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The Best Steaks In Town

Drew Smith on why Argentine beef is best...

Published on February 25th 2012.

The Best Steaks In Town

NEVER mind the Falklands or the oil grab in the south seas, or sending a destroyer to the southern hemisphere,  or trying to get Carlos Tevez to play football, grass fed Argentine beef is the tops.

“The best way to cook it is at room temperature on a griddle or a hot pan, salt on top and when the juices start to rise, flip it over and salt again. The salt draws the bubbles to the top. There is no blue or rare – when it reaches a crescendo, it is pink inside and it is done. That is the best way.”

It arrives in the UK vacuum packed after four weeks rocking in a container across the Atlantic. The gentle swell of the ocean it is argued is one factor, the grass of the pampas another. The Argentine appreciation of good food is probably another…

The Japanese have their kobe massaged by geisha girls and the Australians their grain-fed derivative Wagyu while America has Chicago, but the best place to test the theory of what a decent steak might be in London for many years has been the Buen Ayre in Broadway Market.

It may not be as flashily decorated as some of the newer steak houses that are here or arriving soon – Meat People has just opened on the old S&M site on Essex Road, Hawksmoor is revamping its original Spitalfields home, The Marriot at County Hall has done a deal with Lord Devonshire to supply them steak and beef, and see also our run down on USA arrivals, steak is 2012 for sure - but Buen Ayre is the benchmark – a big open grill, good service, good wines, no frills and steaks that fall off the plates and are convincingly nutritious, juicy, all the clichés. No argument really.

Buen AyreBuen Ayre

John P Rattigan opened in 2004 before the Broadway Market really took off in any gastronomic sense and he had a second plusher venue A La Cruz, parallel to Exmouth Market in EC1 with spectacular décor and open fire pit, a vertical roasting spit on which whole carcasses are cooked as a piece. A really good place to impress a party.

John RattiganJohn Rattigan

Another pointer to the quality of Argentine produce was the more modest Moo Grill in Cobb Street E1 which picked up a listing in a top 10 London steak sandwiches for its lomito from the effervescent pop-upper Daniel Young at www.young&foodish.com. 

Much of this, if not all, arrives here through Malcom Harris's company Pampas Plains. To which attaches a little story of how in 1825 the Symetry sailed out of Leith harbour bound for Buenos Airies carrying 200 or so Scotsmen, one of whom was Malcom’s great, great etc and it was these guys who got involved in the Argentine pampas culture and eventually the meat trade which Malcom now operates out of Ticehurst in Sussex where you can buy direct and try it for yourself at home.

The best of the best?The best of the best?

“The point about Argentine beef is that it is wet aged, matured in the bag as it were, so it is at least 28 days aged. For me anything done slowly and in the traditional style is likely to be better.

“The best way to cook it is at room temperature on a griddle or a hot pan, salt on top and when the juices start to rise, flip it over and salt again. The salt draws the bubbles to the top. There is no blue or rare – when it reaches a crescendo, it is pink inside and it is done. That is the best way.”

The  Argentine community is sparse and fragmented around London but it makes for an interesting portrait of a new community and selection of very different venues to road test the assertion that a formula of how a hot parrilla – the Argentine grill - can deliver on a menu of steaks, chorizo, black pudding and usually, sweetbreads too backed by some big robust Argentine Malbecs. Argentina is not a vegetarian country.

The Gaucho chain was bought by venture capitalists and was one of the fastest growing profit centres of a couple of years ago on 16 branches which tells you that the hedgies like their beef and why your bill is so expensive. 

Of the notable independents Alberto Abbate has interests in both Battersea’s  Santa Maria del Sur in SW8 3RH and Bayswater’s Casa Maleva in W2.

Bermondsey’s  renaissance as a gastronomic capital has two outposts the plush Constancia on Tanner Street, SE1 – dinner only – and the unusual, family corner building of El Vergel – daytimes only – on Webber Street, which has the feel of the kind of community centre you might actually want to book into, a vast cafe. 

Meanwhile down in Blackheath there is another Buen Ayre on Royal Parade SE3 which is not directly related but is always spoken of warmly.

And hot off the press in what people like to call south camden ie Mornington Crescent - is a new La Patagonia on Camden High Street by the Thai supermarket and past the Wheelbarrow near Koko which offers grills and what used to be called a continental menu.

Prime ArgentinePrime ArgentineIronically much of the best Argentine grass fed beef – perhaps down now to 20% only – goes to export where an imbalance in subsidies has persuaded farmers to bring their cattle in from the pampas and keep them in feed-lots where they lose their freedom to roam and get fed soy instead of grass. From which you may deduce that not all Argentina beef is of the same quality. You have been warned. There is a cute article on it here including a rather sexy come-on and reproduced here for your delight or despair.

Buen Ayre, Broadway MarketBuen Ayre, Broadway Market

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