When eating out, there are two key factors that I'm seeking; good food, and good service. There are definitely many other things that affect enjoyment; decor and ambience of the restaurant, music, the demographic of other patrons, but those two key features have to be there for somewhere to stay on my radar after visit number one. Because my expectations can be quite high (generally tied to price, but if I'm going somewhere with $30-$40 mains I do expect to be impressed), and the price of a meal out in a nice restaurant can get up there, it can be very tempting to stick with the places you know.
One of the reasons I so love the voucher sites (and really the intent behind them) is that they make it more palatable to visit restaurants when you know nothing of the quality beforehand. Though you do pay, if you're only paying half or one-third of the price it's not as annoying if things aren't quite as you'd want them - and, if you're like me, you're more likely to order an extra side or dessert, "just to try" since you're not paying full price. If the food and service is good, you'll go back and pay full price next time; if not, well it was hopefully still worth what you paid for the voucher.
Last week I snapped up two "$10 for $30 worth of food and drink" vouchers for Capri, a fairly new restaurant/bar on Featherston Street. They have tapas and we figured having some tasty nibbles would make a great dinner for us on a Friday night (really, who feels like cooking on a Friday?) so off we went.
The restaurant is quite girly, I think - and I know plenty of women who'd be put off by that, let alone men! ;-) I really like the beautiful upholstered chairs (I didn't manage to get any photos of the decor as it was quite crowded but the photo on this page shows them) and think the overall effect was good, if you're going for the frilly/pretty angle, but the feel of the bar and the menu didn't seem to match the decor especially well.
It was very busy - I noticed that the waitstaff periodically offered plates of nibbles to all the punters enjoying their after-work drinks, which clearly a drawcard - and was quite loud, as it was essentially one big room. We waited a short while for a table (which was no trouble; we hadn't booked) and the waitstaff were quick to reserve one for us when it came available.
We ordered four of the "small plates", which ranged from $7-15 each. Unfortunately when they arrived we realised that we had overlooked the fact that all our choices were fried. There are non-fried options available, but these just sounded more appealing and we obviously didn't think it through very well! We noticed a table next to us ended up with almost the same selection not long afterwards, so perhaps the menu needs a little more variation.
Nonetheless, all the items we tried were delicious; the chicken and porcini croquettes were warming, pure comfort food, very umami. The porcini wasn't very distinctive - I wouldn't have picked that that's what was in them - but definitely added to the full flavour and rounded them out. The cherry relish they came with was also very yummy, and though I preferred them on their own Mr Cake was all over this. The frito misto (which just means plate of mixed seafood/meat in batter) of fish, calamari and prawn was perfectly fried, and I especially enjoyed the succulent prawns.
The fries I had to have - cooked in duck fat! This made them a bit too fatty for Mr Cake but I loved them, just a hint of the duck fat, and they were fabulously crunchy. They came with aioli, which I am always a fan of, and sauce tomat, which I ignored for too long, as when I finally tried it I discovered it was fantastically tangy, with a hint of something else - I think cumin seed - which made it a perfect complement to the fries. The salt and pepper squid was delicious and piping hot when served, with what seemed like a nice amount of seasoning, but when it cooled a little became our least favourite, as the coating became powdery and a bit unpleasant. Perhaps we needed to gobble a bit faster!
We ordered dessert as my sweet tooth was not to be silenced - though we both felt a little overwhelmed by all the fried food - and Mr Cake chose the creme brulee, while I went for the tarte tatin. These were $13 each and we were quite disappointed; the creme brulee was fairly small, and though it gave a very satisfying crack when enthusiastically tapped by Mr Cake (perhaps a little too enthusiastically; shards of sugar went flying!) this revealed a thick layer of unmelted caster sugar, and the custard was quite tepid. The sugar made it gritty to eat and though I appreciate that some places serve it warm this was a very in-between temperature; I presume warmed by the grill they melted the sugar with (and I have to say I prefer cold, even if it was intended to be warm). Unfortunately by the time the waitress revisited our table we had finished my dessert and were pretty much ready to go, so declined her offer of getting a fresh one made; however, she didn't charge us for it so that was good.
The tarte tatin was fine, though not exceptional, and though perfectly nice it was quite small and I wouldn't go back there for dessert. Overall, I felt it would be a good place to go for drinks - the tapas we had would all make fabulous bar snacks, but didn't really provide a very good meal. I have read positive reviews of the regular menu and would be tempted to go back for lunch on a workday to try those, but would definitely not bother with dessert!
And did it tick the boxes? Well, the savoury food we ate was good, though our choices weren't varied enough, and the service was good (though there weren't quite enough staff working) - so yes - but I would carefully pick my time next time, to avoid Friday night madness.
What are your criteria for dining out?
Capri is located at 146 Featherston Street, Wellington, ph 04 472 2613, www.capribar.co.nz