Friday, 27 May 2011

El Gaucho at the Argentine Barn

For the 6 years that I lived in the South Ken & Chelsea area, I used to walk pass El Gaucho on a daily basis.  It is just so very strange that I never paid a visit, despite the positive reviews, lively atmosphere it portrays and limited choice of restaurants in the neighbourhood. And the strangest of all is how I trekked all the way from East London on a weekday evening for this steakhouse…

This cosy Argentinean Steakhouse is not to be confused with the contemporary chain Gaucho. Instead this rustic, earthy El Gaucho is hidden in the basement of Old Brompton Road, and claims to be the first restaurant serving steaks from Argentina since 1990.  The décor lives up to the cowboy “gaucho” theme; it looks like a barn in a ranch. I think it’s a one-man-show in the modest open kitchen, and Chef looks like Iker Casillas from Real Madrid 15 years later.

Bread Basket (£2)
Bread rolls were sprinkled with dried herbs and sea salt. It was nice, but since they were charging me for it, perhaps at least serve them warm?

14oz Argentine Rib-Eye Steak
I didn’t opt for the more traditional (authentic?) Argentine beef flank or ribs, and tucked into a magnificent slab of rib-eye instead. Medium-rare please as Argentineans tend to have their steaks cooked more thoroughly.

I was excited by the sheer thickness of the meat; the sizzling grill pumping the whiffs of beefy scents was just a bonus.

I loved it. It was bursting with beefiness and packed with f-loads of meat juice, beautifully grilled with a slightly charred edge and seasoned with simplesalt and pepper. Great stuff.

Frankly I don’t know if the sizzling grill was a definite winner. For 14oz, the second half of the meat inevitably became medium-done by the time I got to it. However it was still warm and juicy with a melting rind of fat, which made it a bloody good medium-done piece. The steak would still be red in the middle without the grill, but the cold hinging opaque fat is hardly appetising. You gain some and lose some, right?

There was nothing barbeque about the barbeque sauce, more like salsa with larger chunks onions and peppers with much more oil. It wasnt my type of thing, as sauces are never my type of thing. Mister liked it though.

Argentina prides itself on high quality beef as the cows live in free nature with no stabling, feed on natural grass as opposed to the corn and hormones mix the Americans feed their animals. So the real Argentinean steaks are undoubtedly leaner with a natural sweetness, just enough fat to enhance the full-blown bovine flavours and tenderness. American beef, by comparison, generally tastes slightly “watered down” with less concentrated juice and a bit too much fat. Having said that, I do think the high-end steakhouses that stock meat from free range cows sit on the same rank as the Argentinean ones. Does El Gaucho serve the top-end Argentine steak? At £16.90 a pop I have my reservations, but it was one good steak.

Papas Fritas a la Provenzal
This translates to fat chip with garlic and parsley. Good chips.

We were one of the 2 tables at 7pm this weekday evening, but were joined by 3 couples nearing the end of our meal. Still far from the jovial buzz many described. Unlike Hawksmoor, Goodman or even JW, El Gaucho is a completely different kind of Steakhouse, also very serious its meat, but totally easy about the place. It's a nice change.

30B Old Brompton Road
South Kensington
Tel: 0207 584 8999

You may also like: Hawksmoor

El Gaucho on Urbanspoon

Friday, 20 May 2011

Chin Chin Lab: Liquid Nitro Wonder

I know I know, this ice cream joint has fallen off the hot topics’ list for over a year now. Forgive me, I simply hadn’t got round to it; I don’t frequent Camden and Mister thinks there is nothing magical about liquid Nitrogen; he works with it on a daily basis. Though I, too, graduated with a science degree *blushing with embarrassment*, I found the idea of making instant ice cream with liquid nitrogen bloody fascinating. Remember how toasting marshmallow over a Bunsen burner used to be exciting? This is a huge leap forward.

The eccentric ice cream parlour looks exactly like my high school lab; 1L beakers, conical flasks, the gigantic tank of gas and of course, the white lab coat and goggles worn by Mr Akbari-Kalhur, the genius that gave breath to this unusual laboratory. Queues were inevitable as each order comes with a magnificent display of the liquid nitrogen being poured into the mixer containing the ice cream mix, then the gas spills across the counter, taking us to science heaven (not sure if that's a place anyone would like to go).

In seconds, the liquid mix thickens to dense, stretchy and smooth ice cream. I chose grilled white chocolate and salted caramel sauce to top my tub.

Though I couldnt fault the texture, I wasnt mad about the flavours. On the day there was a choice of chocolate, vanilla and pina colada as the base flavour. I went for chocolate; it was mild, feeble and lacked the hint of bitterness. On the other hand, the grilled white chocolate chunks were uniquely gorgeous.

It wasnt just about the small tub of ice cream anyway, it was the concept, the lab and the show.

49-50 Camden Lock Place
Tel: 07885 604 284

Chin Chin Laboratorists on Urbanspoon

Monday, 16 May 2011

Bone Marrow - Duck Breast - Watermelon

Roasted Bone Marrow
Bone marrow is ultra high in nutrition value, that's why predatory animals always head for the marrow first, then liver and heart, finally muscles. Though we don't require as much fat in our diet, the mono-saturates are good for lowering cholesterol.

This is my first time cooking bone marrow; it was an impulse buy from Fortnum & Masons. I roasted the marrow for 25mins at 220 degrees, then scooped the marrow out of the bones, sprinkled with some sea salt and pepper. Scrumptious.

It was an easy starter.

Honey glazed Duck Breast with Sweet Potato roti and Curly Kale
First time with duck breast too! I roasted a whole duck with orange before, the amount of oil stored in the duck  had put me off this ingredient for quite a while.

1) Criss-cross the skin, then fry skin side down for 4-5mins over medium heat, drain and preserve the oil for the veg.
2) Flip and glaze the skin with 2 spoonfuls of soy sauce followed by 2 spoonfuls of honey per breast. Send into a preheated oven to roast for 4-5 mins at 180 degrees. Then rest on a warm plate.
3) Deglaze the pan with 100ml red wine and 4 sprigs of lemon thyme, simmer until reduced by half.
4) Fry the sliced sweet potato in the duck fat, and gently wilt the curly kale with a knob of butter.

Easily managed in an hour, serves 2.

I regrettably overcooked the duck slightly though, left it in the oven for a couple of mins too long... but still good.


Desserts is lightened up with some fresh watermelon to celebrate summer, expertly chosen by Mister:)

Friday, 13 May 2011

The Artisan practising Careful Art

This side of Mayfair is teemed with good restaurants, Goodman, Sketch and Wild Honey just to name a few. Needless to say securing a table at the last minute during the Easter break was a depressing and despairing experience. Thankfully Artisan at the Westbury could fit us in.

Artisan is hidden on the ground floor of the five-star hotel. The décor falls into the 90s elegance category; cream mellow walls with chocolate darklining and grand chandeliers. We were seated under the glass roof and enjoyed some natural lights. Comfy.

Amuse Bouche
Confit duck with cucumber topped with pan-fried duck. While the piece of duck was flavoursome and succulent, I didnt think it made a great amuse bouche. Neither did it excite my taste buds nor shown any characterisation the chefs approach. But hey, its free. People are so hard to please nowadays.

Mister thought the container looked like an ashtray.

A second round of warm bread was offered on a silver tray with both salted and unsalted butter.

Fourme dAmbert Mousse with prickled spring vegetables
The ancient French blue cheese was piped with a palette of most vivacious colours, ever so artistically presented. The cheese was savoury and nutty, its supple texture was offset was by the whipping to mingle with the gently pickled vegetable. The combination was perfect. The absolute highlight, however, was the truffle shavings that casually snowed on the dish. The truffle drawn out the lasting taste of Fourme dAmbert and enhanced its earthiness. I relished every little bit of this starter.

Chicken & Foie Gras Ballontine with Armagnac prune, rhubarb & toasted brioche
Misters ballontine was also impeccably presented. The ratio was more chicken less foie gras, which Mister thought forfeited on the velvety touch. I preferred the lighter body and thought it was good, though not as impressive as my cheese mousse.

Hake with crushed Jersey Royals, spinach & lemon foam
I was half-expecting a fairly firm fish, seeing the French call it White Salmon, and was gladly wrong. It was moist, soft and flaky, more subtle than cod but was nicely lifted by the mild foam. Sheets of courgette were intertwined with lemon skin, which carried the refreshing zest but none of the acidity.The dish was gentle.

Roasted Middle Neck of Lamb with pomme puree, tomato capers & anchovies
This look remarkably similar to the lamb loin at Viajante; I have reasons to believe the limp-leaf-draping-over-red-meat look is currently hot in the culinary world.

This was okay, if not ever so slightly overcooked for the coarser texture. I dont think I am a fan of the stiff flavours of neck meat.

Both of my courses were brilliant with careful balance. Though Mister too enjoyed his meal, he wasnt particular blown away. Artisan was cautious, but perhaps too cautious that there werent enough innovative surprises in the recipes. All in all it was a good meal, though a subdued competitor in relation to its neighbours.

Bond Street
Tel: 0207 629 7755

You may also like: Viajante, Pearl by Jun Tanaka, Texture

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