Tapas eatery to ‘fill little gap in market’

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The owners of Restaurant 1861, based in Casa Nova House, have decided to “bite the bullet” and open, regardless of Covid-19.

The new eatery opened on Wednesday, on the ground floor of the heritage-listed Oamaru stone building, which was completely restored and had been running as a boutique bed and breakfast since March.

The building was bought by Brenda Laverick and Katrina McLarin, who moved south in 2019 from Pukekohe, where they own another restaurant.

Restaurant 1861 will specialise in tapas – a Spanish style of eating with smaller dishes that are shared at the table.

“The heart of tapas is to share the meal, family-style, and I really do think you actually talk and engage more over a family-style meal,” Ms McLarin said.

“So all of the dishes, when they come out, we recommend for example if there were two people, that you might order between four to six dishes depending on how hungry you are, and then you share the meal.”

Although the style of eating was Spanish in origin, the produce was as local as possible.

High country salmon was used in a ravioli with a Tuscan buttered sauce, or Whitestone Cheese’s Vintage Five Forks added a local twist to what was traditionally a pear and Manchego cheese salad.

“So we’ll have some traditional Spanish favourites too, like croquettes. We do a caramelised onion and cheese croquette, which is really, really tasty.

“It’s quite simple food, made flavoursome, if that makes sense. That’s really the heart of tapas.”

The restaurant was licensed to seat 30 at any one time, or up to 50 for a private function. It would be open for evening dining from Wednesday to Saturday, and lunch on Sundays, Ms McLarin said.

“We’re hopeful we’ll be supported enough to do two sittings a night … Each table has a two-hour dining slot, which for tapas is a lot of time.”

The restaurant would fill a “little gap in the market” to complement existing eateries.

“The great thing is that you get to dine in a 160-year-old historic building, which would otherwise not normally be open to the public to see and experience.”

Ms McLarin hoped the interest that had been shown in the restoration of Casa Nova would transfer into support for their latest venture.

They were more than happy to show people through the town’s first Oamaru stone building, when possible.

“A lot of people don’t realise that, they forget the significance of Casa Nova, and the role it played in the history, and in the heritage of Oamaru in the town.”

The pair also own a restaurant in Pukekohe, which they had chosen to keep closed under Alert Level 3 restrictions, so they were grateful things had opened back up in Oamaru.

“Two years in a row, Covid has affected us. It impacted on us not opening last year. By the time our various licences came through we were so close to winter, we decided to wait, and then who would have foreseen we would lock down again,” Ms McLarin said.

“The reality is, I think we’re going to be dealing with Covid for a long time to come. So, the rules around Level 2, we’ll be strictly adhering to.

“It’s certainly not an ideal situation to be opening a restaurant in, but at least it’s workable, and by the time we open, we could be, the South Island, at Level 1, fingers crossed.”

Regardless of Covid-19 and the dearth of tourists, the intention was always to cater for the local market.

“Our locals will be the bread and butter all year round. They’re the ones we want to please, and that’s who we’re aiming towards,” Ms McLarin said.

“Anything that comes along from tourism, fantastic, but we’d much rather see regular faces and become someone’s local restaurant that they really enjoy going to.

“The other great thing too, when you open up a business that’s like this, there is a lot of local-based businesses that are also being supported by it. From the local florist .. to the local food wholesalers, you know, it’s a domino effect.

“It’s not just the people you employ, it’s the footprint you leave on the community, which I hope is a very positive one.”

Ms Laverick is head chef, while Ms McLarin will be front of house.

Alongside the food, there would be a selection New Zealand wines and artisan gins, botanical rums, and “old-world cocktails” such as negronis and Manhattans “befitting of a house that’s 160 years old”.