Tanuki’s Cave is a longstanding favourite with Auckland dinner crowds – I mean, who hasn’t pranced downstairs into the Cave full of hope and expectation that you’ll get a table for the amazing cabbage and mayo, only to be crushed with a 40min wait time? Not unusual, because the place is packed with moviegoers, theatre bods, corporate suits and this month, comedy festival patrons! But equally delightful is the above ground, grownup Tanuki Japanese Yakitori and Sake Bar upstairs! So, when stomachs are rumbling and you can’t stand the thought of waiting that long – take heart! The delicious menu extends up top so you should calmly take a seat.
Firstly – no high tables upstairs, they’re all regular height but you can still counter-top dine if you prefer as we did. We ordered the customary Asahi (available in a range of sizes as befitting any truly Japanese experience), opting for the on-tap version – which actually just means pouring off the small kegs via the strangest piece of bar equipment I’ve ever seen!
But then – onto the food. Unbelievably enough, my dining companion had never tried the edamame before, so they were a must. Those juicy, cold salted young soybeans burst with flavour in the mouth and are the perfect complement to the dry beer, kind of a Japanese version of peanuts! Whilst some of the Cave specialties appear on the menu, there are plenty of other options to be tried and shared – more small plates options, whereas the Cave is predominantly yakitori. We started with the broccoli with sesame & miso sauce (my companion said “broccoli had never tasted so good!”), grilled scallops wrapped in thinly sliced pork belly with greens, vegetable tempura and beef tataki.
A perfect way to enjoy a range of flavours, the tempura was perfectly crisp with a satisfying batter and dipping sauce that wasn’t too vinegary. It’s always a good sign when you don’t go reaching for soy sauce to add a little kick to the dish. There was a sneaky little piece of fish in our tempura, but seeing as we’re not vegetarian it was more of a treat!
The scallops were well cooked, the pork belly sliced more like pancetta, tender around the scallop and crispy on the edge. Enough to split without arguing over, which is always key! The basil hit the right note to finish off the scallop/pork combo, although not a traditional Japanese herb! Then the beef – well I can always squeeze in a little more beef tataki – the crispy rice noodle on top is just delicious and the greens just substantial enough to make you feel slightly healthy!
Ever tempted (after soaking up the rest of the sesame sauce with edamame beans), we ordered the waffle to share and both agreed it was extremely pretty but more satisfying on the eyes that the taste buds! However, for four dishes, 3 500ml beers and dessert – we were pretty happy to spend just under $100 for two, and enjoy plenty of atmosphere.
Next time you’re in town – give upstairs a go and be pleasantly surprised! Plus, you can eat guilt-free without all those hungry faces longingly waiting for you to finish with your table!
Dinner : 17:00 – 23:00 (Sun to Thu) / 17:00 – 23:30 (Fri & Sat)
319 Queen Street, Auckland City / Ph (09) 379-5353