
51 The Strand, Tauranga