This branch is just one of a dozen Gaucho venues around London (not to mention the Leeds and Manchester outposts). That has to make the brand one of the smartest – and priciest – chain restaurants yet conceived. And the fact that they sponsor Polo events and offer yacht trips pretty much says it all.
Friesian cows all look much the same to the untrained eye, and the Gaucho restaurants all share that same black-and-white colour scheme. Enter at street level into a cool, dim vestibule area where a front-of-house staff member offers to take coats and already the theme is apparent: walls are cow-print, a bench is partly cow-print, floor tiles are white and the ceiling is black. So the coolness referred to is really only in the temperature sense.
At the back of the lobby, note the wine tasting room. With its glass-topped table, chandelier and bright lighting it could hardly be more ostentatious. Gaucho is a chain, but you can definitely show off here. Downstairs it’s more of the same (another welcome desk), but in a cavernous, multi-leveled space that recalls an ‘80s disco. Cascading light fixtures and tall slender flower pots help make the place feel a little less enormous. The open kitchen is huge. But in this place it’s easy to miss. They could be doing anything in there.
Apart from the ubiquitous cow skin, there’s an exceedingly artificial, pre-fab feel to the environment – it could be the way the floor tiles and wall and ceiling panels are uniformly square. There’s so much meat being cooked in this downstairs space, too, that there must be some serious air conditioning going on. That doesn’t exactly lend a fresh feel to the space. Guests are smartly dressed for the most part - some because they’re having a pretty expensive meal, and others because they’re here on business (an expense account would be handy at this place).
The menu begins with a selection of zingy ceviches (£6.50-£16.50), taking in shrimp, tuna, lobster, trout and the humble-but-delicious mackerel. The ceviche sampler (£14.95) gives you a trio to try, though barely more than a dollop each of the Ecuadorian (shrimp with tomato, pepper, onion and coriander), trout (with chilli and guacamole), and mackerel (with mango and passion fruit sauce). Delicious though they are, you will definitely not ruin your appetite if you opt for this.
Heftier starters include Argentine chorizo sausage (a combination of pork and beef) served with a grilled romero pepper (£7.95); grilled Provoleta cheese (£8.95); and beef tamales (£8.95). The rather overpriced empanadas (£4.65 each), and further dishes of shrimp, chicken or baby squid are lighter options.
Here come the cows. In a slightly macabre demonstration, waiting staff will bring out raw examples of each cut grouped together atop a wooden board. It helps to demonstrate the chain’s enduring ‘passion’, and their staff’s impressive knowledge, but it doesn’t add a great deal to the dining experience. In any case, it’s not foisted on you. There’s cuadril (rump), chorizo (sirloin), ancho (rib-eye) and lomo (fillet).
It’s worth bearing the Spanish terms in mind – they might have English translations, but actually Argentinian beef itself is kind of untranslatable when it’s good. Their cheapest bit of rump is better than many a non-Argentinian fillet. Thankfully the steaks here are worth the expense. Prices range from £14.25 right up to £119 for a 2kg asado de chorizo. You’d assume that’s to share, but it doesn’t say so on the menu. Then you have your sides to order (£3.25-£5.25), and from fries and tenderstem broccoli to the traditional sweetcorn slop known as humita, they are all superbly cooked and nicely presented. The tomato salad is so good it’s actually worth its £5.25 price tag.
There are other mains, of course, from monkfish with crab meat (£24.95) to the Gaucho burger (£16) and linguine with aubergine (£16.95).
British cheeses (£7.95-£11.50) make a tempting alternative to what's a pretty good selection of desserts (£7.50-£9.95).
The drinks menu is vast and the staff have been well trained to talk (and talk) about them. There’s a separate ‘fine and rare’ wines menu, enabling those with means to splash out and impress whomever they wish to impress. Then there are cigars, spirits and their own Rocio beers.
They even have a wine shop (they call it a ‘boutique'), plus that wine tasting room upstairs.
The Last Word
The chain element might jar in some ways, and the prices are certainly elevated, but Gaucho, on the evidence of this branch, gets it right in almost every other aspect. Except the décor... but then even that is so recognisably Gaucho that perhaps there’s genius there too.