I first visited CAC about eight years ago when I was invited to a family gathering of some friends of mine. It was a great night and I really enjoyed myself, but I'd kind of forgotten about the place in the interim and hadn't considered it as a place to go for a drink until I caught up with the same friend a while back and we ended up there. My memory was of a nice place - one of the first to do tapas in Auckland - with an intriguing wine list and a profusion of curtains that hid various nooks and crannies, so I wasn't sure what to expect when I came back.
What I got was a surprise.
It was pretty much as I remembered, physically, which was nice because it's one of the nicest buildings in Auckland.
In a city that considers cheap-and-cheerful sheet metal and dodgy timber buildings to be heritage, CAC retains a genuine flavour of colonial Auckland.
Originally an ammunition factory - hence the name Colonial Ammunition Company - it is a splendid example of early-European architecture.
Stone and wood predominate, but the curtains are still there, too.
As is the rather daunting staircase leading to the mezzanine floor. I'm sure there have been terrible accidents on that staircase. But it's just such a lovely space and it's made all the better by having decent staff who make you feel welcome.
The service I got was great, as was the food. In fact, the food is a bit better than great. Small sharing plates of perfectly put together dishes make an excellent grazing paddock for anyone having a few drinks.
And have I mentioned the drinks?
The wine list might have shrunk somewhat since I first visited but it is perfectly formed, with something for everyone and something to suit all budgets. The beer selection is a little perfunctory but, anyway, it's more a wine and cocktail place.
Affordable and welcoming, it ticks most of the boxes and it will reward a lazy afternoon spent exploring the menu over a few drinks.
And you'd go a long way indeed to find nicer surroundings.
Herald on Sunday
You'll find this lovely tapas bar and restaurant in a stunning 1920s bluestone building that once house the Colonial Ammunition Company, hence the name CAC. The laid back and cosy atmosphere here make it a pretty cool place to spend an evening - the excellent food is a bonus.
The façade itself is a standout; an A frame building with a cherry red sign that glows amid otherwise industrial surrounds. Inside the resturant, take a seat on the mezzanine with timber floors, exposed beams, low lighting and large comfy couches, it makes for a pretty relaxed dining experience. If more formal dining is what you're after, the downstairs area is perfect.
CAC offers an all day menu of small plates designed to be shared; treats like risotto balls, crepes baked with pumpkin, goats cheese, dill and
tomato or baked egglplant with pesto and parmesan. The dishes may be small but the flavours are anything but - I advise you go in a group so you can sample as many different plates possible, they're all so good.
The wine list is extensive yet approachable ? featuring both local and international wines, but I'd particularly suggest trying one of the amazing selection of non-alcoholic cocktails.
Hi The Team @ CAC,
Moana and I are on our honeymoon in South Island. We would like to thank you and your team for a wonderful evening. Our whole day from the church didn’t go exactly to plan but our reception went perfectly. So thank you for your help and patience. A lot of people commented on the venue and how great it was. We would definitely recommend this place next time.
We just wanted to say of quick thank you for the function on Friday 16
th March. Everything ran smoothly, the food was great and we had lots of positive feedback about the venue and the band.
So thank you very much for helping us organising
Céline (60 Pax on the Bar for Drinks & Nibbles)
Bruce & I would like to thank you & all your staff for a great night, the venue was great, & also the food, & heaps of people were very impressed, so hopefully you will get more business from it.
Will be coming for dinner in the next few weeks.
Bruce & Glenis Gore (80 pax, 3rd March 2012)
A big thank you from Kent and I too all the staff that ensured our engagement party went smoothly sat night!
We had an amazing time, and our guests commented on the food and wonderful venue.
Alicia McCarthy (60 pax 28th Jan 2012)
I would very much like to thank you and your staff for a wonderful evening we experienced for our end of year function for the Gad-a-Bouts Tenpin Group.
All attending voiced to me their appreciation of how well we were looked after and the food was just excellent in every way. It made for a special night for all concerned.
Thanks for your efforts and a big "High Five" to your team on a job well done.
Mike. (21st Dec 2011)
A massive group of us came here for an engagement party. We started off upstairs and had a selection of the tapas - can highly recommend the shaved prosciuto and Rissoto balls. The service was friendly and efficient. After we had eaten we went downstairs for drinks. Upstairs is a great venue to hire out as its on a mezzanine floor so you have privacy but still can enjoy the atmosphere.
Apples (1st Sep 2011)
Dear Rachel and Warren
I wish to personally thank both of you. Rachel ? you are such a gem and really cared about our group and meeting our needs. You led a team that were lovely and efficient.
Warren ? you are a star and thanks so much for tailoring the menu for our group.
CAC simply WOW’d the team at Hawkins Watts and you enabled us to create a great end of year experience for them.
With thanks, Alison (Dec, 4th, 2010. 40 pax)
Hi, I would just like to say a big thank you for accommodating us all on Friday night for my birthday dinner/drinks- we all had a great time and the food was excellent!
Ashley ( Oct 8, 2010. 60 pax)
I would like to congratulate Tina and her team for the excellent service they provided to all at my wife's 50th birthday lunch today. Everyone I spoke to had were very impressed not only with the service but also with the food variety and quality. A memorable occasion to all of us and especially to my wife. I am sure that you have won some more new customers.
José and Caroline Machado (September 2010, 36 pax)
Just love it here - great jazz on a Sunday. Great service. Fabulous wine and awesome non alcoholic cocktails. Top that off with some delicious tapas...mmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmm
Lydia(14 July 2010)
Just wanted to let you know that everything was perfect for our wedding reception at CAC, we couldn't have asked for a better day. Everyone raved about the food so thank the Chef for us please!
Thanks for all the help, we had a wonderful day & we'll definitely be in again for dinner soon.
Shylah & Andy (January 2010, 95 pax)
Thank you so much for a great night for our group. I’m getting lots of praise today, everyone had such a good time and they raved about the food!
Cheers Yolande (December 2009, 43 pax)
I would just like to thank you & your staff for a great lunch for our group today. Everyone thoroughly enjoyed the large variety of dishes which kept arriving and the service was also excellent. The function was enjoyed by all.
Many thanks for the relaxing occasion.
Elizabeth (November 2009, 23 pax)
Just want to tell you our group had a great time last night, food was amazing, as well as the staff.
Thanks a lot.
Flo (September 2009, 12 pax)
Just wanted to say a big thanks for Saturday night. It was really fantastic. Everyone is still raving about how great the food is. Lots of first time tapas eaters who we have hopefully converted! Your staff were helpful and attentive - even at the end of the night when they were probably dying for us to leave!
Thanks again, we had a great time.
Greg and Linda (May 2009)
Metro Magazine - CAC voted in the top 50 restaurants, May 2009
In the bluestone building once home to the Colonial Ammunition Company, staff serve delicious "small plate" dishes: larger than tapas, smaller than normal restaurant meals. The food is original and delectable: chorizo with braised onion, grapes and rosemary; grilled sardineswith oranges, dates and Belgian endive; watermelon salad with goats' cheese, orange, basil and grilled radish. You can snack while you drink: the wine and beer lists are good, the cocktails inspiring, and they have Lustau sherries too. Even better, go for a full meal. Relax upstairs on the comfortable couches, in an "island mezzanine" in the middle of the room, and soak it all up. They have funky music, some of it live, some by DJs who include Rip It Up founder Murray Cammick.
Grapevine, Winestate Annual 2005
With the sustained success of outlets such as Craft and Pasha it would seem that Aucklanders are finally taking to the notion of 'grazing', which for a nation built on sheep could not come too quickly. The 'small plates/big flavours' notion of eating, as opposed to the entrée/main/dessert more formal dining that has supported this country for so long, is becoming an acceptable way of seeing through languid summer afternoons and evenings. The latest act to hit the 'small plates' stage is C.A.C, housed in the beautiful heritage-listed site which was formally the Colonial Ammunition Company. While loosely based on the tapas idea, the food at C.A.C is more substantial than that, and thankfully doesn't just restrict itself to European influences. North African, Italian as well as Spanish tastes all get a showing here on a menu that is constantly evolving. The veal & pork meatballs with laban, lemon and parmesan are a flavoursome delight; the Venetian chicken salad an intriguing and delicious dish, lifted above the usual by currants, parsley and orange. The fried baby squid with saffron aioli is a treat; and all of these are served on jus or sauces that just beg to be soaked up with the liberal slices of bread that come with everything. The winelist goes for textures and flavours that accompany the cuisine, and leans to the more unusual and exotic, while remaining very well priced. The staff are young, pretty, immaculately turned out and unfailingly knowledgeable about the menu and the venue, whose history lends the space an ambience that a purpose built site simply cannot match.
Big tastes from the Mediterranean make this address the next BEST thing to being there.
Most new restuarants tend to trumpet their arrival; C.A.C. decided to try to sneak in and perfect its opening efforts quietly. Its attempts were in vain. If the sound of builders just finishing did not draw attention, the noises of the enthused few who found the place before its official opening did.
It's the red chairs outside that first attract me. This is the former home of the Colonial Ammunition Company, hence this new establishment's name. The interior of the bluestone building has been stripped back and given a fresh emphasis with a slightly Moorish look. The wait staff wear striking red aprons and the meat slicer is the same shade. The bar is to the left, the restaurant to the right, and red lights lead to space upstairs. Very smart.
"Small plates, big flavours," says the blurb about this place. The Mediterranean Ms with me is much heartened by the fact that it doesn't call this stuff tapas - because tapas it ain't.
What it most emphatically is, is a selection of 17 great-sounding temptations; each from a latino clime. These are dishes designed to be shared as you pick over the day's events. Even the familiar has a sassy twist: the sauteed mushrooms have truffled chicken dumplings; the hummus comes with spiced lamb and pinenuts, and the chicken salad has currants, parsley and orange. There's also more than a cursory nod to vegetarians, and it is this territory that we wander with our choice of baked goat's-cheese with olives and rosemary. Alongside we get meatballs (veal and pork) with labna, lemon and parmesan.
Prices start at $8 and reach no more than $15. There is bread a-plenty - and bloody good it is too - to go with each dish.
The service manages to be efficient without envoking the clinical. Our dishes are with us in a time that is duly considerate of the Friday lunch hour we are observing. The flavours are indeed big (and fresh and gorgeous) and the servings warrant the price. The tables seem a bit small for groups hoping to pick off each other's plates, though.
There is a thunderously good wine list - longer than the menu itself. The food cries out for alcohol, but we restrict ourselves to water, on this occasion at least.
I don't know what this place will get like when it's full, but I like it quiet as it is today. I also like the chocolate and coffee opera cake we share over a very good coffee that comes in the sweetest cups I've seen.
We leave feeling lucky indeed to have discovered this place in its infancy. It suggests a decent and slightly exotic pedigree and a repeat visit, or maybe many more, beckons.
Written by Geraldine Johns
Sunday Star Times, November 7. About Town section.