Where: Gaucho, DIFC, 04-4227898
Decor: Metrosexual “Rawhide”
Atmosphere: Fine dining for big appetites
Must-haves: Steaks, vanilla flan, the Gaucho burger
Steakhouses are often big manly places, with cowboy hats, wood panelling and fake cacti dotted around. Not that there’s anything wrong with that, but if you’re looking for a stylish date spot and want to satisfy a man-sized hunger, Gaucho is a great bet. It’s chic, although the black-and-white hides on the walls are a giveaway as to the menu, which leans towards Argentine-influenced steak, although there are other options on the updated autumn menu for vegetarians or those who don’t eat red meat, such as a grilled tuna loin (Dh170), or pasta with a mushroom and red pepper sauce (Dh95). Although I rarely choose chicken when dining out, a spatchcocked chicken from Gaucho was probably the best chicken dish I’ve had in a restaurant -- sadly, it’s not on the new menu, and I didn’t dare to try again with the new chicken item (it’s grilled chicken with roasted chickpeas). So to steaktown we went, and got a full explanation of the cuts from our very undertstanding waiter, who put up with my constant running upstairs to answer phone calls about a certain Latin singer who was acting like a diva during his interview (there’s a poor phone signal in the basement-level eatery). They’ll actually bring you a wooden board with the raw steaks (not the ones you will eventually eat, I hope) laid out for explanation. If you’re squeamish about what your food looks like before it’s cooked, the bloody meat could be a real turn-off. I found it informative, as they really explain exactly what you can expect from a cut -- “the rump is a pure steak flavour, and very lean,” I was told, while the sirloin is juicier but not as fatty as the ribeye. It’s nice not to see the now-ubiquitous wagyu on the menu -- they use exclusively Argentine beef from British breeds (a rare instance of Argentine-British understanding?). There are also cuts that are marinated in garlic and parsley for 48 hours, called churrasco. we went for a bit of both -- that pure meat flavour in the 300g rump (called bife de cuadril, Dh155) and the 500g tira de ancho (Dh280), a marinated butterflied ribeye that came out crisp on the outside, juicy with meat and fat on the inside. The rump, which, when cooked rare, was lean and tasty with a bit of chew, while the ribeye was incredibly rich.
Pair your meat with the sweet taste of humitas, a fragrant mix of sweetcorn, onion, pumpkin and mozzarella cheese wrapped in corn husks and a fresh baby gem lettuce salad (why don’t we see more of this little crisp green around -- it’s a delicious change from iceberg or romaine). Starters at Gaucho are tempting -- I would have gone for the provoleta, a dish of grilled Argentinian cheese, or the chorizo beef sausage, but I can’t resist a ceviche, and Gaucho has three. The sampler platter (Dh95) gives taste of all; the prawn and tomato one was very sweet, while the tuna tiradito was Japanese-flavoured with soy and avocado, getting a ceviche pop with shards of orange segments. Next time, I’d pick a full portion of the red snapper, a more standard citrus-y ceviche with fennel, onion, mango and chilli. For dessert, you can’t go wrong with silky vanilla flan (Dh35), a set custard with globs of sticky dulce de leche milk caramel and a heavenly candied hazelnut that I want to buy boxes of. The apple pancake (Dh35), however, was underwhelming, homey in a I-could-have-made-it-better kind of way.