Friday, 28 October 2011

The Meat Lovers’ Guide To Argentina & The Asador

By Nina Koo-Seen-Lin.

An adage by the Asador
Maradona. The Tango. Evita. Meat.

This was the complete list of what I knew about Argentina before attending the Autumn Lamb Feast at the South American restaurant, A La Cruz. Owned by chef John Rattagan - of Buen Ayre fame - Marcelo Porcu and Roberto Jellinek, this reasonably new restaurant (only two years old this November) fits nicely along a bendy road in Farringdon/Clerkenwell.Now, I can’t play football, I prefer watching the Paso Doble on Strictly Come Dancing, and my patience for Andrew Lloyd Webber has really worn thin (how could anyone even think making a sequel to The Phantom of the Opera?!)I do, however, love meat cooked in the Argentine way. Meat Free Monday does not exist in my diary if an Argentine sirloin or fillet is on offer. So I am excited when I find out I’m going to dine at the first Argentine restaurant in London to possess an asador: a fire pit used to roast whole sides of meat (sorry veggies). I do however want to know more about Argentina, though, and I am looking to John and Marcelo to fill me up with facts as well as food. “Of course!” says John. “We’re not all about playboy Polo players and mullets!” Marcelo declares. Mullets eh? I’m learning a lot already.Starter 1
Empanada: Argentine style pastries filled with beef, spinach and ricotta.
Provoleta: Grilled provolone cheese and crusty toasted bread.
Mollejas: Grilled beef sweetbreads cooked with lemon juice.
Argentina is a rich stew of a country full of people descended from different countries and cultures that range from Spanish and Italian to Irish and Japanese. Our hosts are perfect examples of such a wonderful mix. Marcelo is of Italian and Spanish descent, while John is from Irish stock. This is most definitely seen in the food, which is full of flavours from Europe and Asia in particular.Starter 2
Beef fillet and rib-eye.
Not all guys are breast men. According to John and Marcelo, us Brits don’t know what we’re missing when it comes to eating the ribs because in Argentinean culture it’s an honour to be offered the ribs. The reason for this isn’t explained. I can’t help thinking there’s something biblical behind the idea (Adam’s rib perhaps?). I’ve always been a rump person myself. Each to their own.Main
Cordero Entero a la cruz: Whole lamb on the asador.
Sauces: Chimicurri, and yoghurt with mint.
Espinacas a la crema: Creamy spinach.
Asadas a la sal: Rock salt baked baby potatoes.
Salads with palm herts, beetroot, beans, tomatoes and free-range egg.
The asador is easier to cook with than a spit roast, though it can take just as long. It’s easier because you don’t have to rotate the meat constantly. A few turns every now and then to maintain the fire, and spray the meat with salt water, rosemary and tarragon is the most work that’s involved. A La Cruz offers the Cordero Entero from the asador on request. The price is roughly around £210 for a 10kg lamb, which can easily feed 12 people (around £20 a head). The meat can take up to seven hours to cook on an open fire. The lamb I had took five hours to roast. If you want this meal experience (and I think you do) then you’re going to have to book well in advance.Dessert
Panqueques: Traditional Argentine pancakes filled with dulce de Leche.
‘Man is the only animal to trip twice on the same stone,’ says John Rattagan on past mistakes and starting all over again. This adage could be the beginning of some deep and dark conversation about the state of mankind. But thankfully the dulce de latte is too much of a delight, and John and Marcelo are far too cheerful, Anyway, A La Cruz is no mistake. I predict John Rattagan has come to the end of his stumblings.

The Extensive wine list (and a herbal tea)
Argentina is very proud of its wine. Just feast your eyes on this list:
Alamos Bodegas
Pasion 4 Chardonnay-Chenin Joffre & Hijas
Calathus Pinot Noir Finca Don Carlos
Malbec-Corvina Masi Tupungato (the acclaimed Italian wine maker’s Argentine venture)
The Argentineans make drinking herbal tea cool. Their version is called Yerba maté and is a popular digestive in South America. The leaves, in dry form, resemble something you could roll up and smoke (you know what I’m talking about, don’t make me say it). Add boiling water and it turns into a substance too dissimilar to papier mache. Traditionally the host prepares the drink (in our case that’s Mr Rattagan) and takes the first sip from a special straw called a bombilla, which prevents the leaves being sucked up along with the liquid, then passes the cup around. Sharing the drink is a sign of friendship and bonding, and as such has a certain ceremonial aspect. It may not sound hygienic, but hey, if you can share a whole lamb what’s so big about sharing a bombilla in a silver cup?

In November, John has promised to don the chef’s cap and apron on Monday evenings to keep up his carnal cooking skills. At A La Cruz there’s no such thing as Meat-Free-Mondays so I’ll definitely be booking a table. So who’ll join me?

To book a table at A La Cruz, use the form below.

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