Sunday, 7 March 2010


89 Sloane Avenue
London SW3 3DX

020 7584 9901

A girl passed our table and a large pendant earring fell to the ground, the gravitational pull too much for it. She apologised to us as she bent down to pick it up. I'm not quite sure why. There is a mixed crowd at Gaucho's in Sloane Avenue on a Saturday night. Its more footballers' wives manque than neighbourhood Chelsea, with a large crowd building up round the bar no doubt waiting for tables. Its dark, very dark (see photos, I don't like to use flash!). A good place for first dates because so bustly, dark and you can see some of these in progress. Choice of table is important though. We are placed, L.O. and I, on a table for four close to the open kitchen. We are enjoying seeing what's going on but had we been on a first date would probably have asked for a table close to the window. They make it uglier by the kitchen than it need be. There are tupperware boxes with ingredients in full view. The key attraction, the grill hotplate where the steaks are being seared, occasionally leaps into flame but its at the back and you can't see it all that clearly. They are busy but don't seem an altogether happy crew in the kitchen but they are under pressure; occasional smiles break out a bit later as the order flow wanes a bit.

Gaucho is now a chain of 12 London branches with two outside London: one in Manchester and the latest in Leeds. The trademark is cowhide seats, low lighting, Argentine steaks and an impressive Argentine wine list: all very macho. Our waitress we discover later is Slovakian and has been in the job two weeks. She shows us a board with all the different raw cuts of steak on it: rump, sirloin, fillet and rib-eye, or, in Argentine Gaucho speak, cuadril, chorizo, lomo and ancho. She then asks us if we would like to try some wine. I didn't have any of this when I came before. Maybe L.O and I just look the types to be up for it. We try the wine, an Argentine Malbec. Its outstanding. Its El Porvenir de Los Andes 'Laborum' 2005 from 1750 metres up in the Salta region. There is no mention of price. I ask how much it is. It is £65.75. Well ok but even if I was a footballer on a first date I wouldn't really want this heavy pressure when the new girlfriend has said "its lovely" to buy (the public embarrassment factor). I know L.O. well enough to feel no embarrassment in turning it down but the hard sell works and we have it. I think this is something that needs to be handled very carefully though and I'm not sure I like it in a restaurant. At the end of the meal we get something of the same thing when the cheeseboard is brought undemanded to our table to show us (strangely its a group of not very exceptional looking English cheeses and we turn it down).

We start by sharing a ceviche of Argentine baby squid, shallots, jalapeno, ginger, mint and guacamole £9.50. The squid is extremely tender but somehow despite all the flavours it manages to be strangely tasteless. They bring it, since we are sharing, with two small plates but oddly for a cold dish they are hot. We put them to one side and eat off the original plate.

We then of course go for steak. Its what you do here. I have been before and had a rare fillet. I remember it being fantastic: thick, seared on the outside and juicy red inside. The meat was beautifully tender as you would expect with fillet but there was something about the industrial restaurant grill that seemed to have been able to char the outside in a way you could never achieve at home. This time we opt for sirloin (L.O.) and rib-eye. Our waitress, because of the marbleised fat in these cuts, said to us that in order for the fat to melt it is optimum to have them medium rare rather than rare. We take her advice. I'm rather disappointed in my rib-eye relative to what I had before. The trade off with steak should be that if you have a 'lesser' and less expensive cut than fillet it is a bit tougher but has more taste, flavour. I didn't enjoy my rib-eye nearly as much as the memory of the fillet. I have a 300g one but it is cut thinner than a piece of fillet. I would have thought it very good in a pub but this is a high end place and I expected more. It was seared on the outside but a bit tougher, less juicy, somehow nothing out of the ordinary and I like my steaks blood red whatever the impact on the melting fat. We had humitas with it. These are mashed up corn in the corn husk (see photo). They with the wine were the most distinctive and interesting thing about the meal but difficult to get out of the husk without a spoon. We asked for one.

Our wine was brought by a sommelier from Gaucho who was training the staff, visiting this branch for 3 months. He told us current theory on the impact of altitude on Argentine Malbecs (they tell you on the wine list how many metres high the particular vineyard is at Gaucho). I discussed with him the issue of wine sampling in a restaurant and say how easily I feel this could misfire.

I love the combination of Argentine Malbec and blood red steak seared on the outside. If I go back I'll skip the ceviche and go for the rare fillet again. The wines are marked up very heavily here. I find the 'Laborum' for £21.96 here and for £28.75 in Gaucho's own retail Cavas de Gaucho. The steaks at 300g range from £16.25 for the cheapest cut to £28.50 for the fillet. Commendably for an upmarket restaurant there is no mandatory service charge. Our bill comes to £125. We leave a £15 tip. Its not surpising our waitress was keen to sell the wine. Even without it though the meal would have been close to £100.

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1 comment:

  1. Oh no, I was expecting a great, a really positive review. But no, the Argentine steakhouse has been put in its place!