Argentina inspires emotion. The home of the tango, Eva Peron and Che Guevara - not to mention Diego and his Hand of God - this is a country positively dripping in passion.
And that extends to its wine and food, where its cuts of beef and fine red wines have become renowned as amongst the best in the world.
One of the men responsible for introducing the Argentine food experience to London is John Rattagan, the St Martins College School of Art and Design-trained, Irish-Argentinean chef behind the now legendary Buen Ayre in Broadway Market. And John has got together with ex-banker Marcelo Porcu to bring A La Cruz, the Clerkenwell institution that brings the asador (or Argentine barbecue) to London.
And it was the thought of this meat fest, that inspired the Northerner and I, along with some of London’s better known restaurant critics and food bloggers, to sample their autumn menu.
We started with a platter of empanadas – Argentine filled pastries with spinach and ricotta; provoleta – grilled cheese and crusty toasted bread with lemon; and mollejas – grilled beef sweetbreads cooked with lemon juice. Sweetbreads might not be to everyone’s taste, but they were wolfed down by everyone at the carnivores' table, and were delicious. As were the empanadas (Argentinean pies, opined the Northerner) and the provoleta. Meat, cheese and pastry – it’s hard to go wrong.
Our first course consisted of two cuts of steak – beef fillet and rib eye, both of which happen to be my and the Northerner's favourite cuts, and both which were melt-in-your-mouth perfect.
The highlight of the evening was, of course, the asador cooked lamb. From the theatrical display of carving the meat (I never realised a lamb could be so big), to the Henry-the-Eighth-sized portions, this was a carnivore's dream. The sides included creamy spinach, new potatoes and a salad of palm hearts, tomatoes, eggs and beetroot. But they struggled to get a look in alongside the lamb.
For desserts we had Panqueques – Argentine styled pancakes filled with dulce de leche. I must admit that this was the course that I was least looking forward to. I love my sweet treats, but pancakes often disappoint, and my previous experience of the dulce de leche had been disappointing. Far too sweet to my taste. However, John Rattagan insisted that done correctly it was fundamental to any dessert and cake, and of course he was right. It was gorgeous. I could have eaten another portion if the Northerner hadn’t so greedily eaten hers.
We washed it down with a Passion 4 Chardonnay-Chenin by Joffre & Hijas, a Calathus Pinot Noir from Fince Don Carlos, and a Malbec-Convina from Masi-Tupungato. New wines for this palate, but ones I would recommend that you try.
A La Cruz is a good looking place – much like the waiting staff, according to the Northerner. Located in an old pub a hop, skip and jump away from Exmouth Market, the team have made great use of the original features – flooring, bar, furniture – and embellished it with some modern touches as the exemplified by the Turner shortlisted artist David Tremlett’s art work.
But the star of this show is the food, followed by the hosts, John and Marcelo, and their support crew. They are charm personified, and did I mention that they’re good looking? A La Cruz the restaurant also inspires its share of emotion. Happiness.