Thursday, September 18

Food Review: Tanuki's Cave

Cuisine: Japanese/Yakitori
Price: $175 for eight bottles of beer, a dozen dishes and large sashimi set
Location: 319b Queen Street, Auckland

Tanuki's Cave is one of a trio of restaurants in the same family, the others being Kura and Tanuki Sushi & Sake Bar. Each one of them specialises in something different, with the Cave focusing on yakitori and kushiage in a casual dining environment. The restaurant is invitingly warm and bustling, which is especially appreciated when the weather outside is awful. Be mindful that Tanuki's is always busy, so you'll find it hard to be seated if you turn up with several friends. The seating is mostly positioned around the central bar, with only a few tables available. This is not fine dining, instead it’s the perfect environment to eat and be merry. The menu is centred around kushiage (bread crumbed, fried skewers) and yakitori (barbecued skewers). There are many options under the umbrella of seafood, meat and vegetables. For instance you can choose from squid, chicken mince balls, shitake mushrooms, fried cheese or one of dozens of other options. We ordered ten skewers, the large sushi platter, some dessert and plenty of beer.

The dishes were served irregularly, but mostly promptly. Portion sizes were pretty small when sharing between two people, but then most are reasonably priced. Just don’t go eating too many of the $8.80 scallop skewers! From the large choice of kushiage and yakitori our favourites were the kushiage pork belly, kushiage squid, yakitori scotch fillet and yakitori chicken skins. The kushiage pork belly coating was incredibly crunchy, and the tender juicy meat provided a fantastic contrast. The chicken skins were also fantastically fatty and crispy. Some of the skewers weren't quite as appetising, such as the bland mushroom and leek yakitori or the forgettable chicken mince balls.
The large sashimi platter was well portioned and lovingly decorated. For some inexplicable reason it wasn't served with pickled ginger, nor did they have any when we asked. Odd. The selection included king fish, tuna, salmon and a single prawn. The fish tasted fresh and was a great dish to share between two. Very enjoyable, though there are better places in Auckland for fish (like next door Kura).
We finished up our meal with some dessert; fried kumera balls and the nata jelly with ice cream. I love kumera, so this dessert was a slam dunk. The balls were coated in crispy almonds and went perfectly with the ice cream. The nata jelly drink was unusual. It was served in a glass with alcoholic soda (in my case peach), with a small amount of jelly and a scoop of ice cream. It was sort of like an ice cream soda, but a particularly bland one. The jelly didn't add anything and the soda wasn't tasty enough to carry the dish. I would rather have had a coke float.
Some of the dishes were bland such as the vegetables, but many of them tasted fantastic such as the kushiage or yakitori steak. Overall we were very satisfied and very filled by our meal!

The cosy Tanuki’s Cave provided the perfect back drop for a casual, yet well crafted, meal. Many of the dishes were mouth wateringly delicious, including the chicken skins and kushiage pork belly. Not everything was a hit though, such as the leek and mushroom yakitori, and discovering those perfect skewers might take a few visits. It was a warming experience and one best enjoyed with alcohol and friends.