Britain’s most Argentinean restaurant chain brings steak to the people – the rich, be-suited people who work in Canary Wharf.
It can get very cold down by the river, particularly on the Isle of Dogs, which for about eight months of the year is like nothing more than a little island out in the North Sea. Luckily, everything about Gaucho is designed to warm: twinkling candles on the table, extravagant chandeliers, fake-fur seats, black ceiling and a large, buzzing central bar. There’s also a glass wall that overlooks the nearby Thames.
Such is the cunning of whoever decorated this restaurant, you could easily miss the fact that it’s a bit of a barn: impressive, then, that it feels so convivial. Much of that is down to the gentle buzz of a full restaurant of people – most of them men, most of them wearing suits – preparing to eat large cuts of steak. There’s also pop music, which could do with being turned down a few notches – if it’s not quite invasive, it’s getting there.
The restaurant trades on its Argentinean heritage, but there’s a more general South American theme at play here: take the Colombian cheese bread, for example (and you should, because it’s soft and moreish).
Then there’s the range of ceviches (popular across South America, but with roots in Peru). A good option is the selection of three (£17.50) - there are six to choose from in total. The Ecuadorian, which is marinated tiger prawns in a roasted tomato and lime sauce, is pleasant enough but it pales in comparison to Fire and Ice (lobster and shrimp cured in a lime, coconut and citrus sauce with red onion, jalapeno and coriander), which is rich and creamy but refeshing, or the light and spicy Merluza (hake, spring onion, apple, jalapeno and ginger with a white soy citrus sauce and coriander).
For those unwilling to delay the pleasure of meat, there’s veal sweatbreads (£14.50), which are crispy, tender and garlicky (a lot of garlic gets used at Gaucho). Garnished with lemon and a touch of chimichurri, it’s a delicious reproach to those sensitive types who refuse to touch offal.
The centrepiece of the Gaucho experience, though, is the steak: servied medium, the Bife Ancho (rib-eye, £19 for 400g) is juicy, yielding and oozes redness across the plate. If you can, try and resist gobbling it in two minutes: as the steak cools, it relaxes and becomes far more tender.
There’s also a range of steaks marinated in a garlicky, herb-laden sauce: the Bife de Chorizo (£16, sirloin, 300g) is tender and the flavours work together beautifully. Really, if you like beef and garlic, then Gaucho Grill is hog-heaven. Sides include thin chips and spinach cooked with, you guessed it, garlic. There’s also a choice of sauces of which the Bearnaise (tangy and tarragon-laden) and chipotle (smoky and sweet) are recommended.
For those who can manage pudding, there’s a fair range. Don Pedro (£6.20) – ice cream whipped with whiskey – is like the best Mr Whippy you’ve ever had: rich, creamy and unctious. Churros (£5.25) are cigar-shaped doughnuts served with melted chocolate. They’re sugar-crisp to the bite but soft on the inside.
The wine list is a fantastic advertisment for the range of wine, most of it red, produced in Argentina today. Malbec is king here, but there’s Pinot Noir, Cabernet Sauvignon and a host of others too. Gaucho have their own wine label, Terruno, and a glass of the Merlot/Malbec blend (£5.65) is a perfect accompaniment to steak: it’s rich and laden with redcurrant jelly flavour. For those who prefer white wine, the Norton Sauvignon Blanc (£4.75) is reliably sharp and fruity.
Cocktails seem to be de rigeur for any restaurant these days, and Gaucho refuses to be an exception: the Brisa de Buenos Aires (£8.25) is like a fancy Pina Colada, with pineapple dominating the flavour. If you like sweet wine with your pudding, the Luigi Bosca late harvest Traminer (£7) is sugary and fresh.
The Last Word
Gaucho isn’t cheap, but if it’s good quality steak you’re after (and you don’t mind garlic), this is this place to come.