Hits and misses in suburbia, finds reviewer Kim Knight.
68 College Hill, Freemans Bay
09 376 4230
WE SPENT: $325 for five.
WE THOUGHT: 13 - Good
You could have strapped an ankle with the short rib.
I left the ghastly, stretchy bit of intercostal muscle uneaten. Connective tissue is delicious, but this particular bit needed to spend longer connecting with an oven.
The Cav is a great pub. On the night we visited, however, it was not a great restaurant.
Across the table, an untouched taco. Was one of the oldest drinking establishments in Auckland also serving the city's oldest fish? The snapper tasted a long time out of the water. I feared I would regret the crayfish.
The koura had been my reason for coming. In a world of doughnut burgers and hamburger-stuffed pizza crusts, The Cav's cray and chips was Frankenfood that almost made sense. Chips? Of course. Battered crayfish - why not?
Well, mostly, because the $39.95 bits of cray tail were tough, the batter was a lot, and the plastic pipette of vinegar stuck in the side was an unfortunate reminder that too much of this sort of food is a shortcut to a lifetime of actual syringes. The crayfish was dead and buried and no amount of malt vinegar was going to revive it.
This kind of luxe-pop food has been around a while now (the best, most recent example I can think of is Saint Alice's oyster McMuffin). To really work, the execution has to be impeccable.
The observant might have read this far and be wondering about my score of 13 and a rating of "good". Here's why: The table service was excellent and the ambience pleasant. A burrito bowl (sans burrito) was really great, a vegetarian burger was demolished and there was full redemption in dessert.
Winter was howling on an after-work Wednesday, but sadly the corner snug with the squashy leather seats and fireplace had already been snagged when we arrived. Keep walking for high banquettes, the enormous covered deck that lords it over College Hill and Tinder-date level lighting (you will need your torch app to order a wine). If you'd prefer, sit a little away from the main bar action and the obligatory big screen TVs. I noticed several family groups doing just that (and many tables carried "reserved" signs, so if you're a crowd, consider booking).
It's a pub, so hot chips were a given. The Cav's come curly and coated in a seasoning salt that prompted more drinks. It's a pub, so I suppose that too is a given, but those fries were seriously over-processed. Plus, at $9.95 a serve, someone is making a killing.
I don't want to dwell on that wagyu beef short rib with truffled mash ($34.95) but (unlike the chips) the meat needed more salt, the spud needed more mashing and trust me when I say a cold plate is no place to put a hot cauliflower puree. Get the naked burrito bowl with grilled chicken ($26.95) and I promise you'll go home happier. Nutty brown rice and black beans got a decent lift from a pile on of fresh vege and yoghurt sour cream dressing. It came from a section of the menu dedicated to "healthy eats" which did not include battered pickles or buffalo wings or onion rings. It was nice to be at a pub that recognises not every customer is a bullet-proof 28-year-old fresh from footy training.
A vege-patty burger, available on request at the same $26.95 as the double wagyu with cheese version, was declared pretty good. And, like everything on the sandwich, taco and burger list, it came with shoestring fries that we enjoyed far more than the earlier, curlier ones.
The menu is packed with gastropub classics, but much of what we ordered read better than it ate. The crayfish, for example, was styled for the 'gram, but I couldn't help wonder how recently the bright red shell adorning the plate had actually been attached to the meat inside the batter. Skip this dish, I think, and go to The Cav for a drink and a slider or seven (they do a board of 12 for $37.50).
I know, that despite everything I've written here, I'll be back - because this is a pub that has made a genuine effort to create a space that doesn't feel like a meat market or a man cave. Plus, we liked dessert.
An enormous whiskey brulee ($15.95) did exactly what it said on the label, its very peaty profile well-matched to a scattering of bitter chocolate nuggets. An apple pie ($15.50, deconstructed and brown-sugary) got the table's vote for taste, but it was a syrupy, fruity, booze-scented rum 'n coke float ($12.95) that was the show-stealer. The Cav's history goes back to 1866 but, with that dessert, it rocked new suburbia with a maraschino cherry on top.