7th October 2010
That title paints a pretty picture of a leather-clad rider basking in the last of the evening su7n. Pink rays reflecting off the mirror-like surface of the Parana.
Yes, ok, so I looked it up but you get the idea. Well, that dream isn’t quite the story here. The Gaucho in question isn’t a who but a what and the river is the Thames.
Gaucho Grill is one of a small chain of Argentinean steak restaurants. They are more than a cut above most of their competitors and that is due not only to the quality of the food but also the amazing ambiance. This particular restaurant has a prime spot on the Richmond water-front. It’s on the quieter side of Richmond Bridge and opposite the site of the former celebrated ice rink. Some rather swanky apartments now decorate that plot; although the developers once promised a replacement sports facility, one suspects that hell will be freezing over before the ice would on any forthcoming ice rink.
The view is lovely. Gaucho boasts a deck surrounding one of Richmond’s largest trees. This offers the prospect of welcome shade should we ever have a summer, or a nice bit of firewood should our present temperature continue. That spacious terrace can sit up to 130 alfresco diners, with another 100 or so inside.
There is a corporate identity writ big here. That is often a negative aspect but Gaucho has cultivated a high-end marquee. It’s a vision of black and white. Cow hide decorates several wall panels and several chairs but Gaucho refrains from stooping to the contrived and tacky decor that the subject matter might suggest. There are no bulls-head coat racks and no branding irons as cocktails stirrers. The impression is tasteful masculinity rather than blokey macho force. It’s a meat-eating establishment but with plenty to charm the female of the species, both on the menu and the walls.
Gaucho offers a good selection of Argentinean wines and they are proudly displayed both behind the bar and as a screen in the restaurant. Wine is nice but a South American cocktail had this girl’s name on it. I have sampled many Mojitos many a time and I have found them generally to be very alcoholic and flavourless. Yet I bravely gave it one more try and this version showed just why this drink became so popular in the first place. The tall frosty glass held a light cocktail with real mint freshness. The bowl of paprika-spiced popcorn was moreish and could have tempted me down the route of one too many Mojitos.
We perused the menu and enjoyed some Argentinean rolls and some dark French bread served with both butter and chimichurri dip. This arrived not in the ubiquitous basket but in a shallow black earthenware dish. The salt and pepper were presented in miniature bowls of the same material. The rustic crockery worked well with the contemporary furnishings, still maintaining the monochrome theme. Even the serving staff are dressed all in black and blend seamlessly with the background.
A non-meat starter seemed in order as the main course was going to be bovine-based. I chose Hand Picked Crab with Quail’s egg, avocado, red onion, tomato and mustard mayonnaise, potato and Aji Amarillo, a yellow pepper. Crab in any form is such a luxuriously decadent dish and when the crustacean has flesh picked by hands other than my own it’s irresistible. This made for a light but deliciously spicy introduction to the piscatorial section of the bill of fare. Fish eaters are surprisingly well catered for at Gaucho. Plenty of ceviches on offer (raw marinated fish), so my companion tried Ecuadorian Marinated Tiger Prawns in a roasted tomato and lime sauce which he proclaimed sweet, tangy with some heat from chilli, and still with firm texture.
My guest meandered through the drinks list which carried an impressive and diverse selection of Argentinean wines. The profile of each wine includes a reference to the altitude of the vineyard, a statistic not normally mentioned with regard to Old-World wines; but the geographic conditions in South America can have an effect on the characteristics of their grapes. Temperatures and sunlight at a thousand metres or more are very different from those nearer sea levels. He selected a Fabre Montmayon Malbec from Mendoza (900 metres) which was well-rounded soft tannins.
Meat is king here. Our waiter wielded a board of uncooked cuts of beef and some lamb chops. He described their individual qualities and suggested the best degree of grilling. We each chose a steak and some side dishes, which arrived cooked to order from the open kitchen. I was impressed by my 225g of sirloin, labelled as Bife De Chorizo. It’s a common cut but often dry and unappetising. This, however was tender and juicy and the 225g was not outfacingly large. A generous portion for any average eater.
My guest has a manly appetite so selected a 300g steak which has been marinated in garlic and herbs. This was one of the Churrasco spiral cuts and was call Cuadril. It had pronounced flavour from both the grill and marinade. It hardly needed the accompanying ramekin of mustard sauce. Well worth trying this particular steak.
Side dishes here are a thoughtful bunch and offer far more the ubiquitous fries, onion rings and slimy mushrooms. I chose the Argentinean equivalent of Mexican tamles. These Humitas arrived wrapped in corn husks just as the tamles might have, although I found the Humitas to be softer and creamier texture with evidence of crushed sweetcorn. A marvellous foil for my pepper-sauce-garnished steak. The grilled vegetables were cooked to attractive perfection and the crunchy bean salad allowed us to feel healthy and noble.
You’ll be well advised to save just a little space for dessert. We were drawn to several and so settled on the Dessert Sampler which allowed us to indulge in Cheesecake with dulce de leche, coffee biscuit and chocolate sauce, Lime Pie with its sweet brittle topping, and Chocolate Cake which was moist and melting, rich and dark. An espresso coffee is de rigueur with such a platter.
Our evening at Gaucho offered everything that one might wish for in a good steak house. Wish, yes but seldom find. Striking surroundings, superb food and knowledgeable staff. It’s not the cheapest meal out but it’s still value for money. Our evening terminated with a couple of sighs of contentment.
Mon –Sat: 12:00 – 23:00
Sun (and Bank Holidays): 12:00 – 22:30
Gaucho Richmond, The Towpath, Richmond Riverside, Richmond, TW10 6UJ
Phone: 0208 948 4030
Fax: 0208 948 2945