Launched two years ago in a bustling tourist area of Amsterdam, CAU launched its first UK outpost in Guildford in July 2011. With six more restaurants planned over the next 18 months, EatSleepDrink spoke to Patsy Godik, Creative Director at CAU, to find out more about the company’s exciting plans for the future.
CAU – pronounced Cow – stands for Carne Argentina Única and translates as unique Argentinian beef, which is CAU’s speciality. For almost 200 years, Argentinian farmers have been breeding Aberdeen Angus on the pampas where the cows roam freely while grazing on 17 varieties of grass. This produces some of the best, most flavoursome beef in the world, meaning that any steak one orders at CAU is guaranteed to be tender, low in fat, richly flavoured and served to one’s exact specifications.
Casual, slick, contemporary
As Patsy begins by telling us, the concept, branding and design for CAU was only developed two years ago. “The brief was to design a funky high street brand that offers the highest quality casual food in a slick, contemporary and fun environment. The offering was to be centred on the highest quality Argentine beef, giving the concept an Argentinian slant without it being an Argentine-themed restaurant. The success of the first CAU in Amsterdam was followed by the opening of CAU in Guildford just last year and we are planning six more in the next 18 months”
Aesthetically, CAU boasts a bold, distinctive design, incorporating key Argentinian themes and details with a modern twist, as Patsy continues by highlighting. “The design incorporates glossy white corrugated walls, which is a contemporary play on the corrugated houses in the colourful neighbourhoods of Buenos Aires, such as La Boca. Furthermore, the green grass and blue sky imagery delivers the strong message of the natural origins of our grass fed beef and the freshness of the food.
“The design also reflects a fun and playful quirkiness with the grass being on the ceiling and the CAU letters evoking a night sky bursting with stars over the vast pampas of Argentina,” she affirms. “Ultimately, the overall look is urban chic with its shiny white vinyl banquets, bold grass imagery and the uplifting soaring blue skies. Our creative team has been responsible for launching a number of successful restaurants, including Gaucho in London, so we were confident of creating a really unique space”.
Indeed, this confidence has been underlined by the initial reception to CAU by the residents of Guildford who quickly embraced the restaurant’s unique concept and slick design, as Patsy elucidates. “People have been drawn in by the strong identity of the brand and are really excited to be in a relaxed, fun and casual environment with an extremely appealing menu”.
Meat and Drink
Positioned to be accessible to all customers with its vibrant atmosphere, our recent visit to CAU reflected the restaurant’s market strategy, with a large range of ages enjoying lunch. The menu offers customers a wide selection of choice, from affordable burgers and milkshakes to a three-course meal with cocktails and wine, as Patsy continues. “The whole concept is designed to be relaxed, versatile and informal in terms of the food, design and branding.
“We only use beef bred on the Argentine pampas that is wet-aged for six weeks and grilled in such a way that the meat is only turned once and salted on one side only,” she confirms. “Diners can choose from a detailed list, including Sirloin (8oz £14); Rib Eye (a delicately marbled steak, 10oz £15.50); Lomito (a lean and tender fillet of rump, 16oz £26.50); and Picana Rump (taken from the haunch, 10oz £16.50)”.
Having personally enjoyed the Lomito (make sure to skip breakfast, as you won’t want to leave a morsel of this glorious steak), we can confirm the quality and leanness of the offering at CAU. Indeed, as Patsy affirms, there is also a surprising amount of versatility in the menu that will attract non-carnivores too. “Although we offer a wide range of steaks and burgers, this is balanced with a variety of fresh fish and pasta. Desserts are not neglected either, with diners given the option of many tasty delights.
“We have several pudding choices including Dulce de Leche Pancakes (£4.50); Coconut Panacotta (£4.50); and seven different ice cream flavours (£3.50), so our diners are really spoilt for choice,” she asserts.
With regards to drinks, there is a prevalence of superb Argentinian wine, with a heavy nod to the old world. Highlights include a Malbec Torrentes Blend (£23.50) from Mendoza, alongside a Malbec from the Languadoc also well-priced at £23.50. If the amber nectar is more to your liking, then CAU’s range of bottled beers, such as Alhambra at £3.50 per bottle, will not disappoint. Similarly, non-drinkers and designated drivers will be pleased to hear that the restaurant stocks an impressive range of milkshakes and fresh juices that reflect a well-rounded drinks offering.
Beefing up the brand
Given the success of CAU’s first foray into the UK market, it is unsurprising to hear that the company is already planning on opening six more outposts over the next 18 months – something that Patsy considers with a glance towards to the London 2012 Olympics. “The Olympics offers a truly unique opportunity for the hospitality sector. In this respect, we are looking at ways to work with the Guildford training grounds, where some of the Olympic teams are training in order to really capitalise on our location.
“Indeed, our success is based on the fact that we offer something quite different from other high street restaurants,” she notes. “We are filling a gap in the market as a restaurant that offers a luxury product – top quality steak – in an affordable, contemporary and dynamic environment. To this end, I would say that CAU’s major strengths are Quality (food, service, environment); Accessibility (high street locations); and Fun (relaxed and vibrant atmospheres).
“Furthermore, in the coming months we are also relaunching ‘Burger Mondays’, which offers a burger and a beer for just £10,” she tells us.
And when asked about her ultimate CAU experience, Patsy expressed her dismay at having to choose a favourite, such is the quality of choice on offer. “It’s so difficult to choose! I love the Yerba Beef and the Aubergine Lasagne, but I would probably have to say that the Asado de Chorizo (18oz £34.95) with the Finca La Colonia Malbec (£20.95), followed by the Dulce de Leche Pancakes is my perfect combination”.
Having recently enjoyed a delightful lunch at CAU, we can confirm the uniqueness and strength of the restaurant’s menu, design and atmosphere. Indeed, judging from the packed lunchtime service, the company’s six additional restaurants cannot come soon enough!