The Argentinian steakhouse is back to its best, says Richard Bath.
ONE of the first restaurants to re-open in Edinburgh was Gaucho on St Andrew Square. This is, with hindsight, hardly surprising given that in 2018 Gaucho survived after going into administration while its 22-restaurant sister chain Cau closed for ever. So Gaucho knows hard times and was first in line to re-open, which I like, and which is why we toddled off there in August to cast an eye over proceedings.
Outwardly at least, nothing much has changed. The dining room for this Argentinian-themed chain is still down a set of steps, where you’ll find a large room, which has been redesigned so that tables are distanced. Although our waiter wore a mask, there are none of the conspicuous and over-zealous partitions that some restaurants have relied on. Instead they just give you enough space to make it safe.
If we were concerned things might have changed in the kitchens, we needn’t have worried. The food was as consistent as ever – although, to be fair, if their chefs couldn’t turn out good steaks given that they use beef from the free-range Aberdeen Angus cattle grazing in Argentina’s lush Pampas region then there would be no hope.
As we were both determined to go for Argentine cuts of steak for our mains, after we’d started with unleavened Colombian pane pecoro with chimichurri butter, we went light and breezy for the starters. The yellowfin tiradito (£13) was probably the pick of the two, with four juicy slabs of perfectly-seared tuna with burnt-lime dressing, pickled chillis and smoked chipotle. The seabass ceviche (£13) wasn’t far behind though, and we particularly liked the citrus-based marinade (leche de tigre), which – together with the presence of papaya and watermelon – gave the whole ensemble a fresh, summery feel.
However, the main course – in every sense – was our steaks. We chose the tira de ancho (£40.50), a 500g spiral cut rib eye slow-grilled with chimichurri, and the churrasco de lomo (£49.50), a 400g spiral cut of fillet that has been marinated in garlic for 48 hours. Both were insanely tender and juicy, although our waiter was clearly not happy at my decision to ask for the fatty rib eye to be cooked medium rare; I’m all about flavour though, and it coursed through the meat. There was one surprise, though, which was that the flavouring imparted by the chimichurri was so subtle that even I – a confirmed butter chicken boy to my vindaloo better half – though it brought out the flavour of the meat rather than obscured it.
We asked for the full range of sauces and they were distinctly average, especially a blue cheese hollandaise that must have only been wafted near some stilton. A side of king oyster mushrooms was underwhelming, and the chips were fine, even if I prefer skinny fries with steak. However, the humita – a traditional steamed sweetcorn and masa harina mush from the Andes – was a welcome surprise.
Pudding was as disappointing as it always is in steak restaurants. Both the salted dulce de leche cheesecake (£9.50) and the Don Pedro (£9.50), a whipped ice cream with walnuts and rum, were enjoyable enough but after the lord mayor’s parade. We thoroughly enjoyed the pudding wines – a Royal Tokaji (£10) and a nice booming Sauternes from Chateau Guiraud (£10.50) – though.
The takeaway from this highly enjoyable meal was that when ordering you should judge them on what they do best. So don’t have a pudding or sauces, and think twice about sides (except perhaps chips) and starters. Instead, spend the money on the best steak you can afford, and accompany it with a nice bottle of Argentine wine, like the absolutely superb 2014 Vina Patricia Malbec from Mendoza (£60). In that combination lies the pathway to bliss.
Gaucho: 4a St Andrew Square, Edinburgh EH2 2BD; gauchorestaurants.com; 0131 278 3410