ARGENTINA: FRESH TO THE SLAUGHTER IN BUENOS AIRES
If you have been reading the blog for a while, you may recall that, in June of 2007, I was invited on an incredible 24-hour adventure courtesy of the good people of Beefeater Gin.
On that day, I was lucky enough to meet Fernando Cwilich Gil, officially the coolest person I have ever met. Long haired and laconic with dark, Argentiean looks, it is little wonder he was constantly surrounded by the girls on that particular day.
My last sight of him was flopped in the in house bar of Beefeater’s factory in South London sporting a pair of paper slippers he had collected from the hotel we had only used for enough time to shower and change clothes.
He lived in BA and promised me that, when I visited, he could point me in the right direction of what to see and, more importantly what to eat.
Unfortunately, when I arrived, he had been asked to head to Uruguay on a freelance assignment. But, we managed to move things around so I could at least get to hang out with him for an evening.
Even better, Fernando, who it turns out knows just about everybody in the whole city, arranged for me to have supper on the two following nights of my stay with relatives of his and with friends.
His Uncle, Martin was a great expert on Argentinean food and one of the founding fathers of The Slow Food Movement in that country. He invited me to join him and his lovely wife, Ljiljana for supper the next evening.
They were taking me to La Brigada, arguably the best place for steak in the whole of the city and Martin suggested that I should probably take it easy in preparation for what was to come.
Did I listen? Well, after a fashion, yes. I spent the next day going on one of my marathon walks which included a stroll through Puerto Madero the new port development with its expensive restaurants and bars “only for tourists and fat businessmen” Martin told me dismissively later that evening.
He was right, there was little to attract me to any of the restaurants on the front, but near to Puerto Madero alongside the main canal,which feeds into the port, was a much better proposition. A strip of stalls selling more of Buenos Aires favourite snack foods,bondiola and choripan. I plumped for the latter and was presented with thick slices of beef in a crunchy roll, which I was invited to lace with chilli and chimichurri from small bowls on a table to the side.
The meat was tough, but had incredible flavour, which repaid the considerable effort needed to work my way through the sandwich.
The Bondiola kept me going for the rest of the day and, by the early evening I was just getting to the right side of peckish and headed off to meet up with Martin and his wife.
It is at night that Buenos Aires comes to life. After a brief shower and with the declining Sun shining on its slippery streets, I could see why this is a city that haunts people and brings them back here time and again. That, and the cheap beef, of course.
La Brigada, is deep in the heart of St Telmo and, as arranged, I met up with my hosts at the agreed time of 8pm. Martin apologized for the shamefully early dining hour explaining that, for most people in BA, supper begins no earlier than 10pm. However, he explained, before my arrival, they had already committed to attend a party and so had to fit in supper beforehand even though, as Martin explained, eating so early “plays havoc with your digestion”
It is not just the dining hour. It may well have something to do with all the meat. I thought I liked meat, but next to Martin and Ljiljana, I am like a supermodel nibbling on a bit of lettuce.
The Argentineans take these things very, very seriously and, Martin took control of the ordering. He had a long discussion with the waiter about the cut he wanted, the amount of cooking and what was to come with it.\
First, some provolone cheese, a sign Martin said, of the quality of the restaurant. Followed closely by some offal action with goat sweetbreads and chitterlings.
Finally, the main event, the Bife, a cut across the bone to give the most flavour. I tucked in with undue abandon. Martin chewed more slowly and with consideration before declaring it “passable” As I said, they take these things very seriously indeed in Buenos Aires.
The wine too and Martin, determinedly in charge, ordered a spectacular Malbec whose spicy damson notes served to bring out all the flavours from the meat.
A hugely enjoyable meal.
After supper, Martin and Ljiljana invited me to join them at the party they were to attend. The hosts, they told me, were interesting people and would not notice or mind another body at their bash.
So, I found myself in a strange part of the city (I could not tell you where if you put a gun to my head) attending a party for two local artists. When we arrived, a well known local singer was setting up to perform. For the next hour, she sang her little heart out. Which is just as well as every song, by law in Argentina, must contain the words “Mi Corazon” at least once. That is true, in fact, throughout Latin America and indeed Spain.
In sixty minutes, the poor love had her heart stolen, stamped on, stabbed and broken in any number of painful ways. But, she kept going back for more, so I guess it is her own stupid fault.
Martin and Ljiljana appeared at my side and asked me if I wanted a lift home. It was 2am. How the hell did that happen? The party was still in full swing, but I was sung out by then so gladly accepted the left back to a warm and welcoming bed.
Another great night in Buenos Aires.
My last day in the city was much quieter. More walking, a bit of snackage with some more empenada and a decedant afternoon nap which ended when I realized that I needed to pack before the evening.
My plane to Brazil was at some ungodly hour in the morning. So, I had not planned to sleep.
Fernando had been in touch with his friend, Flor who was The Head of P.R for one of the most glamorous hotels in the whole of South America, The Faena.
To describe The Faena as a “hotel” is a bit misleading. They describe themselves as “A Universe” and you can see why. It is where all the bueno porteneos of BA go to hang out and where every star who comes to the city clamours to stay.
Built during the middle of Argentina’s great crash, it was the dream of wealthy businessman, Alan Faena who bucked the economic trend to turn a former grain silo (which used to house over 40% of Argentina’s grain) into a hotel complex with its own theatre, restaurants and bars and a pool area that could only be more alluring if Natalie Portman was swimming in it.
I was to have supper in The Faena Bistro, a misleadingly simple name as the room itself must have cost a large fortune and was redolent of turn of the 19th Century Paris society.
That would matter not a jot if the food was lousy, but the hotel had recently persuaded the wonderfully named Mario Cid De La Paz, a 33yr old acolyte of Mr. Adria to give up his job at the Molecular magician’s hotel in Seville and to return to his native Argentina to look after this restaurant.
It was causing quite a storm in BA where foams and fancies are still seen as imaginative rather than tiresome and De La Paz has the chops of someone who has worked at the source rather than just picked up a foam gun at a cookshop.
Over three hours I tried course after course of food that overcame the problems getting real primo ingredients and the local reticence to let the chef go “all out” The most memorable dish of all a red mullet, filleted and surrounding a superb romesco sauce. Each course with a matching local wine.
By the end of it, I was, to be fair, a little woozy and totally unaware of the time. When I noticed what hour it was from the watch on the waiter’s wrist, I gave a girlish squeal and declared that I was going to be late for my flight.
I said my “thank you” and “goodbye” and rushed off to meet the car that I had pre-arranged to collect me for my ride to the airport.
I had only been in the city for four days and had barely scratched the surface. On top of which, I had not been able to fit trips to Mendoza or Salta into my tight schedule. There was nothing more to be said. Argentina was just another country I would have to add to the list of places to revisit.
I was rapidly coming to the conclusion that EAT MY GLOBE could become a full time job. Now, there's an idea.