A Taste of Argentina in London

Daniel Neilson

Daniel Neilson

There are three principal cultural exports from Argentina: wine, football and meat (thankfully the mullet, Susana Giménez and Peronism don’t cross the borders too often).

The football, with Maradona and Villa in the 1980s, and Tevez and Messi today, is known and (mostly) respected around the world. Argentinian wine, with malbec as its USP, is constantly rising in profile. Meat has struggled a little more. It has failed in the way that, say, New Zealand lamb has carved out brand awareness. Despite that, whenever you mention Argentina, the ‘World’s Best Steak™’ eventually comes to mind.

As a Brit homesick for Argentina, it is undoubtedly the meat that I miss most (sure, friends and that, but mostly meat). Imagine what it is like for an Argentinian, weaned on steak, living in London. Many Argentinians I know in London have been teaching their butcher over a number of years how to carve up Argentinian cuts: vacio, asado de tira and bife de chorizo (see a previous blog post for more on this). I actually take in photos to my butcher – he does his best.

But what about eating out? London is definitely the place to find Argentinian restaurants that have the similar cuts, the same offal to those in Buenos Aires, and the perfect malbec to accompany it.

Inside Gaucho

One chain of 16 restaurants (including Leeds, Manchester and, erm, Beirut) is Gaucho. These hugely successful restaurants are the first to really run with the Argentinian meat brand. These are fine looking restaurants and highly rated, especially among the alpha male city types. But it’s what’s on the grill that matters. The menu is overwhelmingly steaks: rump, sirloin, fillet and rib eye. There’s also lamb, spatchcocked chicken, and pork matambre (rolled pork). These are all items that you would find on a menu in an upmarket Argentinian restaurant – but lacking key items that are not as recognisable in Britain, such as the aforementioned vacio and asado de tira – fatty, tough cuts that Argentinians recognise as the tastiest and are by far the most popular cuts.

The nearest at Gaucho is cuadril (sirloin bottom or tip roast). Absence of molleja (sweetbreads) can be forgiven – only those from lamb are legal in the UK (although still good), and I can’t imagine chinculines (small intestines) being popular on a London plate despite their ubiquity in Argentina. Most shockingly for Argentinians is the presence of sauces. Even in the smartest BsAs restaurants, it’s unlikely you’ll find Béarnaise, peppercorn or mustard sauces. You’ll find only chimichurri, an oily dip with chilli, oregano and garlic. But the beef is all sourced from the finest pampas fed Aberdeen Angus cattle and the quality is top shelf.

Inside Gaucho
Another look inside Gaucho

Santa Maria del Sur’s menu is more recognisable for an Argentinian. Proveleta (grilled cheese) and lengua a la vinagreta (marinated ox tongue) are both starters here. Again, the meat is biased towards common cuts of steak, but you can order a parrillada (a mixed grill), something most Argentinians will order to share. It’s a popular place and rightly so – definitely one of the best in London. Garufa, from the same owners, is a more relaxed restaurant and is of the trendy sort you might find in Palermo. There’s also tango on Monday nights – that’s tango as in a bloke with a guitar, not a spangly dance show. Whew.

Constancia is another upmarket joint that serves a largely authentic menu: proveleta, empanadas, picada (cold meats, cheese, olives), chorizos and morcilla (black pudding). It’s been highly rated by critics – still no vacio or asado de tira, though. In Connaught Village is Casa Malevo, a buzzy, styish place with – hallelujah – molleja on the menu. It still only has rib eye, sirloin and fillet (alongside leg of lamb) but the vibe of the Casa Malevo is pretty authentic.

Buen Ayre
Inside Buen Ayre – Photograph from Buen Ayre / O. Geibel

The least showy place is Buen Ayre in Hackney which has vacio (flank steak), my favourite cut and also the cheapest, as well as mollejas – it’s for this reason alone why Buen Ayre tops my list. It looks like an unassuming restaurant in San Telmo – Tevez ate there, for heaven’s sake, as did Keira Knightley. Go, get the parrillada mixta (vacio, chorizo, grilled provolone cheese, morcilla), the cheapest red on the wine list and pretend you’re back in BsAs. That’s what I’m going to do. Maybe Keira Knightley will be there.Ver en EspañolVeja em Português

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Daniel Neilson

Daniel Neilson

Daniel Neilson is a freelance writer and photographer, and lived in Buenos Aires for five years eating too much meat, going hoarse at football games and thoroughly failing to learn a step of tango. He edited Time Out’s Buenos Aires guidebook and has contributed words and photos to a variety of publications about Argentina for Four Four Two, The Wire, CNN Traveller, Real Travel, Adventure Travel and the Observer among others. He now spends his days drinking imported mate and planning his return journey.

16 responses to “A Taste of Argentina in London

  1. Vicky Baker says:

    Isn't there a place in Blackheath too? I went once. Not sure if it's still there. Buenos Aires Cafe, I think it is called.

    There are Brazilian bars in London, but not Argie ones as far as I know. Argentina tends to export parrillas, not bars. Mind you, maybe cumbia and fernet are harder to sell than caipirinha and samba? Coming soon… Cumbia villera in Hoxton? Actually, I could almost picture that.

  2. KSL says:

    Which restaurant would you recommend as the one to give the best insight into Argentinan food? we are going to restaurants from different countries to experience that countries food. We haven't been including chains so far but if Gaucho's is the best then we are keen to try it to experience food from Argentina. Thanks

  3. We think the most authentic Argentine food in London is at Buen Ayre in Broadway Market, Hackney. They have some of the more unusual cuts of meat that other place don't serve. But there a lots of other good options like Constancia and Garufa. There's also a brand new Argentine 1930s Deco-style cocktail bar called Galante on Sloan Avenue in SW3.

  4. Matthew Plaskow says:

    Recently went to Casa Malevo on Connaught Street which was a good taste of Argentina – how does this compare to Buen Ayre?

  5. Sarah Pilchick says:

    I'm desperate to find medialunas in London. Any suggestions?

  6. Astrid says:

    HI! Great article! But at the end you don’t say where we can find an asado de tira? I really need to find some in London !! thanks !!

  7. ABC Spanish says:

    Hi Sarah did you find any place with medialunas?

  8. Buen Ayre is nice antidote to the more populous and
    well-heeled steak restaurants that have exploded over London over the past
    decade. Its Hackney-home and its down-to-earth feel mean it is much more
    relaxed than a Gaucho. The food is comparable if not better, it’s cheaper and a
    good laugh London
    food blog

  9. LCET says:

    Portena – Borough Market!

  10. Distilldrinks LLP says:

    We are the importer’s of an Argentinian dulce de leche rum liqueur, it’s great with ice or with Ice cream desserts,
    Please contact us on distilldrinks@gmail.com for more details.

  11. Ayub Dosani says:

    I’m a huge fan of Argentinian football, are there any Argentinian bars in London showing the world cup?

  12. Camanejo says:

    try Bariloche in Battersea

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