Food review: Gaucho, Birmingham
For a night of filling fine food, head to the bright lights of the city to one place where meat’s big on the menu. Sally-Anne Youll does just that. . .
It seems odd to begin a restaurant review talking about a different restaurant in a different city thousands of miles away – but bear with me.
Almost 20 years ago on a trip to Sydney we called into a harbourside pub for some food. We found it had a huge barbecue section out back where you chose your cut of meat or fish and then cooked it yourself on one of their barbies, grabbed a load of sides from the counter and tucked in.
Until now it has been without doubt the finest steak either of us have ever eaten. Others have come close, particularly during holidays to France for instance, but it has never been beaten. Until now that is.
This year for our wedding anniversary, the other half announced he had booked us into a fairly new restaurant in Birmingham city centre, Gaucho in Colmore Row.
Catching the train in after work meant we had time for a few drinks beforehand and a leisurely stroll through the streets to the restaurant later on.
Going by the pictures on the website, we were expecting it to be a bit glamourous and glitzy, and on arrival we found it was all that and more.
The entrance felt like we were walking into an exclusive celebrity nightspot; as we stepped in our shoes sank into the thick black carpet and lights sparkled and reflected from the plethora of mirrored surfaces surrounding us.
The welcoming smiles from the staff were equally as dazzling as we were shown inside to find yet more glitz and glamour. It felt like we had walked into an episode of Footballers’ Wives.
But it’s all part of the experience and far from being alienating, the atmosphere is immediately warm with an air of luxury.
You feel like you are really on a special night out. You are out out, not just out.
We were shown to our table and took a seat among a number of other diners who were clearly enjoying themselves, adding to the relaxed ambience.
We were handed menus and left to peruse them at our leisure.
You know those children’s TV shows, where the intrepid gang suddenly stumble across a cave full of glittering pirates’ treasure? Well that’s what it’s like delving into the menu at Gaucho.
We were completely spoilt for choice and picking just one dish out of the many on offer was going to be a mammoth task. In the end we decided I would pick the starter and the husband would choose the main.
The starters were pretty self-explanatory, but when we got to the mains we found ourselves confronted with a bewildering array of exotic-sounding cuts of meat – churrasco de lomo, cuadril, entrana fina for example – all cooked in different ways with different garnishes and sauces.
Reading through the menu was like an education in Argentinian cuisine all in one place.
Just then, with perfect timing a waitress appeared to shed a little light on the proceedings with a chopping board full of raw beef, one of each cut to explain exactly what was involved.
She talked us through all the different dishes and then left us feeling a little bit less confused and more able to make an informed choice.
The starters included such delights as scallops succotash, with roasted fresh corn, nduja, smoked paprika and fresh lime at £17.50 and potted salt beef, with horseradish, thyme, caramelised onion chutney and toasted sourdough at £9.50.
In the end we went for the selection of specialist homemade sausages. Even then we had to make a difficult choice: The selection includes pork and apple; chicken and tarragon; beef and cranberry, winter lamb; Spanish chorizo pincho and Argentine chorizo. You can choose four sausages £19.95, five for £24.95 or six for £29.25.
We went for a selection of four, the pork, lamb, Spanish chorizo and beef.
The sausages arrived on a platter, plump and juicy. Every one was absolutely delicious, it was impossible to choose a favourite, although the chorizo probably just had the lead.
They were packed full of flavour and left us feeling probably a little fuller than I would have liked to be after a starter, but it was worth it. At £5 a sausage, they aren’t cheap but the quality is evident.
For the main course, the husband chose a sharing cinta de ancho. This was a spiral cut, slow grilled piece of rib-eye steak to share, served with chimichurri garnish at £69.95.
As sides we chose the fat chips and French beans served with shallotts, garlic thyme and Rosemary.
It arrived soon after, on a little wooden table of its own, so as to fit into the table in front of us.
Like a jewelled crown resting atop a velvet cushion, it took pride of place and deservedly so. It looked the business and we only hoped it would taste half as good.
The chips and veg, as tasty as they looked with slotted underneath out of sight, almost an afterthought.
Our waitress reappeared, armed with a sharp knife, and sliced through it like it was butter. And the first mouthfuls confirmed it. Not only did the taste live up to the appearance, it usurped the Sydney steak easily.
It was tender, juicy, tasty, everything a steak should be. The chimichurri garnish served to accentuate the flavours and add to the experience, but could never have out-flavoured the steak itself.
The chips were fat and hearty, but not greasy and the veg was perfectly cooked.
But they were indeed an afterthought, as we slowly we made our way through the piece of beef, pausing only for sips of wine. There was no way we were leaving any of this. It was perfect.
Needless to say we had no room for a pudding. The sweets include another host of delightful offerings such as Argentine rice pudding with cinnamon and raisins at £8.75 and banana and coconut bread pudding, with shortbread and banana split ice cream at £8.95.
A surprise complimentary glass of fizz went down well though, reminding us that we were there to celebrate our wedding anniversary, not just the best steak ever.
Gaucho isn’t cheap, but you certainly get what you pay for and it’s worth every penny.