“A newspaper?” No. “A zebra in a blender?” eww. No. “An Argentine cowboy?” Spot on. Almost.
The term was originally used to describe the residents of the Patagonian grasslands. Casual speech evolved it’s definition to the equivilent of “cowboy” in South America. Now it’s an upmarket chain of Argentinean steak houses around the world. Most are in London, but there’s also one here in Dubai, camping out in the great dusty terrain known as the DIFC, sheltered in the lee of other junket lunch venues like Robertos and Zuma.
It’s a far cry from every other steak house in Dubai, and speak to the managers, chefs, PR team, and anyone else concerned, they will tell you that is exactly what they are not. They are firmly an Argentine restaurant (with about 80% beef menu). Yes, fact remains, you go to Gaucho for steak. But don’t expect the red-blooded interiors, and flame-driven emotion of other similar Dubai restaurants like Asado and Toro Toro. It’s interior is cowboy chic. No spurs, old wood, or hunting trophies here. No tumbleweed gathering dust in the corner. A clone of it’s siblings in the UK, it’s a contemporary blend of Fresian fabric, sparkly lights and reflections out the wazoo.
Diners are clad in animal skin I suppose, but it’s the leather of Prada and Hugo Boss, partnered with fine woven Italian wool, and cotton that has seen the inside of several factories and stores since it’s times on the tropical South American plains. Lariat and pistol have been exchanged for couture cutlery. Hats worn are only the marketing protections of its business crowd, or “don’t break my heart” helmets of single secretaries clustering around tables of bubbles upstairs. And horses? No – you can ride the white leather seats as long as you like, but I doubt you’ll get far. Seems this cowboy accidentally found oil and got himself a new suit. Like the Beverly Hillbillies, he’s had to accept some change, and only the most city-appropriate snippets of Gaucho life have been allowed to remain.
But although this monochrome exterior appears hard and impenetrable, it’s not hard to cut inside to the passion. Just spend an afternoon in the company of one of their chefs (for me, this was Mike Reid, Gaucho group head chef), or with sommelier Marina Diaz (ex Beirut and London venues, now firmly living in Dubai), and you’ll see that plenty more beauty can be found on the inside. And here’s where we get to the red.
Mike is an easy chef to watch. Imagine a younger Lenny Henry prepped for Hollywood. He’s fast with a word, a smile and a knife, and a session with him is over all to quickly. Over the boards at the back of the Gaucho kitchen before a Monday lunch service, he took us through a dissection of Lomo (tenderloin fillet) and Ancho (rib eye). By the end of it, I had managed to divide the lomo into pieces of chateaubriande, mignon and tournedos, and the ancho revealed tira and tapa di ancho – the “belt” and the “top” respectively. I also learned how to slice the tail of the tenderloin almost through on the angle, and then spiral fold it into a neat little pompom of a steak. Anyone can book a beef masterclass – they start at 250AED, and of course, lunch is included. More here.
The main cuts you need to look for in Gaucho (or any Argentine restaurant for that matter) are:
- Chorizo – same as sirloin, striploin or porterhouse depending on where you’re from. It’s not a spicy smokey sausage, but a section of the short loin, not quite as tender as a tenderloin, but much more flavoursome. Best served medium, as the fat needs to dissolve nicely. This meat is a blighter to cook well at home, and always a good marker of standard for a steakhouse. If they can get it to your plate tender and tasty, they’re good. I returned some weeks later to Gaucho and did just this. They did good.
- Cuadril is rump steak. The leanest of all steak, and best for those who like their meat medium-well done. Chewy when rare – it needs time for the fibres to break down nicely,
- Entrana is thin skirt, and can be cooked very quickly, then thinly sliced across the grain. It’s what you’d usually find in a fajita. But it’s also superb slow-cooked.
- Picaña is the top rump, a thin slice of very richly flavoured meat. It’s from the area close to the vital organs, and so can take on an intense, livery flavour. It’s so thin, there’s almost no point asking for it rare or well-done. It cooks through very quickly.
- Asado di tira – Jacobs ladder to many, short-ribs to others. Slow cooked, usually in a smokey marinade. finger-licking stuff.
- As earlier discussed, Ancho – this is the king of steaks. It’s also known as the Bife de ojo to some, and Australians will know it as a Scotch fillet. This combines flavour and tenderness, but will always have a line of fat just off centre, and is usually served in a very large slab. Order medium or medium-rare – you need time for the marbling to melt, but you don’t want to dry out all that lovely juice.
- And finally, the Lomo – this is the tenderloin or eye fillet. If you must order it then let it be rare or medium rare – it dries out and becomes stringy when well-done. But seriously, this is the steak anyone can cook. But I suppose you can always order the Churrasco, which might be a bit different from your home-cooked meat and three veg.
The rest of the red in Gaucho is vinous, and here we come to another red-blooded creature, the effervescent and intelligent Marina Diaz. She’s also available for a masterclass, which is almost imperative if you are to navigate the wine list of Gaucho. It’s 95% Argentine with only a splash of Champagne. Of course, when you’re dipping into this part of the world, Malbec is the variety of choice, but there’s Salta, Uco Valley, Patagonia then the subregions, oaked or unoaked, young or old, and with some costing 4 or 5 times that of others, it’s easy to get lost. She can guide you through as she did for us. Masterclasses range from around 150AED per person and fly upwards from there. She’s a treat and you’ll learn a stack. More info on classes and Marina here.
My picks (not all Malbec)
- Alte Vista Malbec 2009 – at 290AED, this is the bargain of the reds. It’s fairly straightforward, and old-school red, almost claret-like, with some good savoury character, plenty of ripe blackberry/blueberry fruit and good body. A little sweet oak.
- Lagarde Malbec 2009 – 390AED. A more savoury wine with a little more guts, and no less fruit. Lots of sweet spice. Riper, more intense. Big gutsy tannins.
- Vina Patricia Malbec 2009 – 420 AED. This is a Cavas de Gaucho wine – made specially for Gaucho restaurants. These are printed in red on the menu. Rich and chocolaty red.
- El Porvenir de los Andes “Probeta” Tannat blend 2010 – also a cheapie at 325AED. This is a sweeter, more fruit driven style and unoaked. Huge grip. Would be perfect with a flash-grilled Picana.
- Michel Torino Torrontes 2011 – 270AED incredibly aromatic white. Has the telltale stone fruit of the variety, but also lychees/Turkish delight and a bunch of spice. Lovely dry white.
- Zuccardi Blanc de Blancs 2006 – 88AED per glass. Ok – it’s almost getting up to the French here (Veuve is 105AED per glass), but it’s rich, dry, brioche-laden, and very interesting for a change. Not Champagne, but holding its own quite nicely.
As for the rest of the dining experience, you shouldn’t be disappointed. Expect some very skilled service – staff seemed to be almost entirely London expats, and had a thorough understanding of the menu and the winelist. If you’re not sure what wine to order, you can always call over Marina and she will be able to figure out just what you need if you can tell her something about what you like. If she’s not around (as was the case when I dined), never fear, there are plenty of other skilled wine servers, and taste-tests are encouraged prior to ordering.
Secondly, there’s plenty of options for those who aren’t in it for blood. Other great dishes:
- Ceviche – try the sampler. My favourite is the prawn, but this way you get a go at all three including the seabass and tuna.
- Empanadas – little South American party pies.
- House cured salmon – organic salt and sugar cured salmon with some fab pickled veggies alongside. Very delicate.
- Provoleta – super flavoured cheese, served warm and oozing all over the place.
- Humita Saltina – tamales style dish, a savoury dough steamed in a corn husk. This one flavoured with pumpkin and corn.
- And, despite the fact that another blogger believes they might have been served frozen chips, there was not one in sight on the night I was there. Lovely home-cooked fries, incredible dipped into the sublime peppercorn sauce.
Disclaimer: I was the guest of Gaucho for the beef and wine masterclasses. I since returned and paid for a meal, ensuring I could get an unbiased opinion on the subject. I am pretty sure nobody recognized me because I am not very famous.
Some might say it’s a little soulless. Gaucho is a sleek venue, but you must make your own fun. Once you’ve looked it over, there’s not much to spy or draw your attention. This may be a good thing – for date night or a business lunch, where you need someone’s undivided attention, it’s perfect. But if you’re stuck with a boring dining companion, you’re pretty much in a black and white sea that only enhances or reflects your ennui until it’s all over. Although we did get quite a scrumptious Portugese-Londoner to wait on our table, and that was nicely distracting… only at times, of course.Gaucho Dubai website online bookings Podium Level, Gate Village 05 DIFC (Tell the taxi to drop you at Zuma entrance of DIFC) Map Phone +971 (0)4 4227898