Eating out in Buenos Aires – Argentina
Once you get over the party atmosphere of this vibrant city you will at some point feel hungry. It’s a hot place so it may take some time but when you eventually feel hungry you are in for a real treat.
There is street food in Argentina and often in the form of BBQ meat or empanadas a small beef pasty like snack sometimes taken as a starter in restaurants. The beef in Buenos Aires is outstanding and widely available. All budgets are catered for, with high end expect mid European prices but that can be sweetened by knowing that the wine is exceptional and considerably cheaper than the UK.
One of my first meals was at the Alvear Art Hotel in Recolota, a modern building swathing in art of all kinds. The restaurant is smart with a lowlight approach that suits evening dining. The food here is very sophisticated and tastes wonderful – especially after a twelve-hour flight. My sweet potatoes glazed with orange and vanilla scents, cilantro caviar (coriander) and crunchy corn was citrus and refreshing. I continued with a splendid piece of Argentinean beef that came smoked with espinillo (tree flowers) and potatoes and a corn and bacon ragout and a little corn cream.
This type of classy international cuisine with an Argentinean slant is in abundance here. It was a perfectly cooked piece of beef and prettily presented. The meal was completed with a few perfect macaroons, another sign of skill on show.
Wandering around this busy metropolis you will find orange juice vendors everywhere. Nothing is more refreshing than having a hand squeezed glass of orange juice on a hot day. And they are so quick it will be ready before you have your money out.
If you are looking for outside space with privacy to enjoy the weather then you could do worse than Home in the Palermo district, a hipster boutique hotel with enough polished concrete and oiled wooden surfaces to please most fasionistas. The vibe is ultra chic with super salads to match.
A cucumber cooler, a non-alcoholic cocktail calmed my scorched throat and the Caesar salad was just right given the temperature (about 30c). Dessert was not sensible but too gorgeous to ignore, a fresh wild strawberry cheesecake. Perfect. If you are staying there in one of their individual decorated suites or rooms you have the added luxury of taking a dip in the pool after lunch and drying off in the sun while you contemplate dinner.
There’s plenty to do to work up an appetite between meals in Buenos Aires. One afternoon I took a tour of the graffiti in the city. Not quite as odd as it may sound, some of the world’s leading exponents of the art form practice here. An incredible array of talent is evident with a friendly rivalry constantly on show. It has a serious side as well, now not only the mouthpiece of the young, the politicians have started getting in on the act by using street style to inform and disseminate their message to a new younger audience.
There can be moments of great humour as well. One of the cities famous steak houses La Brigada in San Telmo district, enjoyed by Bono no less is a case in point. I went here to try one of their legendary cuts of beef a tail of rump. First course was ordered despite their reluctance to even recognize I was there. It turned out to be provolone cheese, baked with herbs, which was delicious.
The waiters (there were two of them ignoring me) asked without a smile what I would be interested in ordering for my next plate. As I told them they couldn’t get away quick enough, again no smile or friendly gesture at all. My meat came (on its own), as I had ordered nothing else with it because they hadn’t advised me to. This cut of beef is one of the best I have ever tasted, soft and full of flavour it was like butter to cut.
The meal went on and looking around anybody and everybody connected with football has visited this restaurant. There are ‘trophy’ signed shirts from the world’s greatest football stars on the walls everywhere. When the meal came to a close my bill was presented with the biggest smile and charm anyone could have mustered. I couldn’t help but laugh out loud. This type of atrocious behavior was all the rage in Paris twenty years ago but it is still very much alive and well here. Don’t let it put you off though, if you like meat this is THE place to go for a steak.
In direct contrast my next meal was with the impossibly charming Roberto Ferrari, the general manager at the Pan Americano Hotel on 9th July Avenue and it was an object lesson in manners and decorum. He took me to lunch in their fine dining restaurant Tomo 1. Ranked 18 in Latin America’s 50 best restaurants this is heavy hitter. Home to discrete politicians and the rich and famous alike it is away from the humdrum of the city on the first floor of the hotel.
The food is very good here but what was even better was the company of Roberto. He told many stories of his life living around the world and working in the hospitality industry. As I ate my superb fillet mignon with caramalised onions and cauliflower puree he told a story that stuck in my mind, which seemed typical of Roberto and also typical of his luck.
As a younger man he was trying to impress the new lady in his life as they looked at the menu of a fashionable restaurant. It was the sort of place that would only take bookings and even then from regulars. Unperturbed Roberto and his companion walked in and asked for a table. “Do you have a reservation sir?” asked the waiter, slightly misreading the situation Roberto thought they were asking for his name “Ferrari, Roberto Ferrari” he replied. Instantly they were ushered to a comfortable private table and waited on hand and foot.
Some time later a group of distinguished Italians entered and asked for their table. Yes, it was members of the Ferrari car family. Roberto was in shock and thought he and his newly impressed girl friend would be jettisoned immediately. When everything had been explained to the Ferrari family they laughed so much and thought it was hilarious. But best of all they paid his bill. Some people have all the luck and Roberto is one of those charming people that do deserve the luck he receives. He is one of the world’s great hosts and an old school raconteur with a permanent twinkle in his eye.
It was time to find out about the food culture of Argentina, I went to The Argentine Experience a fun evening of empanada making and serious steak eating. Kicking off with making some cocktails then progress to making the national dish. A lot like a small pasty they can contain anything from beef, cheese, vegetables or fish. I made beef and cheese. A group of twenty or so had a lot of fun going free style and creating weird and wonderful shapes and ultimately tasty starters.
The fun continued with the hosts teaching us how to order our steaks in Spanish and consuming some excellent wines in the process. It’s all very entertaining and self-effacing. The steaks are top notch too, left to oxidise and then kept at room temperature for six hours these giant cubes of meat are at their best when you see them on your plate. The price for food and unlimited wine is a very reasonable $85 (USA). Well worth it. You also get to try the national drink Mate, a sort of herbal tea that is consumed from a small hollowed out pumpkin. The tea is sucked through an elaborate metal tube with a filter on the end to stop the leaves being drawn up. It is an acquired taste but amazingly popular.
There is an incredible diversity in Buenos Aires and it is a true melting pot of cultures. The El Cuartito Pizza restaurant can be found on Talcahuano 937,El Centro. It’s is an 80-year-old institution. Families have been dining here for generations. Simple wooden tables and chairs offer the diner a slice of the old immigrant life. Between 1880 and 1920 3 million Italians moved to Argentina. Their heritage is still strong and many pizzerias are still going from those early days. A word of warning, the grande pizza here is indeed grand so don’t order it if you are not very hungry! You can also get a variety of empanadas and a few other dishes here but it’s the wonderful pizza that everyone comes for. The beer is cold and the atmosphere relaxed. The building retains much of its original charm and seemingly like all pizza joints has a thriving takeaway business.
There is so much to eat and do in Buenos Aires that I have barely scratched the surface here. The variety you will encounter is wonderful, from fresh orange juice from street vendors, making your own empanadas to being on the receiving end of hilariously rude waiters makes Buenos Aires a foodies delight. As they say in Argentina ‘Me déjà ver el menú por favor?’