16 November 2010
If the Gaucho Grill is the 18 stone bully of the Argentinian Steak House scene, kicking sand in everyone's face and making you think that they invented the art of grilling meat, then Buen Ayre is definitely the speccy nerd. Except that this speccy nerd really knows how to look after himself.
If ever a man were born with a steak knife in his mouth, then that man must be Buen Ayre's co-owner, John P. Rattigan. Born to expat Irish parents, a nation not slouching when it comes to fine cattle husbandry, on a cattle ranch outside Buenos Aires, he eventually moved to the UK to set up Buen Ayre. His title is not Chef, but Asador – the title given to those Argentines who shoulder the heavy responsibility for the BBQ – the high priest who officiates over the holiest holy of Argentine cuisine.
Buen Ayre is a steak restaurant. That much is clear. There is no point going here unless you too worship at the altar of meat. 45 covers only, it could sit quietly in the corner of one of Gaucho's barns. They run two sittings, 6.45pm and 9pm, and I'd advise the later one… trying to stagger through this quantity of meat in 2 hours is a challenge.
The centre point of the rustic Hackney restaurant is the authentic parilla that takes pride of place in the bijoux open-plan kitchen. It's a huge metal grill, custom built in Argentina, on which the slabs of beef are stacked before being lowered onto a base covered in glowing charcoal. The sight of the grill, a bovine version of the Spanish Inquisition, groans with meats and sausages and serves to highlight why you're not here for the salad. I would describe the rest of the restaurant, but dear reader, I didn't notice it. Wood? Maybe some pictures? Sod it, I was here for the meat…
Bread (standard white baguette and a couple of Jacobs crackers) was rescued utterly with a heavenly mix of blue cheese and butter to spread. God knows how good that would have been on nice bread. It came with a brace of homemade empanadas; crumbly buttery pastry cases like spicy Cornish pasties enclosing fresh, hot fillings, designed to take the edge off our hunger. I couldn't stop with the blue cheese mix, determined as I was not to ruin the steak to follow.
We went for the Parillada Deluxe. A metal tray heated over some of those charcoals, served to your table with a selection of steaks, sausages and cheese (yes, cheese, I'll come back to that). The tray arrived dwarfing the diminutive server, the pair of steaks stacked precariously over the grill. The deluxe comes with a 14oz sirloin and an 11oz rib-eye, both served the rare side of medium rare (to the possible detriment of the fattier rib-eye), sizzling slightly on the plate. If this wasn't enough, the grill also contains two large sausages, disappointingly dry this time but I've been assured that this is a rarity, and four nuggets of a homemade spicy, crumbling black pudding. And a disc of creamy provolone cheese with a topping of dried herbs, sizzling away in a corner of the plate, pulled away in artery threatening lumps. Nice as it was, it felt somewhat extraneous, like they were really trying to fill you with as much fat as you could take. Vital, tasty, life affirming fat for sure, but I felt towards the end of the marathon a little like a force-fed goose. The meat for the record was good. Very good. And certainly one to wave under the nose of anyone who has ever uttered the sentence, “I never bother with steak, it's all too samey for me”. I won't mention the char, or the marbling, or any of the other phrases that confirmed meatheads will bandy around, but will confirm that the flesh was deep red throughout and had the most beautiful, almost sweet, taste.
We didn't have time for desserts, feeling slightly rushed at the end of our time slot. It's unlikely we'd have had room for any, but the option would have been nice. A swift espresso then instead, before rolling off into the Hackney night. I'll be back, and will find it hard to go back to the Gaucho after this. Have a look, you won't be disappointed.