on April 10, 2009
Argentina - 08/04/09When I started my Around the World in 80 Meals challenge, one of the restaurants I was most looking forward to visiting was Gaucho. And I have to say, that having now eaten there, I am not disappointed!Gaucho is, as you might expect, an Argentinian restaurant. But whereas, say, the Brazilian restaurant Tropeiro plays up its Brazilian heritage with frescos, objets d’art and stylized uniforms for the wait staff, Gaucho keeps the Argentinian influence to its menu and wine list alone. Visually, the restaurant is very slick and stunning in monochrome colours. Chandeliers hang from high over head, while the walls are pristine white – even the organ pipes in one of the mezzanine areas! Walls and chairs are covered in black-and-white cowhide print. Quite frankly it looks the sort of place where you would find footballers and their too-thin girlfriends dining at the next table. I had known the prices here were on the high side, so we were saving it for a special occasion. The occasion was that a friend was back up from London for Easter. Ed knows his steak – he was the person who sent me off to Florence in search of the perfect bistecca fiorentina. And in particular he has consistently rated the beef he enjoyed in Argentina the best in the world. So as he had been with us at the genesis of our quest in St Petersburg he was the perfect excuse for Paul and me to tick off Argentina. Another school-friend, Gary, made the party four.Reservations would be advisable on a weekend night, but we were escorted to a table straight away by the manager. Our waitress brought menus and some bread rolls with chimichurri (a sweet oil, vinegar, garlic and chilli marinade) to dip. The menu is gloriously South American – starters range from empanadas to ceviches, and the mains are predominantly fare for carnivores, with Argentinian beef and Patagonian lamb. The waitress reappeared with a carving board to demonstrate the steaks on offer – rump, sirloin, rib-eye and fillet – and the sizes – 225g, 300g, or 400g. I ordered rump steak, and downgraded myself from 400 to 300g with the decision to get a couple of empanadas. I also ordered a bowl of chips to accompany it. Gary likewise ordered rump steak and chips. Ed ordered empanadas, a salad, and the fillet steak (at £28.00 this was almost double the cost of Gary and my rump steaks (£15.50). Paul went for braised Patagonian lamb shank (£18.25).Well satisfied with my choice of red meat, there was one more thing I wanted – red wine. Gaucho has an extensive wine list (more than 150 different vintages), with certain bottles costing over £100! Obviously, that was a bit outside our budget, but a nice bottle of malbec for £26.50 was acceptable to our wallets. We went for Michel Torrino ‘Dom David’ from Salta. In fact Ed and I got through three bottles, though we only drank one. Because when the wine waiter brought across a bottle and uncorked it, he sniffed it, then grimaced. Corked. So he went a brought a second bottle. Opening and sniffing this he announced that this bottle was corked too. It was only with the third bottle that he was content to actually let us taste the wine! And thank God he did, because the wine was a lovely full-bodied number, with a full-on plummy nose and a great peppery aftertaste. (One nice touch was that when we paid we were given a card detailing which wine we had been drinking, in case we wanted to order some from their wine cellar for our own personal consumption.But back to the steak. My rump came served simply on a plate. No garnish, no sauce, just a confident thick chunk of meat. Cutting revealed a red heart, oozing with juice. Frankly, covering such a wonderful steak with sauce would have been a crime! The bowl of chips I ordered proved to be crisp and lightly salted, and a perfect accompaniment. My empanadas were served at the same time at my request, two pastries filled with dry finely-ground beef mince. And while they were very nice, I do have a certain amount of regret that I ordered them rather than just order a bigger steak!I have to say that Paul’s lamb looked really good too, encrusted with lentil and served on a bed of mash with a malbec jus. But really the final word should go to Ed, that conoisseur of all things carnivorous. His opinion? "That was the best steak I’ve eaten for a long time". Since, say he was in Argentina three years ago? Just a contented smile.Gaucho is not cheap. I spent £40.00 excluding tip; Ed spent yet more. While our bottle of wine was really nice, it did cost £26.50, which must be twice (or more) what you could expect to pay for it off the shelf (indeed, it retails at £12.60 in Gaucho’s own ‘wine boutique’). Personally I think a 100% mark-up is a bit rich. Plus, empanadas are listed in the menu at £4.50, but you have to buy a minimum of two, so the actual cost is £9.00. And really it is just this expensiveness that stops Gaucho getting a five-star rating. However, the food and wine is marvellous, and the atmosphere is very swish and stylish. For a special occasion this must be one of the restaurants in Manchester to consider making a reservation at.
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