Saturday, 18 August 2012

Wellington on a Plate - Caucus

It's Wellington on a Plate time again, and I am in foodie heaven. Like last year, this year I am using WOAP as a fantastic excuse to try as many new places to eat as possible. Restaurants put on special menus and deals, and it's a great opportunity to step out of the tried and true comfort zone of my favourite places to eat, and to also try places where I would normally steer clear of due to the price.

On Thursday we went along at the invitation of a friend to Caucus restaurant in the Novotel Hotel on the Terrace. Like many restaurants participating in WOAP, Caucus has a set menu plus glass of wine deal.

Paul and I arrived early, so we had a drink while waiting for our friend to arrive. Pleasantly, while we were sitting with our drinks, the staff served us a small bowl of nacho chips. This was just what we felt like - a little something to nibble on to stave those after-work cravings. Good stuff.

The Caucus deal is as follows:
Choose any two courses plus a glass of regional Wellington wine for $35
Fried Ōtaki potato and thyme gnocchi with mizuna and feta–tomato fondue
Roast Kapiti pork sirloin with Granny Smith purée, potato and kūmara mash and mustard jus
Wagyu beef sirloin with blue cheese, potato croquette, spinach and red wine jus
Waikanae raspberry and white chocolate crème brûlée.

The three of us dining all chose the same from the set menu. Gnocchi plus the wagyu beef. It was a shame that we didn't get to see the pork, but not to worry. While we were waiting for our entrees to arrive, we were each served a bread roll and butter; another nice touch.

The gnocchi was interesting. It was fried, which I have not had before. I thought it was quite tasty. It was served surrounding a bit of tomato sauce and a salad. We all felt we needed more sauce. I wanted way more sauce actually. I felt I needed to carefully ration my sauce with each piece of gnocchi, and I'm not a fan of having to ration. As a rule gnocchi is pretty dry, it craves sauce to soak up and compliment it. Give me more sauce than I need, rather than less. It wasn't like it was truffle or something else scarily expensive, it was a tomato sauce, plain and simple. But, on balance, it was a satisfactory starter.

On to the main where we all chose the steak. I ordered my steak medium-rare, leaning more towards the rare than the medium (this is word-for-word how I ordered my steak). I don't like a well-cooked steak. My two companions ordered their steak medium-rare and medium.

Our steaks arrived and they were all well overcooked. My steak was bordering on medium-well done, as was the other medium-rare steak. The medium steak was well-done. Not a spot of red to been seen on any of our steaks. That was a shame, as the flavour of the steak was otherwise very nice.

It turns out there is a mistake on the menu, and the steak was served with the blue potato croquette rather than blue cheese and a potato croquette. Also, and no where to be seen on the menu, the steak was served on a bed of long mung bean sprouts. Tasty, but totally unexpected.

The waitress came over (as she did during our entree course) to ask how our main meals were. I commented that our steaks were all well overcooked. In response, she looked distinctly uncomfortable and said she was sorry to hear that and retreated rapidly from our table. I thought this was a strange reaction. Why bother to ask how our meals are if you don't intend to do anything if we say we're not happy? Either don't ask, or, if you do ask and something's wrong, offer a remedy.

I do understand if one steak happens to be overcooked. These things happen. But to have all three of us unhappy with how our steaks were cooked was pretty poor I felt.

On to dessert. We all decided that we would like to try dessert on top of our set menu selection. And I'm glad we did. Dessert was the highlight of the meal for me. I ordered a white chocolate and raspberry creme brulee and it was fantastic. A thick layer of brulee that cracked satisfyingly when I whacked my spoon on it. Underneath was a delicious custard laced with raspberries. I am a very harsh critic when it comes to creme brulee - the best I have ever had was in a restaurant in Paris. Every one I have eaten since, I have compared to Paris. Everyone who has been to Paris knows that anything struggles when compared to Paris!

Anyway, I would be happy to eat this creme brulee any time, any where. It was sensational. My friends ordered a chocolate tart, and an orange cheesecake. Both reported these dishes were also delicious.

Overall, I gave Caucus a 6.5 out of 10. The food was ok, but the steak was a real let down. It was overcooked, and the menu didn't represent what was actually served up on my plate. Dessert made up for things though. Following a straw poll, my friends both gave a 7 out of 10. In the spirit of the recently ended Olympics, I'll remove the top and bottom scores, leaving a solid 7 out of 10. On balance, I think this score is a little generous, but that's what we went with, so that's what will have to stand.

I'm report on some more WOAP dinners in the next little while.

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