Tucked down behind some office blocks in Auckland’s Parnell is Barulho, a Spanish/Portuguese restaurant with a wonderful hidden-gem vibe.
It leans into the more stylish side of the industrial-chic aesthetic, with small touches, such as well-placed sconces along the wall, that put it one step above its peers in terms of design.
The wood and black styling went well with the warm, inviting lighting, which made for an intimate evening.
We were attended to very quickly and seated at our table for two, menus ready and waiting.
Our server for the evening had the perfect balance of attentiveness and cheerfulness.
She knew the menu well and had excellent timing, appearing the moment we were ready to order, clearing plates as we finished and checking in often, but never lingering.
The food came out impressively fast, although not so quickly that our table became overladen with dishes.
We ordered two tapas entrées and three shared mains, plus a dessert each, which we ate over an hour and a half. The entire time, we were well taken care of.
When we came in for our 6.30pm booking, there were quite a few empty tables. By the time we left, it was a full house.
Despite this, the restaurant never felt crowded or loud, a testament to the attention to detail in the design.
The high level of service, together with the fulfilling warmth of the atmosphere, made for a pitch-perfect experience on a drizzly Saturday in mid-spring.
Barulho’s menu is divided into tapas, sharing plates and sides, plus a few dessert options, with everything sounding so good it’s tough to choose.
Order the beef empanada option and you get four big pieces, but I was a little enthusiastic and dived in before taking a photo. (Image: BusinessDesk)
I love shared dining, so being able to mix and match across the savoury courses was a fantastic way to explore what the kitchen had to offer.
The two tapas dishes we chose were the fried chicken and the beef empanadas.
Personally, I can’t see any kind of dumpling on a menu and not order it, so the empanadas were a no-brainer.
They looked absolutely beautiful, and the golden-brown promise of crunchiness was delivered on.
After the crunch was a thick layer of softer dough that ensured the dumpling-like texture was reinforced. The surprisingly moist, thinly sliced beef inside rounded the dish out nicely. Although there was the faintest hint of spice in the filling, the flavour of beef was generally the only thing with any real presence, which was fine but left me wanting a little bit more.
The accompanying aioli was creamy, heavy with garlic and absolutely delicious.
The fried chicken was beautifully crispy, if a little dry. (Image: BusinessDesk)
Buttermilk fried chicken
The fried chicken looked the part, the deep-brown coating bringing so much promise as it hit the table – it was crisp and crunchy without being too oily, and had a nice bit of flavour through it.
Unfortunately, the chicken itself was a little dry, and although the chipotle mayo was nice, there wasn’t enough to last the whole plate.
I was so excited to try the confit duck that when the server told me Barulho had run out of it, I actually let out a little gasp of sadness, particularly as we were dining relatively early in the evening.
Maybe there were supply issues – a not uncommon problem these days – so I swiftly moved on.
We opted for the wagyu bavette with charred tomatoes and chimichurri, the burrata with smoky roast beetroot and pistachio pesto, and the beef-and-pork meatballs.
The wagyu bavette was gorgeously cooked, if a little light on the chimichurri. (Image: BusinessDesk)
Cooked perfectly medium-rare, with an excellent sear, this cut reflected the kitchen's skill in knowing exactly how to treat it to create a beautiful, tender sharing steak.
The roasted cherry tomatoes were absolutely bursting with sweetness and combined with the beef to create a wonderful richness, which was cut through by the sharp and fresh chimichurri and the bed of rocket.
It was easily my second-favourite savoury dish of the night.
Everything about the burrata and beetroot was perfect. (Image: BusinessDesk)
Burrata and beetroot
Burrata and beetroot are a fantastic pairing, but the combination can be a tricky to get right. Sometimes, kitchens are reluctant to amp up the beetroot flavour, to avoid overwhelming the subtle burrata.
Barulho proved that there is no need for such hesitation; this was the absolute highlight of the evening.
As I cut open the burrata, the fresh but flavourful stracciatella curds and liquid spilled down on to a medley of perfectly prepared beetroot, tart orange and stunningly creamy roasted garlic.
The smokiness of the beetroot pervaded the entire dish and combined with the burrata, pistachio pesto and roasted beetroot juice and garlic to create a sauce that was greater than the sum of its parts.
Everything on that plate was just spot on.
The skin and "flesh" of the burrata were a little thicker than I’ve had before, which was a great decision when you are wanting to complement such rich smokiness.
If there was a single reason that I would return to Barulho, it was this dish. Epic food.
The meatballs looked inviting but were disappointing. (Image: BusinessDesk)
Sadly, the meatballs were a little reminiscent of the fried chicken, because they were also quite dry.
The cheese was too sparse and the fresh herbs on top got lost in the richness of the tomato sauce.
In fact, everything seemed to get lost in the rich tomato sauce, which tasted of tomato and not much else.
Because the meatballs were dry, I was dousing each mouthful in the sauce in an attempt to revive them – to little avail.
I am happy to admit that this may be subjective, but my favourite thing about Mediterranean tomato-based sauces is the bounty of garlic, onion and herbs, which create a diversity of flavour that highlights the tomato. But here, the tomato was just overwhelming.
Personally, I found this dish in its entirety a bit hollow.
Custard and rhubarb perfection. (Image: BusinessDesk)
Portuguese custard tart with roast rhubarb
I love a custard tart, and this was an excellent version.
The tart shell was perfectly biscuity and the creamy, barely set custard was flavourful without being overly sweet.
The tartness of the roasted rhubarb was exactly what I was hoping for and contrasted nicely with the custard, mascarpone and the small but flavourful bits of almond biscuit around the plate.
The big sprig of rosemary was a bit challenging – when you got it in the right amount, it added another layer of flavour, but I wish I had been advised to rip up the leaves and sprinkle them over.
This was a minor fault as, overall, the dessert was excellent.
Sure, there were a few issues with the menu, but I also enjoyed one of the best dishes I've had in a long time.
The foibles were forgivable among all the brilliance on show.
There was so much that I really liked about Barulho. The food and ambience resulted in a really great night, which was enhanced by a very nice bottle of Zolo malbec.
I will certainly give Barulho another visit, not least because I want to get my mitts on that confit duck.
Where: 2-16 Watt Street, Parnell.
Hours: Tues-Fri noon till late, Sat 4pm till late.
Phone: (09) 379 0277.