Jesse Mulligan’s Auckland Restaurant Review: Milford Wine Bar Cave A Vin Is A Portal To Paris

By Jesse Mulligan
The burrata, sourdough and other small plates at Cave a Vin in Milford. Photo / Babiche Martens


Cuisine: Bistro

Address: 146 Kitchener Rd, Milford

Reservations: Accepted

Drinks: Fully licensed

From the menu: Oysters (six) $27; sourdough $10; burrata $21; red peppers $12; baby cos $12; ricotta gnocchi $30; bavette with green sauce $30

Rating: 17/20

Score: Steer clear. 8-12 Disappointing, give it a miss. 13-15 Good, give it a go. 16-18 Great, plan a visit. 19-20 Outstanding, don’t delay.

If it feels like everybody but you has visited Europe this year, Cave a Vin may be your panacea. A darkly lit wine bar with a blackboard menu and charcuterie slicer on the counter, it’s authentic enough that though you are in Milford it’s not hard to squint your eyes and imagine you’re in Paris. Or, at the very least, Three Lamps.

You’ve got to know what you’re looking for, with little signage or lighting out front. That’s okay, though they should probably invest in a “SLIDE” sign for the front door, as it seems the instinct of every new arrival is to push the thing open with brute strength. Inside, diners who’ve already learnt the trick watch with smug sympathy as new bodies thump into the glass like dumb labradors hitting a ranch slider.

Cave a Vin's wine offering fulfills the promise of the restaurant name — the wine cellar. Photo / Babiche Martens
Cave a Vin's wine offering fulfills the promise of the restaurant name — the wine cellar. Photo / Babiche Martens

There isn’t room to seat many in here — perhaps 20 or so when every chair is taken — but that adds to the feeling of happy comfort for those lucky enough to score a table. It was standing room only when I visited, on a Tuesday, and the bartender congratulated me for coming on “our quiet night”.

Fridays must be mad, the place crawling with Francophile empty-nesters swigging Burgundy and gobbling cured meat.

Our meal was much more relaxed, beginning with a French chenin blanc and some oysters (Te Matuku, served neat with a lemon slice and grated horseradish on real shaved ice) then moving on to some of the more substantial items from what is a long and generous menu. There are the usual snacky suspects — olives, cheese, terrine — as well as some proper kitchen cooking, culminating in a bavette steak which nobody could accuse of being bar food.

The red peppers. Photo / Babiche Martens
The red peppers. Photo / Babiche Martens

We left ordering in our waiter’s hands and he did a great job, though the bread early on almost ruined us. It’s a proper thick sourdough — if you miss Pasture’s signature loaf you need to come here and taste this scorched crust — served with an excellently funky fermented butter and, in our case, two lovely sides: a pre-smashed burrata dotted with confit garlic cloves and a dish of house-roasted red peppers, dressed in a quick pickle of sherry vinegar and sugar.

A spoon of that creamy burrata, smooshed into a hunk of bread, topped with a sharp and deep-tasting piece of roasted capsicum was one of life’s great mouthfuls. There was no chance we wouldn’t finish the whole thing, at pace.

I loved the house caesar, two simple wedges of cos drizzled with parmiggiano dressing, with fried breadcrumbs and a single white anchovy draped on top. The waiter encouraged us to forget our cutlery and instead pick up the whole thing by the node and munch through it. That worked beautifully, offering all the delicious nostalgic flavours of a caesar salad without having to fork your way through a whole bowl of it.

The caesar-dressed cos. Photo / Babiche Martens
The caesar-dressed cos. Photo / Babiche Martens

Ravenous hunger had quickly turned to imminent satiation, but we ignored it and attacked a plate of perfect ricotta gnocchi, pan-browned and set in a stewy, spicy nduja. Did we need the steak? We did not, but it was already on the way so we ate that too.

Hunger makes the best sauce so perhaps it’s no surprise that I didn’t enjoy the meat at the end of the meal so much. The cooking was fine and the cut tasty enough if you don’t mind some toothwork, but I found the green sauce sharp and oversalted. The chef has a heavy hand with the seasoning, that’s for sure — even the burrata had a good amount of salt tossed over it — and while that suits my palate, I wonder if he might need to pull it back a little for a general audience. Or perhaps he should be truly French: if you don’t like it, eat somewhere else.

The gnocchi in spicy nudja. Photo / Babiche Martens
The gnocchi in spicy nudja. Photo / Babiche Martens

I was driving so didn’t make my way through as much of the list as I would have liked, but if you love your wine you should plan an evening here — they have an extensive bottle collection and are the sort of blokes to whom you can say, “Perhaps something fresh but not too acidic?” and they will return with a glass of wine you would never have ever found by yourself.

That level of service is a real luxury; it’s no wonder the discriminating people of Milford are rewarding Cave a Vin with their custom.

More On The Shore

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Tokki’s Refined-But-Comforting Sweet Spot. Find sensational flavours and a room full of rabbits at this Milford newcomer.

At This Birkenhead Bistro, Book Your Table & Then Book Your Beef. The Beef Wellington was a dish of such topographical singularity that I can’t forget it.

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