Restaurant review - Cau Restaurant, Wilmslow
- Credit: not Archant
Wholesome meaty menus seem to be back in vogue. Reviewer Ray King checks out a beefy restaurant close to home in Wilmslow
As acronyms go, CAU is a bit of a teaser. It stands for Carne Argentina Unica and if you pronounce it ‘COW’ rather than COR, you’re on message. For CAU is a relatively recently launched brand of Argentine-inspired steak restaurants - ‘Buenos Aires done our way’ - that’s been stampeding through the south of England and has now arrived in Wilmslow, its first outpost in the north.
CAU is a sister operation to the Gaucho group, whose Manchester branch, originally opened as the Gaucho Grill, has been a city centre fixture for well over a decade. But whereas Gaucho is a palatial, chandelier-hung space set inside a former Methodist church, CAU is an altogether different kind of moo - a more casual and highly animated contemporary cantina with open serveries, ultra-modern furnishing and signature black and white decor.
The Wilmslow branch boasts 150 covers on two levels in what used to be Strada and before that, McDonalds. When we arrived, mid-evening on a Friday, the place was absolutely packed and buzzing with young, well-drilled staff in turquoise tee shirts emblazoned CAU girl on the back flitting around.
Many heavily-branded chain operations work like this, but we were very pleased to discover that the quality of the fare on CAU’s menu really does deliver. It comprises a list of small plates, some, like Argentine lasagne and steamed mussels also available in bigger sizes; a selection of main courses featuring the likes of salmon, seabass, seared tuna and twice-cooked pork belly; a list of burgers and sandwiches given a South American twist and then the steaks. These are divided into ‘classic cuts’ such as rump, rib-eye and sirloin offered in a choice of sizes, and the speciality cuts, trademarks of the operation.
I started with a generous bowl of salt and pepper squid (£5.95), the fish tender and well flavoured with the aforesaid condiments, topped with fresh chilli and spring onion and served with a side of creamy and spiced chipotle mayo. Mrs K chose Anticuchos skewers, an example of South American street food, comprising spicy grilled gambas with a chipotle dip. The prawns were whole and the process of taking them out of the shell was rather messy, but the flavours were top notch.
We’d resolved beforehand to choose steaks for our main courses - eat like an Argentine - but the menu did leave us in something of a quandary. Rather than opt for a familiar cut, we wanted one of the specials, but apart from medallions of lomito and the tapa de cuadril, the latter served thinly sliced and flash grilled, which each weighed in at 220 grammes - just short of eight ounces - the most tempting steaks are monsters! Lomito, priced at £29.50, served with blue cheese sauce, tips the scales at 440g; Asado de Chorizo comes in at £35.25 for a whopping 500g - that’s over 1lb - and the Tira de Ancho, which we coveted, also weighs 500g.
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Though the menu doesn’t flag up the option I tentatively asked if it would be possible for us to share the Tira de Ancho. Absolutely no problem. What came well and truly lived up to its description as ‘the king of steaks’ - a spiral cut of inch and a half thick rib-eye which had been marinated in chimichurri and grilled slowly. It was deliciously tender and exactly medium rare as requested. What’s more, at more than half a pound in weight per portion for less than £17 a head, this was a very decent price for enjoying a superb steak, one of Argentina’s finest.
We partnered the steak with sides of tangy, oregano-rich chimichurri sauce (£1.50) and bowls of excellent thrice-cooked chunky chips, zingy rocket, fennel and salted ricotta salad and courgette and onion tempura at £2.95 a time and all of it spot on.
Despite the attraction of desserts like chocolate brownies, baked vanilla cheesecake and pina cau-la-lada pudding (one of many menu puns) we skipped sweets on the grounds we were already full and content to finish the wine. From a list dominated by selections from Spain and Argentine, we chose a bottle of crisp Macabeo-Chardonnay Chardonnay from La Mancha (£19.50) and a 500ml ‘pot’ of delightful Espiritu de Argentina Malbec - one of several listed (£15.25).
Cau Restaurant, 22-24 Water Lane, Wilmslow, Cheshire, SK9 5AA. Tel 01625 535195. www.caurestaurants.com