Peter Morrell is reminded about how good the wine and food from Argentina really is at this sophisticated restaurant
In another life I regularly travelled to Buenos Aires in Argentina. It is one of the most pleasant cities in Latin America, offering exquisite Spanish architecture, great food, fine wine and if you are lucky spontaneous tango performances in San Telmo market. When I got back to the UK it was frustrating trying to find prime pampas raised beef and a good selection of wines from Argentina, that was until Gaucho opened!
Now twenty years on and with 14 branches across the UK it is still setting the standard for great steaks and, with the tireless effort of Gaucho’s Director of Wines, Phil Crozier, boasts an exceptional 200 strong wine list. You will find wines from small producers, blends formulated specifically for Gaucho and even a custom-designed glass that will deliver the ultimate Malbec experience.
I recently went along to the flagship restaurant just off Piccadilly in London to sample their new autumn menu. Executive Chef, Brett Duarte, has declared that autumn “is the season to try something new” and he has realised his ambition with a fusion of European flavours and Argentine culinary techniques.
The Piccadilly restaurant has recently been refurbished, the walls of this bovine temple are appropriately covered in black and white cow hides. This two tone design scheme is carried, with great effect, throughout the three storey dining space. We sat on the top floor, the subdued lighting, chequered floor tiles and smart diners gave it a very sophisticated, clubby feel.
While browsing the new menu we sipped an aperitif made with white white wine and a blackberry and elderflower liqueur, the white wine in this Argentine style kir was Torrontés. Created with grapes unique to Argentina, they come from vineyards high in the foothills of the Andes around the town of Salta. Growing the grapes at altitude subjects them to extremes of temperature which gives them an intense floral and fruity character.
A selection of delicious fresh breads appeared together with a dish of herb and garlic olive oil for dipping while we made our selection of dishes. Prominent on the list of starters are ceviches and tiraditos, seafood ‘cooked’ in citrus juice. If this is not to your taste other options include a platter of speciality sausages, pan fried scallops and empanadas, little pastries with an assortment of fillings.
My companion’s starter was the Ecuadorian ceviche with shrimp, roasted tomato and pepper sauce, onion and coriander while mine was a new autumn innovation sea bream tiraditos with coconut milk, ginger, chilli, coriander and lime. Both delivered what we wanted, very clean, precise tastes with the natural flavours of the ingredients shining through. Paired with this course was a Torrontés from Selección G, a series of wines made exclusively for Gaucho. This example was the Michel Torino 2013 and was an ideal match for the seafood
The server brings the selection of steaks available to your table – rumps, rib-eyes and fillets all looking very succulent. There are numerous cuts and sizes to choose from. My companion’s selection was the 225 gram rump but I was keen to try something from the new menu and the confit of belly pork looked appealing. We shared a mixed salad and chunky chips cooked in beef dripping.
Another main which looked very interesting was pappardelle with rabbit ragu, braised in Torrontés with carrots and parsley and if you are not a carnivore then the pumpkin, sage and parmesan ravioli was a good alternative.
The main courses were both excellent, the meat was juicy, tender and full of flavour and my vegetables of buttered cabbage and glazed button onions added a further dimension. The wine pairing for this course was a very supple red, the 2008 Merlot from Luigi Bosca. The subtle spices and tannin worked well with both the beef and the pork.
Desserts were almost beyond us, we did toy with the idea of trying the newly introduced poached pears, walnut sponge and yoghurt mousse with fresh blackberries but eventually shared the deliciously decadent dulce de leche cheesecake which was well up to expectation.
It was the end of a memorable meal, made even more enjoyable by the friendly servers and the knowledgeable sommelier. Few restaurants provide a proper sense of occasion but at Gaucho the combination of good food, well sourced wines and comfortable surroundings achieved this elusive experience. Expect to pay around £75 per person including drinks.
We discovered a little piece of history on the way out, the Swallow Street location was once the site of Martinez, the UK’s first Spanish restaurant. In the 1920s the King of Spain was a regular customer and dined in a tiled private room which we had a peek at. I get the feeling that if he made a return visit today His Majesty would thoroughly approve of the new menu.
For information on locations, menus and to book go to www.gauchorestaurants.co.uk