BUENOS AIRES: THE FAENA THINGS IN LIFE or A BIT OF FA IN BA
As I am finding as I tour around this little world of ours, life is ever so full of little surprises and, if I am not careful, it would be all too easy to become complacent and take for granted that people’s extraordinary generosity will lead to great opportunities.
However, last night, before I headed off for a truly hateful journey to Brazil, was one that will live in the memory for some time. I mean, when was the last time any of us got invited to eat in a “Universe”
My chum Fernando (officially the coolest person I have ever met) had to be out of town on a mission which, I kid you not, involved him being flown on a private jet to Uruguay. But, he did not want me to spend my last night on my Jack Jones so arranged for me to have supper with his pal, Flor who manages Public Relations for, wait for it, The Faena Hotel + Universe.
Opened some four years ago when there was nothing in the Puerto Madero area of BA other than building sites and rubble, The Faena was the brainwave of Alan Faena who, despite the economic crash that hit Argentina just as it opened, managed to realise his dream to complete what was recently voted “ the hippest hotel in South America”
It is quite something to be sure. Built in a silo which used to house over 40% of Argentina’s entire supply of grain, it was designed by Phillip Stark (of course) with a nod to the Belle époque era of Argentina’s 19th century past when the country was the fifth biggest economy in the world.
The “universe” contains theatres, Heaven knows how many rooms and a pool area that is, to use a cliché, like something from a movie.
The Library bar, where I met Flor before supper, is pretty lavish too and the cocktail, fortunately, lived up to the surroundings. Well made, with Beefeater Gin and suitably cold and dry.
Despite all the other distractions, it was The Faena Bistro which was of primary interest. Although, calling it a bistro is like calling Harrods a corner shop. The room has been done out with a level of budget that has probably not been approved since Parisian Café culture was in its heyday.
All of this would matter little if the end result, the food, was not up to scratch. However, as with everything else, they have done their level best to get the best. In this case to bring back to Argentina, a 33yr old acolyte of Mr Adria who goes by the glorious name of Mariano Cid De la Paz and spent the last six years working in the kitchens of the molecular magician’s Seville hotel.
And it shows, the tasting menu I was treated to has lots of twists and turns, airs and foams which are becoming all too familiar in London and New York but I suspect are causing many a raised eyebrow here in uber-conservative Argentina.
Despite my many misgivings about this kind of cooking, De la Paz does have a certain dexterity that only comes from those people who have worked at the source.
Little snackettes were presented to us with our drinks in the bar and included a “fried” sushi where the rice is made to a paste, dried and then fried, a chunk of marinated tuna and a small but entirely delicious melting slab of potato stuffed with a fiery aioli.
Once we decamped to the dining room, things began in earnest.
The food in Argentina has been very tasty indeed, thanks, I think, to my willingness to eat grilled meat all day every day. But, it lacks variety and the cause of that, a difficulty in finding great ingredients, is one of the challenges of running any fine dining restaurant in the city. That, inevitably means that, while the cooking is accomplished here, there are occasions when the main ingredient lets the side down. However, for the most part, this would be a restaurant and a chef who would past muster under the exacting gaze of any of the world's major eating cities.
The first three courses, included my favourite dish of the night, a deconstructed Spanish Tortilla, served in a martini glass and came with a recommendation to eat from the bottom up.
Another deconstruction followed, this time of a classic dish from the North of Argentina, The Empanada, this time with the key elements of potato, olives, egg and meat being given prominence over the usual casing of dense pastry.
Another “simple” but excellent dish followed involving a carpaccio of mushrooms with small swirls of toothsome linguini.
By this time, a martini and some excellent Chardonnay to the good coupled with pleasing conversations with Flor and some friends who joined us half way through supper, things did begin to blur somewhat.
I do recall, through my haze, that I found dishes involving duck confit and ravioli of lamb interesting rather than hugely enjoyable, but had my attention brought fully back to my plate by a stunning dish of red mullet, stuffed and served with a splodge of a fabulous romesco sauce.
A last well thought out dish of venison with local dried fruits came before a dessert which involved lots of chocolate and then it was time for me to go.
I had planned to have an early and relatively quick meal in time to return to my own humble serviced apartment ($25 a night to you and me) pack and head to the airport, but both the company and the food made me quite forget the time and, in the end, it all became a bit of a mad rush.
Still, despite that and a flight that almost made me give up on my whole trip, I am now in Brazil. A world, or you could say a universe ,away from 24 hours ago