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Clifford Mould enjoyed one of the best steaks in London

The Gaucho Grill, Sloane Avenue, SW3

Every so often the oh-so-jaded palate of the restaurant critic needs a rest. After a surfeit of dishes like those memorable slow cooked hippo toes on a bed of saffron tapioca with wilted dock leaves and crocus bulb salsa, one feels like tucking into a really good plain steak. I'm always trying to get across to my American culinary arts students the difference between what is basically peasant cuisine - lengthy and loving preparation and cooking of the lesser cuts (mainly offal) - versus the affluent access to the very best cuts, which require as little interference as possible. It's true that with a terrific piece of steak, you need, in theory, do little more than show it some super-heated coals. Well, almost true: there's great skill in the timing, and before that in the selection and butchery of the meat.

In the Gambia last month I watched the ceremonial sheep being butchered immediately after ritual slaughter for the Moslem feast of Tobaski as it is called in Serrekunda. I've never seen such a mess in my life! Apart from the fact that, due to the warm fly-ridden climate, the meat is not hung at all, not even for a minute, there is the matter of the age of the animal and the final indignity: crudely hewn chunks of meat were stuck on a barbecue for ages, presumably to make sure that all the bugs were killed off. If you've ever thought meat was tough, think again! But it rammed home the point in my mind about the preparation and cooking of raw meat! Don't let me put you off the Gambia: just stick to the fish, it's miles better!

Back to Argentina - that's where the Gaucho beef comes from - free ranging over the Pampas, herded by the Gauchos who are also honing their equestrian skills to perfection so that Argentina is also source of the world's best polo players. The great thing is the sea voyage to the UK, which gives the meat time to hang properly in a controlled environment. 

I've kept a beady eye on this mini-chain ever since they opened the first Gaucho Grill in Gracechurch Street in the City and they remain committed to their initial high standards. I believe the boss is married to an Argentine opera singer, whatever the detail, he knows both countries extremely well and he has successfully transplanted the best of South American culinary culture to the UK. Before we go any further, South American does not mean Mexican, so forget anything to do with guacamole, enchiladas, fajitas or Texas.  

The Gaucho Grill's menu is the longest in London. In physical size, not in the number of dishes, thank goodness! It's a triumph of design over practicality, but it's certainly stylish. There are ten starters - all interesting, from large prawns from Mozambique (half a world away!) to escabeche of tuna, or empanadas - Argentine pastries stuffed with beef and black olives. We had a false start with the scallops which were pale and jelly like, they  needed heavier searing to bring out the caramel. But the veal sweetbreads were marvellous - everything the scallops weren't - crisp and brown on the edges and soft inside. The chorizo and morcilla (black pudding) was rich and satisfying, it could even double as a main course with a side order of vegetables.  

The centrepiece of the menu is of course the steaks. It's all very simple, the four classic types: rump, sirloin, rib-eye and fillet, presented in three sizes, 225g, 300g and 400g, or name your own size. They are lightly rock-salted and rubbed with chimichurri (chopped parsley, garlic and coriander oil); you can choose a salsa or sauce to go with it. We ordered the sirloin and the fillet, and divided the two steaks equally between us. There's a real difference in flavour between the two, hard to describe in words. The fillet had the smoother texture certainly, but both pieces of meat were simply superb. To use an over worked cliché - it melts in your mouth. There's an amazing selection of Argentine wines, the reds to go with your steaks starting at £18.95 a bottle. There's even a special list for true wine buffs with deep pockets, and I mean deep! With your starter, don't miss the Santa Rosa Viognier, is the best I've had other than really classic Condrieu. 

Next time I'll have to be brave and sacrifice my steak in favour of some of the other delicacies from the rest of the menu. There are other meats from Spain. Grilled Solomillo Iberico sounds good: grilled tenderloin from acorn fed black pigs from Guijelo, or saddle of lamb form the banks of the Duero river. Even the hamburgers are chopped to order from whichever steak variety you care to choose from. We particularly enjoyed the side order of wilted spinach with lemon and garlic butter.

If you've got any room after all this, try the grape and white wine tart, or share a plate of Argentine chocolate bread pudding!

Clifford Mould March 2003
See also Louise Elgin's December 2001 review of the Chancery Lane Gaucho Grill

The Gaucho Grill
89 Sloane Avenue, London SW3 Tel 020 7584 9901

125-126 Chancery Lane, London WC2 1PP  Tel 020 7242-7727
12 Gracechurch Street, London EC3  Tel 020 7626 5180
19 Swallow Street, London W1   Tel 020 7 734 4040
64 Heath Street, London NW3 Tel 7431 8222
29 Westferry Circus, Docklands E14  Tel 7987 9494

UK Restaurant Reviews – The Best Of The Dine Online Restaurant Reviews 2001 - 2010

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