Anyone who has ever eaten their way around Spain will tell you that the Spanish do tapas like nobody else.
The Spanish philosophy around grazing and awakening the palate is quite literally an art form, which is why the befittingly-named Casita Miro – an homage to the Spanish surrealist of the same name – makes a lot of sense.
Casita Miro is the brainchild of former lawyer and Waiheke local Cat Vosper and her husband, Miro Vineyard winemaker, Barnett Bond. Cat describes the sprawling Spanish-style vineyard as a verified slice of Waiheke paradise.
"Casita Miro started as a tiny little bistro restaurant, we could only take around 20 people, so it's grown," Cat says.
"We built this lovely Art Nouveau pavilion in 2009 and it's since become very popular. There have been enormous changes in the hospitality industry here. The main change that we're seeing is that the shoulder season or the off-season, used to be clearly marked at Easter and Labour Weekend. After Easter, trading would fall away to nothing, then it would start again at Labour Weekend. What's happening, is that those shoulder seasons are moving closer and closer together."
Upon arrival we start, as instructed, with a glass of Spanish sherry. Crisp, sensory and aromatic, your senses are immediately called to attention with this fresh aperitif. The terrace, set above a breath-taking vineyard on the sunniest side of Onetangi, is spectacular at sunset. Punters head outside to enjoy one of several shared plates under the trees, as we devour the Goat's Cheese Croquettas, Chicken Liver Parfait and other assorted meaty morsels.
"The sherries, from Andalusia, the sherry region, are exciting. I wish more people would come here and try them, they speak to me very strongly about a place, a people and a culture.
"I couldn't get Spanish sherry in New Zealand, so I'll go across to Spain every two years or so and import them. They all come from really small suppliers, family run operations, like us. Throughout Spain, every region does something different."
At around 3.30pm on a Saturday afternoon, even in the off-season, Casita Miro is positively humming with hungry punters.
"The numbers are up hugely, particularly after the international acclamations for Waiheke," acknowledges Cat, when asked about Waiheke's surge in international tourism.
"You see it all over different websites, Conde Nast Traveller, Lonely Planet... They're all saying things. What this means for us is that we can stay open all year round. There's enough business to keep us going all year – it's massive and it's really exciting. We dovetail our work in the restaurant with the work on the vineyard."
The wine list beautifully complements the fresh, easy eating on offer here. The raciones or 'shared plates' include the famous seafood Paella that comes to life when paired with the Albariño varietal.
"We're growing Albariño now, it's very exciting. It was never in the country until maybe five years ago," says Cat. "We've had ours in for about four years. In Galicia, it's got a really apple-based note, in New Zealand, it's got a cool, peachy note.
"The reason we have Spanish-style food here is because wine is an old-world product, it comes from the Middle East, France, Spain and Italy. Our name – Casita Miro – is a nod to the old world and to the indigenous, grounded here in New Zealand.
"The food is a great nod to Spain, but the food is locally-sourced from here on Waiheke and grown in New Zealand. We also love the idea of shared plates, we've been going for about 12 years with tapas or jerez. I love that because it's very family-centric, you get to taste everything, rather than hedging all your bets on two plates."
As the sky turns a peachy shade of pink, the kitchen announces it'll soon be closing, however the bar offerings are still readily available. Casita Miro, regardless of how popular it may now be, still feels like a sweet Spanish escape, a juicy secret to be shared among friends.
"I love it when we can take people through a food journey, you know, and say 'this tastes like this, because this comes from here and is made like this,' the looks on their faces when they taste the food – they're just delighted."
3 Brown Rd,
Lunch: 7 days from 11.30am.
Dinner: Friday and Saturday from 6pm
Wine tastings: By appointment
Casita Miro, regardless of how popular it may now be, still feels like a sweet Spanish escape, a secret to be shared among friends.