Buen Ayre
50 Broadway Market
Hackney E8 4QJ
10/10/2010
If anyone is reading this, I have a question for you: if I put a piece of tomato and some cheese on a thin slice of bread, am I a Pizzeria? ‘Cause honestly, I don’t think so. Hence, if you put a fillet steak on the grill, what makes you an Argentine Restaurant rather than a Steak House? You would think: humitas, sweet potatoes, beans, sweetcorn…and certainly not garlic oil…

Now, despite my turbulent love story with meat I went to Buen Ayre with total peace of mind. Ready to try everything. Even a breathing cow. Thank god everything was dead already. Since I was trying to avoid a meat hangover I thought: “Mmmh, instead of having an entire beast myself I’ll share Edo’s cow…” You know, the cow is greener on the other side…

So, we started with berenjenas al escabeche (marinated aubergines) and empanadas, followed by bife de lomo with garnishes (bear that in mind: garnishes) and brochette de queso y verduras with garnishes (again, bear that in mind: vegetables and garnishes). I love aubergines and I love vinegar – I could drink it from the bottle – and I like garlic too, with moderation. But the smell of it came waaaaay before the aubergines landed under my nose! They were playing seek & hide in a garlic field! Edo had a bite and passed out for 10 minutes. The empanadas were good: two, good size, fried not baked, plenty of filling – we chose corn. We liked it. Edo particularly loved the Roquefort-flavoured butter that came with bread. In fact, when the waiter came to take away our plates (and the basically untouched berenjenas), he didn’t let go and confronted the guy with a scary, greedy, challenging look. The waiter went, the butter stayed. Not long after (service pace impressive) came the fillet. Medium, we asked. In front of me, a curiously shaped, incredibly smelly wrap materialised. I unfolded the bread (tortilla…muy Argentina… not!) and the skewer wasn’t exactly in the league of the five-a-day game. Big chunks of halloumi (grilled to perfection, in fairness) where suffocating the vegetables’ representative: a cherry tomato. Yes, one. The tomato, in return, was trying to surf the hummus wave, which was having the time of its life at that fiesta. And then, the guest of honour arrived: EL AJO. An ocean of garlic oil was trying to sink my flatbread; I tried to rescue it, I swear, but it was too late. Defeated, I decided to vent my grief onto the garnishes. A lonely salad leaf and five giant beans in…guess what? Of course, garlic oil! I moved on to Edo’s fillet: he had a bite; I had a bite; we ethereally looked at each other and smiled, like a proper, happy couple. And then, overwhelmed by lust, we attacked the delicious “mooer” again. But…MADRE MIA, QUE PASA AQUI??? Were we too violent? Were we too hungry? The MEDIUM cow is bleeding. Help. After a second, quick round on the grill it came back, but I felt betrayed and lost interest in the four-footed vegetarian. I looked around while Edo was burying the fat he found in his fillet (yes, there was fat) and thought: “It’s nice in here, rustic and vaguely romantic at the same time.

The staff is also nice and friendly but CHEF, for God’s sake, if the only thing on your menu is meat why don’t you cook it properly at least?!?”. Ironically, all the people who recommended the place said service was crap and food phenomenal! I wonder if we got the address right. We picked up the bill from the bare wooden table and studied it under the candlelight. Considering that meat is always a pricy food and that we had two large glasses of wine, £60 in total wasn’t ridiculously bad…for a mediocre STEAK HOUSE…

  • Food: 2
  • Ambience: 2.5
  • Service: 3
  • Value: 3
  • Overall: 2.62
Monica
This was the first time we hit a country with an substantial choice in restaurant offering. It was also the first time we applied our budget limit, as we could have gone for much more expensive alternatives but it would have been unfair for comparison. The budget we have set ourselves for this countries’ mission is substantially lower than what we tend to spend when we go out for dinner, the objective being that this is a weekly little adventure that does not replace our serious meals out. Hence my increased anticipation at experiencing the ceiling of the allocated budget: I thought, this is as good as it’s going to get for the next 150 countries or so…

Five different people, including some serious foodies, had independently recommended Buen Ayre, so my expectations were quite high. After a long journey to Afghanistan, an utterly depressing Albania and an Algeria which was a great surprise but let’s face it, I would never have known of or set foot in if it hadn’t been for this mission, I felt energised and happy to go to a highly recommended restaurant.

Being a long term fan of Gaucho, we discarded it both because of the budget and because it qualifies as a chain. Needless to say, Gaucho is my benchmark of quality Argentine food.

The place is always very busy so we booked ahead – another good sign. The ambience is bistro style, somewhat shabby-chic, reminded me of Pierre Victoire but not quite as well presented.

Reading the reviews on London Eating, there tended to be complaints around service. Maybe we just had the right waiter but I found service to be well timed, personal and kind. In fact service was probably the best aspect of the meal.

Instead of butter for the bread they bring you a spread of butter and blue cheese which is positively delicious, a great start. I had sweetcorn empanadas for starter and they were good, light, fluffy, crunchy, tasty in the middle. I thought, this is looking good.

Then comes the meat. I had Bife de Lomo, i.e. fillet, the only cut of beef I really enjoy just grilled, on its own, no sauce no frills no nothing, pure and simple in its juicy glory. It comes as the customary brick of meat, tick. I start cutting into it: perfect pink, delicious. I think, I am going to have a lot of fun tonight.

The fourth, fifth slice through the flesh and the core is really looking more rare than medium. I get less than halfway though and the meat is completely raw inside. I then slice perpendicularly through what’s left and the steak is blue, barely cooked for a couple of millimetres, looks like seared tuna. For some reason the steak had cooked quite unevenly and I had started from the only corner which had been done as I had requested. Also, a massive vein of fat is cutting through the lean flesh in the uneaten half, maybe 1cm thick. People get fillet because they want lean meat with no fat: if I saw something like this at the butcher’s I would never buy it; if I found it after purchase I would throw it away. I sent the steak back for more cooking – waiter swift and apologetic – and when they brought it back the piece without the fat was very good.
The sides were utterly forgettable: I kept thinking of Gaucho and their delicious, delicious side dishes which would be worth a visit even without the meat.

You go to an Argentine restaurant and there is one thing they have to get perfect: the steak. Not good: perfect. The steak was good but unevenly cooked, undercooked, and structurally flawed as a fillet. I left deeply disappointed: I hope this is not as good as it’s going to get until the end, or I may not enjoy it much.

The Malbec was quite acceptable but the by the glass wine selection was way too limited for a place you are best to drive to and where meat is the specialty.
We spent about £60, which I thought was fair.

  • Food: 2.5
  • Ambience: 2.5
  • Service: 3.5
  • Value: 3
  • Overall: 2.87
Edo
ARGENTINA