There is always an element of excitement when a boarded outlet promises to unveil a brand new dining experience and passing CAU during its constructive stages was certainly no exception, particularly in light of the invitation I’d received to attend its launch. Epitomised by blue skies and grassy pastures, this is an establishment where an Argentinian undercurrent equals innovative fare; thick, juicy steak and punchy street food. Mouth watering? Then read on…
Date and time: Wednesday 13 August 2014, 19.30
Name of establishment: CAU, Bristol*
Location: 74 Queens Road, Clifton
Reason for visit: Complimentary carnivorousness!
CAU is an airy, open-plan space with contemporary furnishings and minimalistic décor – the acoustics have been carefully orchestrated so that well-placed lighting and subtle background music create an essence of sophisticated soul. My dining companion and I were given a table-for-two with a view given its kitchen-side seats. This even allowed for a little interaction with those at the helm of the culinary genius – whereby it became clear that the entire workforce were keen to showcase their knowledge of the dishes; encouraging us towards particular edibles and adorning our table with ingredients that had previously been foreign to us - chimichurri…who knew?! To start, we settled on the Salt and Pepper Squid (£5.95) which, thanks to a sprinkling of fresh chilli, established a little heat before the Chipotle Mayo brought its familiar burn to the palate. We also tucked into traditional Empanadas (£7 for two) which consisted of crisp parcels of rich-tasting Spanish chorizo blended with cooling cream cheese – delicious! Served with fresh tomato sauce, these are sizeable enough to share and, as you can mix and match the three variations, you needn’t struggle to agree on just one filling.
Now this may come as a surprise to you but steak isn’t usually my ‘bag’ as (innuendo aside) I simply can’t handle a lot of meat! Yet, I had read glowing accounts of CAU’s ‘richly flavoured and wonderfully tender…grass fed Argentinian beef’ and found myself ordering the Lomito (£29.50), a 440g fillet of rump…well, when in the Pampas…! My dining companion opted for the Asado De Chorizo (£34.95); a sirloin steak in a churrasco marinade of smoked paprika, chilli flakes, garlic and parsley which was literally the size of my face! This wasn’t initially cooked to the requirements that he had articulated and yet, our friendly server (or CAU-boy) soon whisked it back to the kitchen and, after a passing exchange with the chef (who popped his head over the partition to address us directly), it re-emerged ‘pink…but not bleeding’ which was exactly the brief…win! I liked that the sides were served separately so not to interfere with the main event; you can choose from either chips (American-style fries or triple-cooked wedges) or salad to accompany your steak which altogether constitutes a mammoth-sized portion. However, try to leave some room for the chickpeas with spicy chorizo (£2.95) which, despite its simplicity, proved an incredibly flavoursome addition.
It’s fair to say that by this stage, there really wasn’t much room for dessert which was disappointing given the CAU Cornflake Ice Cream Sundae (£5.95) which I had earmarked for consumption earlier in the evening. Instead, we settled for a spot of sorbet which, if I’m honest, was itself a triumph; the coconut in particular, proving suitably refreshing yet remaining indulgent enough to round off the evening’s eatings to perfection!
Overall, a fantastic first impression of CAU…There aren’t many places where the chef apologises to you in person for not perfecting your steak the first time around and checks that your overall experience wasn’t affected as a result. It wasn’t and, in fact, the way that our visit had been handled by both the waiting staff and those in the kitchen, really made this a stand-out establishment; both in terms of the high level of customer service we’d received and the obvious care applied to the production of each dish. On the other hand, CAU is really rather pricey and I have to admit that I wouldn’t have been quite so reckless with my selections from the menu had I been footing the bill myself. That said, there are plenty of less financially challenging options…couple one of the crisp Spanish whites (from a plentiful line-up) with a range of small plates inspired by the pizazz of Buenos Aires itself, for instance, and you have a top-notch dining experience which won’t break the bank but will, without a doubt, wow you with its fresh-faced valour – highly recommended.
And now for the second opinion….
My dining companion gave CAU a huge 9/10 and in three words, summed up his experience as, ‘generous’, ‘tasty’ and ‘talented’.