Restaurant Review: El Gaucho, South Kensington

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Just a word to the wise: El Gaucho is no relation to the Argentinian steak chain Gaucho, in case you were confused. I certainly confused the two, not being aware of the former, even though it claims to be the first Argentinian steakhouse in London, established in 1990 by a former tango dancer whose father was the first South American to play football for a European club.

My son was very keen to go for a “proper steak” to celebrate his 19th birthday, so when I saw a Groupon deal for steak, chips and wine at El Gaucho, I bought on instinct. The products sounded great, and a reminder of my quest for the perfect steak (see here):

The most recent incarnation of El Gaucho occupies a dark and poky basement on Old Brompton Road, just around the corner from South Kensington tube station. Once we had negotiated the steps (less than easy for me) and found a route through the tables we were seated by one of two friendly Argentine waitresses, one of whom sported large round furry earrings.

The Groupon deal turned out to include one of three steaks from the menu, a side and a glass of house wine, though we also ordered a verde side salad and were given a welcome freebie selection of what amounted to bruschetta on which to graze pending the main course.

We both plumped for the same main: Bife Angosto (aka sirloin) served rare and bloody and Papas Fritas Provencial (topped with chopped garlic and parsley), eschewing the fancy adornments for our steaks at a small additional price: A Caballo (2 Fried Eggs) Completo (2 Fried Eggs, crispy bacon, grilled tomatoes and onions.”

These seemed to me more at home with burgers than steaks, but doubtless they do good business nonetheless. For our purposes we wanted to focus totally on the 14oz steaks, and what a wise choice that was.

The provenance of the meat was clearly first rate, though it would have been welcome to know which breed, since several are reared in Argentina (Hereford, Aberdeen Angus, Shorthorn, Charolais and Holando-Argentina being the ones raised for consumption.) It certainly had the ring of authenticity, certainly from a far better animal than the steak Adam recently ate at Browns.

The steaks arrived on narrow wooden platters cut with drainage slots to catch any escaping juices. They were garnished only by a small portion of coleslaw;  fries and salads were served on the side so as not to distract our attention from the main event.

Each steak was a good thickness, at least an inch, which I much prefer to narrow slivers of meat you find in so many penny-pinching restaurants. Cutting through revealed a ruby red interior, juicy from first to last. The meat was not butter-soft but retained texture without being in any way chewy.

The flavour was truly sublime, providing depth and richness you rarely find elsewhere (Chop Bloc is worthy of comparison, and I still hope to eat someday at Hawksmoor and Goodmans.)  It demonstrated to a tee why it is worth vacuum-packing chunks of pampas grass-fed cattle and sending them half way around the world. Why would you feed them on expensive grain when grass is free and widely available, particularly if the results are so spectacular?

As an accompaniment, the Argentine Malbec we drank was more than ample, being a well-bodied yet intensely fruity equivalent of vin du pays, more than holding its own against more expensive bottles.

In fact, I have nary a bad word to say about a splendid night out with my boy and the finest steaks I’ve yet eaten in London. I recommend any steak addict to include El Gaucho on their list.

**** out of 5