1st October 2009
Holy cow! Says Mark Hedley as he wistfully recalls the great mountain of food and cascading lakes of wine of the Gaucho wine Makers' dinner.
When I sat down for the dinner and noticed six empty wine glasses at my place setting, I knew I was in for a treat. And when those glasses were filled with Argentina;s finest wine, and served alongside a six-course tasting menu of South America's most sumptious cuisine, I realised ‘treat' was an understatement.
Costing £75-£100, the Gaucho wine makers diner is a feast fit for a Roman Emperor - one with a penchant for red wine and even redder meat.
But before my food passes your lips, the evening begins with a wine tasting free-for-all. Wine makers from a multitude of gaucho's top providers travel to the UK from their respective Argentinean vineyards to persuade you that their wines are the best. It's your job - in the one hour before the dinner begins - to put them to the test.
This does mean that before you've even sat down to your six empty glasses, you will have already emptied six others. Although, at the time, you won't be able to do the maths - trust me.
Before you begin the first course, Gaucho rolls out its master of meat, Ryan Hattingh. As you might expect, Hattingh is the sort of bloke who spreads a raw T-bone on his toast and knocks back a glass of bull's blood with breakfast.
Gnawing on the odd slice of raw rump as he goes, Hattingh explains the intricacies of Gaucho's finest beef: steaks; sourcing; and, er , slaughter. If there;s even a trace of vegetarian in you, you should make your excuses now. But for the red-blooded meat eater, the demo definitely gets you in the moo-d. (Sorry.)
The dinner - with a menu designed by Argentinean executive head chef Fernando Trocca - began with a scallop ceviche. It was a little heavy on the coconut for my tastes, but the wine - Mauricio Lorca Fantasia viognier - elevated the experience as a perfect accompaniment to the ceviche's sharper edges.
Next up was the yerba mate-smoked beef with chimichurri dressing, served with a delicious glass of Catena can sav, proving that just because it's red and Argentinean, it doesn't have to be malbec.
Onto the main event - a triumvirate of steaks served in rapid succession. Lomo (fillet) with tomato salad and hand cut chips; chorizo (sirloin) with humitas; and ancho (ribeye) with spinach. Two more malbecs and a tempranillo joined company, and by the time dessert arrived, I could only talk in one-syllable words.
In case you wondered, the final course was an epic dulce de leche cheesecake, not had I tried to finish it off, I would have ended up partaking in the one part of Ancient Roman overindulgence that I'm not so keen on - and I would have ended up more Gouto than Gaucho.
One piece of advice, if you go: don't eat a big lunch.