I had to come up with an option B for Mister's birthday. Though there are various Argentinian restaurants around town, I needed one that looked the part but not too pretentious to the point of trying too hard.
Casa Malevo fits the bill; Mayfair location in the heart of Connaught village, prime imported steaks on the menu headed by a chef with El Bulli on his CV, all set in a warm, homely country-house ambience. Having been to the more casual sister restaurant, Zoilo, and loved the Asado flank steak, I thought this couldn't go wrong. We started off with a carafe of light and easy-drinking Finca la Linda.
Classic Empanadas - Hand cut beef, potatoes & olives
Mister ordered one out of curiosity. These pastries were stuffed with plenty of beef in a piping hot thick, rich gravy. Personally I'm not a fan of pastry-based dishes, but MIster didn't fault it.
Grilled scallops with cauliflower, caramelised pork belly & chorizo
Mister was tossing up between this and the chorizo - decided to keep it light with the scallops.
Everything was done well - the scallops were plump and sweet with a creamy centre, the pork belly had an indulgent layer of gelatinous lard, brought together with a tangy bite from the chorizo jus. BUT. Things were lacking in surprise and flavours were quite subdued and so it was quite a forgettable dish.
Had the great morcilla been on the menu, I would have recommended that instead.
Mollejas al verdeo - Grilled sweetbreads with onions & lemon
I heard great things about this, so despite sweetbreads not being a usual choice, I gave it a go. And I'm so glad I did.
The sweetbread was lightly grilled to give it a delicate, slightly crispy shell with gently charred edges. The texture was divine, wobbly and lusciously creamy and it just dissolved away in mouth. It was almost like bone marrow, but marginally firmer and much less greasy, none of the expected pungency from offal and glands. The crunch from diced onions and mild lemony acidity lifted the weight from the dish - beautiful creation.
We were then recommended a delicious fuller-bodied Decero to go with our mains.
Asado - slow grilled flank steak & bone marrow sauce
I remember the Asado dish back at Zoilo being absolutely brilliant. And this did not disappoint - somehow it was even better. The incredibly sexy ruby shade on the steak shouts perfect medium rare, as requested. All the juices and flavours were packed in the muscles, released with every chew.
The bone marrow sauce was as good as it sounds, rich enough to max out the bovine goodness from the meat, but not too heavy to kill the meat. Absolutely gorgeous.
Bife ancho - Rib eye
Unfortunately my rib-eye was nowhere as good. The steak was sweating quite a bit when it arrived and juices were pouring out as I sank my knife into the meat. Hmm... I would say it was cooked to medium rather than medium rare. No I did not send it back because Mister's Asado was cooked to the kind of perfection that would invoke jealousy. I wasn't going to have him wait for my second attempt. Plus it wasn't miles off the mark.
Therefore it was no surprise that my slab was steak wasn't terrific. I was expecting intense concentrated beefy flavours... sadly it was all fairly weak and somewhat diluted. The meat itself was no longer succulent as most of the juices had sweated onto the plate, though the fattier bites were still quite enjoyable. Having heard such wonderful things about Argentine steaks, I was quite disappointed, both with the slip in execution and quality of meat.
Papas fritas "Provenzal" & Roasted flat mushrooms
The chips were sprinkled with garlic and parsley, perfectly crispy on the outside and fluffy on the inside. The mushrooms were slightly under-seasoned and mildly watery, but overall okay.
We finished off with the creme brulee & banana split ice cream - it was as good as I remembered it to be at Zoilo.
I'm almost obliged to say Casa Malevo was great, seeing I did choose it for Mister's birthday. Truth is it was a bit of a gamble, going for the posher version of Zoilo. The good news is Mister enjoyed his steak and I loved my sweetbread starter, the not-so-good news is his mediocre starter and my steak failed. The team of staff made up for a fair bit what was lacking on the plates. Our wine recommendations were good, Roberto made sure we cleared our plates and our server was as charming as it gets. Overall I was pretty happy but I'm more likely to return to Zoilo than to Casa Malevo purely because I prefer a more modern menu.
23 Connaught Street
Tel: 0207 402 1988