Food in Guildford is a bit of a mystery. The city that brought us the scary cathedral in The Omen is prosperous, stockbroker-full and pleasant. There’s plenty of money floating around and yet, in the 20 or so years that I have known it, I can count the genuinely good restaurants that have come and gone on two fingers. One, an excellent curry place, closed down after someone (quite possibly a rival) threw a brick through its window and generally made life difficult, while the other, Thai restaurant Rum Wong, remains. Guildford should have good places to eat, but it doesn’t, preferring mediocre chains or the odd nice pub instead.
So when somewhere like CAU opens, it feels quite unusual. This Gaucho Grill-alike, sister of a restaurant in Amsterdam, could pass almost unnoticed in London, but in Guildford’s culinary wasteland, its opening is a bit of an event.
The premise is straightforward: steak like South Americans do it. Yes, there are assorted fishy and vegetable starters available, the odd salad, even a chicken sandwich, but you wouldn’t really go here unless you wanted red meat.
We decided against starters, more than making do with crispbread and delightful tomato and aubergine dips, rich and smoky.
For mains, everyone had steak. Mine, a 12oz ribeye at £18.50, was extremely good, beautifully blue, thick and full of flavour. Horseradish sauce on the side was pedestrian, but it hardly mattered. When a steak restaurant is good, there’s a limit to what can be said about it, but a Brazilian-style tapa de cuadril, thinly sliced and fatty, was well-textured and nicely charred, while lomito medallions had more flavour than you might expect from a largely fat-free cut.
Thrice-cooked chips were decent, as was a mixed salad, though the latter was forgotten, along with a water jug, for what seemed like ages but was probably a few minutes. Onion rings proved suitably greasy, but not at all soggy.
A good malbec is really the only thing to drink with steak in my view, and so we did, for about £22.
CAU’s dessert menu is full of dulce de leche. ‘Banana split with a twist’ was delicious – American in its style and indulgence. Plum and strawberry crumble was just ok, while dulce de leche pancakes with caramel ice cream were as sweet as they sound.
CAU stands for Carne Argentina Única. It’s hardly unique, nor are the dishes uniformly Argentinean, but it is good, and at about £35-£40 per head for two courses and wine, just about worth it, especially in Guildford - the kind of place @philippawl (twitter follower number 300) might like, assuming she's not vegetarian. But there is still, surely, room in the city for somewhere really good. Anyone?
Phil Letts’ take: 7/10