Archive for April, 2010

Muy bien

April 24, 2010

I’m a big fan of dining out (and, by crikey, I’m getting bigger by the meal). But when it comes to talking about it, I find myself lost for words. Not in a ‘it’s so good I’m speechless’ sort of way; it’s just that I seem to lack the vocabulary. I rarely go beyond the basics of ‘all right’, ‘nice’ and ‘very good’.

Fortunately, I’d learned the Spanish for ‘very good’ before I went on holiday to Argentina – and it stood me in good stead. After haltingly asking for ‘oona maysa para doss pour favoor’ and mispronouncing most of the dishes on the menu, I’d invariably end up having a fantastic meal and telling the waiter that it was ‘muy bien’. Or on more than one occasion, ‘muy, muy bien’. (By the way, my wife, Kate, got the Spanish for ‘Very good, but I’m full’ down to a tee. It’s ‘Muy bien, pero estoy iena’ if you’re a woman. If you’re a man… well, real men never admit they’re full.)

Anyway, I had so many good meals while I was away that I hope you don’t mind if I share my top 3 with you. In each case I’ve linked the name to either the restaurant website or a review site that gives the address and phone number – so if you’re in the area and fancy a bite to eat, you can easily find the place. By the way, unlike those annoying Channel 4 ‘Top 100’ shows presented by Jimmy Carr, they’re not listed in any particular order. Although, just to complicate things, number 3 was far and away my number 1.

1. Cabaña Las Lilas is situated down on the quayside in Buenos Aires. The area reminded me of the similar area in Newcastle, right down to the bridge. Unlike Newcastle, however, the locals wear more clothes even though the weather is much warmer. Go figure.

Puerto Madero bridge

But on to the restaurant. I didn’t know this at the time, but apparently Cabaña Las Lilas is one of BA’s best known parrillas – good job I ordered the baby beef steak then (it was my first meal in Argentina – I was hardly going to have a green salad). I normally have my steaks rare – however, I didn’t know the Spanish for that so I went for ‘a punto’ (medium rare, I think. I still don’t know). The meat was beautifully soft and juicily pink, needing only the slightest cut of the knife. The chips were, like a Dime bar, crunchy on the outside but soft in the middle. The glass of Malbec (a glass? Such restraint!) that came with it was smooth and fruity. The dessert menu was surplus to requirements – I was done. But not well done.

2. Bistro M After BA, we moved on to Mendoza. We had our first lunch at this little local place we found. It was called the Hyatt. We shared starters of panfried sweetbreads and carpaccio of beef. Both melted in the mouth.  My main of mushroom spaghetti (it sounds better when it’s ‘spaghetti con funghi’) was full of buttery goodness. To drink, we had a bottle of Alta Vista Torrontes – a fruity but dry white. Again, we skipped afters.

3. Butterfly Goodbye Mendoza, hello Bariloche. The town is a real ski resort, but this restaurant was anything but fondue and big portions. Butterfly is a small restaurant with only six tables available (as it was out of season, we were one of two couples dining), superb service and wonderful food. We chose the tasting menu with wine selection, and from the amuse bouches to the petit fours there wasn’t one false note. Highlights were the sweetbread risotto with morels (the ‘best risotto I’ve ever eaten,’ according to Kate) and the fall-apart-tender 16h hour-cooked Patagonian lamb shoulder. And we ACTUALLY HAD ROOM FOR DESSERT – an oozing chocolate fondant with home-made vanilla ice cream. The place was as good as any Michelin-starred restaurant, without the airs and graces.

As I said, that’s my top 3. There are many more lovely restaurants, but I’ve gone on enough and just writing this has made my mouth gush. But before I go, an honourable mention must go to A Los Bifes (partly because I took a photo of their frontage, partly because they were directly opposite our hotel, but mostly because we had our second best steak there).

I wonder what they serve?

And for a meal with a difference, Astrid & Gaston in Buenos Aires is well worth a visit. They do Peruvian cooking (no guinea pigs though) with a fine dining twist. I know the expression is used far too much (by me, here, for a start) but my main course of ribs with a sort of molasses reduction glaze really did just ‘melt in the mouth’. Ooh, and Freud & Fahle in BA’s Palermo district (like Soho, but without the wankers) is the only restaurant I’ve been to where they serve a cheese platter as a starter. The lamb chops with roasted baby turnips, carrots and leeks were fantastic too.

Ah, Argentina. I don’t think I’ve ever eaten so well anywhere else – and my waistband agrees. Muy, muy bien.


Home Alone 2

April 6, 2010

Sorry about the predictability of the headline. I know I could have spent some more time looking for different hooks upon which to hang this post. Ooh, I dunno. The election – hey, what’s that all about? Or whatever happened to [insert nostalgic riff here]? But when a gift horse trots up to you and nudges you gently in the chest it’s best not to… Actually, let’s stop that particular metaphor – this has been far too obvious and I’m only on my first paragraph.

There’s a lovely quote from Caitlin Moran in an interview with Martin Carr, which warns against settling for the first thing that presents itself to you. She in turn is quoting the late, great Alan Coren:

“The first idea that occurs to you, will have occurred to everyone. The second idea that occurs to you, will have already also occurred to the clever people. But your third idea – only you will have had that one.”

I love that. But I’d disagree with Alan in one respect. It’s not necessarily a bad thing to go with your first idea, just as long as you’ve carried on thinking and haven’t been able to beat it.

Take advertising. Please, somebody take advertising. I’ve got no documentary evidence to prove it, but I reckon that when the boys at Saatchi & Saatchi were given the advertising brief for The Independent, the line ‘It is. Are you?’ was at most number two on the layout pad. (My line would have been ‘It’s Inde-pen-dent. Write?’ And that’s why I don’t work for Saatchi & Saatchi.)

It would be lovely to see what the creatives came up with after ‘It is. Are you?’, if indeed they came up with anything. This was after all the 80s and they probably went off to the pub for the rest of the week.

These days, I’m not sure we have the time to think. We seem to be firing off first ideas, without the luxury of being able to sit back and see if we can better them. Or is this just a case of (grabs first available cliche) rose tinted glasses? I don’t know.

Well, I seem to have strayed somewhat from my original subject. So to get back on track, here’s my second batch of hastily cobbled-together observations about temporary single life.

1. It’s true. The ironing really doesn’t do itself.

2. Ditto the washing-up.

3. Chicken shouldn’t be eaten if it’s pink.

4. If you put a frying pan in the oven, remember to use an oven glove to take it out.

5. Body clocks aren’t as reliable as alarm clocks.

I know they’re all rather obvious. But I’m a bit pushed for time.

Home Alone

April 4, 2010


My wife’s left me. At Easter, of all times. Why did she do it? Why? Waaaaaaah!

OK so I’m being melodramatic. By ‘left me’ I mean, she’s gone away to Buenos Aires for college-type stuff. She’s doing an MBA. Possibly in tango. Or maybe steak-eating. I can’t be sure.

Regardless, I’m all on my lonesome, with just the cats for company. I’m like a little old lady, but without the fondness for parma violets.

I thought this was going to be fun. Doing all the things I don’t normally get to do – eating toast out of a bowl, watching telly in my pants, drinking gin into the wee small hours… actually, scratch those last two. They’re not all that uncommon, I’ll grant you.

But it hasn’t been like that. Once I got over the exhilaration of knowing I could do ANYTHING I WANT! ANYTHING AT ALL! MWAHAHAHAHAAAA! I was struck with a sort of existential angst. What did I want? DVDs? Takeaways? More gin? All three? Should I ration myself so there was something to look forward to the following day?

Overwhelmed by the choices in front of me, I took to my bed as early as possible with a good book and a decent radio play to send me to sleep.

Which was when the paranoia hit. Had I locked the front door? The back door? The windows? Was the gas off? (We’ve got electric for God’s sake.)

After several checks, I went back to bed (turning the downstairs light on, just to deter intruders). But wait! What was that noise? Burglars eh? Maybe I should get the bread knife from downstairs. Don’t be an idiot. You don’t stab with a bread knife – it’s got a bevelled edge (copyright E. Izzard). And anyway, they’d do you for excessive force, even though you claimed self-defence and you’d get a life sentence and die alone. 

Talking of which. What if I died in my sleep? Or even worse, woke up completely paralysed? Who’d find me? And when? Because it’s a Bank Holiday weekend so work wouldn’t think something was amiss until Tuesday afternoon at the earliest. By which time, would the cats have stopped treating me as their co-lodger and started to view me as lunch? 

Actually I’m not all that happy about the way they’ve been looking at me recently. So call me paranoid, but I might lock the catflap tonight.

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