Does the Piccadilly branch of the well-established Argentinian steak chain deliver on their promise of offering the tastiest beef in town, or are they milking it?
Located just off Regent Street, this Gaucho branch is dark and mysterious, and entices visitors in with attractive waiting staff floating around the outside seating area. Once you step inside, it becomes immediately apparent (if you weren’t aware already) that Gaucho is a fairly trendy establishment; why else would it be this dark?
It’s a fairly large restaurant, with a dining room both downstairs and up. The signature Gaucho black and white cow hide is omnipresent, on both the chairs and the walls, serving as a sort of ode to the Argentine cow that they appear to worship here. It’s enough to make your average vegetarian squirm; a place for them this is not. It’s a showy venue and it’s as if serving the finest cuts of beef isn’t enough for them. They have to shout about their perceived status as one of the finest steakhouses in the capital, which will be undoubtedly off-putting for some.
There’s a laid back vibe here, with clientele mostly made up of small, trendy groups or larger tourist types, which makes sense given the central location. It’s easy to see why Gaucho is so popular: the simple formula of fine steak and authentic Argentinian wine is a good one. Waiters swoop round with a board full of the popular cuts on the menu, allowing you to check out the marbling of the meat before you buy – nice touch. The staff are fairly rushed off their feet though, which slightly takes away from the somewhat relaxed atmosphere, but it’s a nice place to spend time in regardless.
If you didn’t already know that Gaucho exclusively serve Argentine meat then they very handily point it out at the start of their menu. Although meat is served in abundance here, it is possible to have a meal on the lighter side. An impressive selection of ceviche is enticing, and each comes with a suggested wine pairing. Salads are also on the bill but let’s face it; you didn’t come here for a salad did you?
To start there are a number of exciting options including Argentine king prawns, served with black pudding, tangy orange and a fresh romesco sauce. A wonderfully simple option, the chorizo sausage served on a grilled Romero pepper (£8.25) is a delight and you can imagine it being served on the streets of Argentina, which further adds to the appeal. The provoleta steals the show though. A petite dish of 48-hour dry aged Italian provolone cheese, it is pan fried with salsa roja and roasted tomatoes (£9.25). Again, its simplicity shines and makes this a mouth watering treat that you won’t forget in a hurry.
The steaks form the backbone of what Gaucho is all about. A large number of cuts and varieties are available and they’re split up into cuadril (rump), chorizo (sirloin), ancho (rib-eye) and lomo (fillet) on the menu. Special cuts are also available and they’re marinated in different ways. The trouble is, the steaks are incredibly pricey and when you pay top dollar for meat you expect it to blow you away. Argentine steak is internationally renowned as being some of the best in the world but here at least, it is certainly lacking that wow factor.
The trio of medallions (£28.50) is a great choice for a Gaucho first-timer as it includes three different cuts of lomo, ancho and lomito. However, while it’s diverse it simply makes you wish you chose an ancho steak on its own. The full-bodied, succulent flavour of the rib eye outshines the other two immeasurably. For those that do know exactly what they want though, the churrasco de lomo (£46.50) will be an enticing choice. Marinated for 48 hours in garlic, parsley and olive oil, this 14oz beast is undoubtedly tasty but unfortunately again lacks that out-of-world experience that you would associate with such an expensive piece of beef. Adding further insult to injury is the fact that sides have to be ordered separately, so after purchasing a couple of those and a sauce, you could end up paying the best part of £60 for a meal that should warrant nearly half of that. Forgetting about cost though, a side you should definitely try is the humita saltena (£4.50), which is a sort of mashed corn and pumpkin treat, and is arguably the most Argentine tasting thing here.
The dessert menu is a great one, featuring a number of dishes that you’ll find hard to pass by. From the salted dulce de leche and macadamia cheesecake (£9.25) to the chocolate and hazelnut dacquoise cake (£8.50), desserts here are far from an afterthought. For those with a yearning for fruit there’s the tarta de manzana (or Argentine apple tart to the rest of us - £7.00) and there is also a selection of cheeses (£8.00 - £12.75) on offer too.
Gaucho pride themselves on their wine list and they don’t disappoint, with a huge selection of bins all hailing from the mother land. They have even collaborated with wineries around Argentina to provide wines that are exclusive to the restaurant, which is a testament to the time, effort and dedication they have clearly put in to it. Bottles start at £26.50 and rise steeply upwards. An interesting range of cocktails are also on offer and beers start at £4.95.
The Last Word
Gaucho Piccadilly impresses in some ways; the menu is diverse and some dishes truly shine. When you’re paying top dollar for steak though, you expect to be blown away, and unfortunately they fall slightly short in this respect.