You’ve probably heard of the concept of “hero” foods: those life-changing ingredients that supposedly do everything from boosting your metabolism to adding years onto your life, all while making a pretty penny for whatever health food shop was quick enough off the bandwagon to start stocking coconut oil or dried blueberries before anybody else.
I prefer a different definition: that magical little something that perks up a dish, turning an ordinary meal into something really special. Something like the cherry tomatoes that showed up in two of the dishes I ordered during our anniversary dinner at CAU Glasgow on Monday night. Tiny, sweet and bursting with juiciness, these tomatoes were so tasty I fairly bored Stringer with my enthusiasm for them. And this from a girl who frequently cites tomatoes as her least favourite part of a salad.
I could bore you too, but I suspect that would annoy CAU, whose summer campaign is actually based around the concept of “hero” dishes and drinks. These special menu selections put a fun twist on the Spanish/Argentinian-inspired comfort food on offer at the chain in a way that they claim celebrates the “heart, soul and spirit” of the city of Buenos Aires. Which is something you might just get the chance to discover for yourself, as every one of the #BuenosHeroes ordered this summer comes with the chance to win a trip for two to the Argentinian capital.
This week marked seven years of marriage for Stringer and I. We’ve never been the best at celebrating – his birthday is a couple of days afterwards, so I tend to pour most of my energy into that – so the chance to review the #BuenosHeroes launch gave us the impetus we needed to stop working and actually spend some bloody time together. I’d visited the Glasgow restaurant before for a steak and wine pairing event, but never for a proper meal: located on the corner of Queen St and Ingram St, I’m ashamed to say I knew this one best as a good place to catch the bus home from.
CAU (backronym: Carne Argentina Unica, though I suspect it being a soundalike for the restaurant’s main dish had more to do with the name) was founded in 2011 by the team behind upmarket Argentine restaurant chain Gaucho. The menu skews towards casual dining, with Aberdeen Angus grass-fed-on-the-pampas beef at its heart: while the steaks are top-notch, they do a great line in sandwiches and burgers and are famed for their Buenos Aires-style brunch.
They’re also pretty decent at cocktails, two of which feature among the #BuenosHeroes selection. While Stringer got stuck into a bottle of house red (sadly not his favoured Malbec, though the “Fancy Pants” logo would have taken some beating) I opted for the fresh, velvety The Grass is Greener. A combination of Hendrick’s Gin, Midori, apple and citrus juices and egg whites, this drink was both a delightful palette cleanser and a photogenic show-stopper. As I angled it just so to catch the evening light (blogging for your supper is stressful, yo), one of the waitresses came over and told me she was going to order one just like it as soon as she got off her shift.
That left us with the dilemma of what to order for food. While CAU diners can expect to be pushed towards the new dishes this summer, don’t let that put you off: the #BuenosHeroes options include everything from empanadas – a traditional fried Latin American pasty – to a “twisted” fish and chips and the ultimate hero of the menu, the 30-day aged steak. Personally, I’d been dreaming of the steak sandwich since being alerted to its presence a couple of days earlier, so the process was a lot less stressful than it otherwise could have been.
Sadly, my first choice of starter (the crispy fried shrimp chicharron from the “hero” selection) wasn’t available, but with Stringer happy to ensure that the empanadas box was ticked I had a whole menu at my disposal. As good as the corner-style skewers and pork belly tempura sounded, I was drawn towards the beef CAU-paccio: rump steak, green chimichurri, cherry and sunblush tomatoes. Chimichurri is, as I’ve mentioned before, the closest I’ve ever come to eating steak with a sauce, so I knew this was going to be great…
…aside from the fact that I had no idea that carpaccio features raw, or at least extremely rare, meat, thinly sliced and served cold. I was raised in a “no pink” household when it comes to steak – something that frequently horrifies my foodie friends – and while I’ve managed to knock that down to a medium over the years the carpaccio was a step too far. On the upside, Stringer cleaned my plate – and did I mention how good those tomatoes were?
The steak sandwich, on the other hand, was exactly what I hoped it would be. Featuring three types of beef (tapa de cuadril, salt beef and BBQ brisket) along with crispy onions and Monterey Jack cheese, this was a filling and satisfying feast – and don’t get me started on how good the chewy, nutty bread used for the sandwich itself was.
CAU’s sandwiches and burgers include a side of of chips, sweet potato fries or salad as standard – but I was drawn towards the “dirty rice” listed among the standalone sides. Basmati rice cooked with BBQ brisket, pepper, onions and spring onion and served in a cute little dish, this is something that I’d love to replicate at home (not least because I’m quite fussy with my rice and need it properly drained). Going my own way meant I got to experience CAU’s take on the side salad too, which was covered in grated hard cheese and full of more of those delightful tomatoes – AND I got to pinch some of Stringer’s excellent chips. I believe that’s called winning.
Incidentally, the above is the only time you will EVER spot a photograph of the ultimate vileness that is coleslaw, even when cleverly branded as CAUslaw, on this blog. You are welcome.
When dessert came around, there was only one possible option: the cornflake sundae. Oh, don’t say you’re not intrigued. Made with cornflake-flavoured ice cream, cornflakes, crumbled chocolate blondie and dulce de leche, this tasted exactly like breakfast in a dessert – in the very best of ways. And, best of all, for every cornflake sundae sold CAU donates 20p to a local children’s charity.
My husband is a big sticky toffee pudding fan, so it stood to reason that he would opt for the CAU version: the dulce volcano. A neat sponge bursting with a molten Argentinian caramel sauce core and served with amaretto cream, I’d love to report back on this one – but I blinked and it was already gone.
Tempted? You know you are! Remember, you can enter to win a trip for two to Buenos Aires every time you order any one of these hero dishes – or any of the others on the menu – at CAU before 31st August 2017. Just upload a photo to Instagram tagging @caurestaurants with the hashtag #BuenosHeroes to be entered into the grand prize draw. You can enter at any of CAU’s UK restaurants, and with weekly food and drink prizes available all summer you never know your luck. Somebody has to win the trip of a lifetime.
We were treated to dinner and wine for review purposes, but all views are my own and unbiased.