SANTA MARIA DEL BUEN AYRE: THE BEST STEAK IN LONDON?
After the debacle of last night, Dos Hermanos were in no mood to fool around. So, after my 12 miler this morning, we set out to head down Argentina way via Broadway Market in Hackney.
This increasingly gentrified street has become a little foodie enclave in recent years with The Dove pub, Armadillo and Little Georgia all being well reviewed. Although Little Georgia has now transformed to a French restaurant called La Vie En Rose.
A short stroll first via Brick Lane of course, to have some of the superlative chocolate from the ever lovely Petra at Choc Star who is, I am thrilled to see, getting lots of plaudits for her nascent business.
Then up to Hackney via Columbia Rd Flower Market which was absolutely rammed, arriving at Santa Maria Del Buen Ayre bang on time for our lunchtime reservation at 12.30pm.
This was my third visit and I will be quite up front about it, this is one of my favourite restaurants in town. It just gets it right. The food is superb, the service charming and efficient and the value for money is spot on.
For the majority of our time there we were the only people in there and so got plenty of time to chat to the charming staff as we sipped on an opening glass of Quilmes beer.
To begin, a combo of chicken and beef empanada. These were so good I could have eaten plates and plates of them. The frying was greasless, the filling fresh and spicy. With a good slug of fiery chimichurri you could imagine having this as a meal in itself.
But no! That was not the point of us being here. The starters were just to distract our bellies until the griller man got into gear and prepared the Paradilla Deluxe for two (£19 a head ). A grill plate of dead cow featuring two types of steak ( sirloin and beef de chorizo ) two thick sausages, some dense intensely flavoured morcilla, a slab of slowly melting provolone and ( at an extra cost ) some beautifully offally sweetbreads. If there is better steak in London, I want it and want it now. This is perfect. Flown in on the carcass from Argentina it is, we were told, butchered on site ( with the staff taking offcuts home to make Supper. In the case of the Brazilian server, Fejoiada. ) The cooking is, as the picture shows immaculate. In our case we wanted the steak rare and that's exactly how it came. The meat deserves and requires chewing to give up its flavour. None of that nonsense we hear so much that the "meat was so tender the knife went through it like butter" When was beef ever supposed to be that soft?
The sausages were thick and meaty and the provolone cheese offered a welcome amount of stodge.
unlike last night, the side orders were also worth having particularly the chips with garlic and parsley. Crisp, and cruncy without a sign of excess grease.
With this we ordered a Cab Sav from Mendoza. It is what I would call a context wine. It worked with this meal and in this place. If I had it on another occasion, I can't imagine enjoying quite so much. But, at £15, hey.
We polished this off to the last gnaw of fat ( which they kindly crisped up on the grill for us ) and then shared a Tarte De Santiago with some ice cream for pudding before rounding off with tea and coffee and a couple of shots of Pacharan and Legui ( a sugar cane spirit that tasted of nothing more than a melted version of Spangles )
Bill for all of the above with a hugely deserved tip came to a £110. That is a lot but reflects more our ability to over order and indulge both pre and post the main event. I would imagine that a normal meal could come out c£80 for two.
However, even at nearly £30 more than that foul meal last night at The Ambassador, this represents good value for money.
A lovely meal in a lovely place served by lovely people who give a damn. Not that hard is it?