Tag Archives: Argentina

Some more nice places to eat – Polpo (Soho) & Santa Maria Del Sur (Battersea)

1. Polpo, 41 Beak Street, Soho, W1F 9SB

Going to Polpo for Saturday lunch was one of the best ideas I’ve had lately. First, you can actually book a table – you can’t for supper hence several disappointments  – and secondly, it felt like a real treat from the Saturday day norm. I don’t know about you, but in the last few years, Saturday has turned into my slightly dull “admin” day. I get up early, do yoga, then bum around all day doing chores and generally waiting until Saturday night happens. I used to meet my friend Esmerelda for coffee or lunch but she was selfish enough to move to Australia so it’s been rather lacking of late. Sunday is my long-boozy-lunch followed by a film day, but until the weather is hot enough for cycle trips, Saturday has become a bit meh.

But Saturday daytime is a lovely time to see friends. I often meet my girlfriends for post-work dinners during the week but this isn’t ideal as we’re normally wired from our working week, a little stressed, and need to get home at a decent hour. Sundays are always under the shadow of Monday mornings and the Sunday blues. But on Saturday, you can have a 4-hour lunch and still fit in yoga before and parties afterwards, AND have a whole day to recover with the papers on Sunday.

So last Saturday, Tallulah and I went along to Polpo – the perfect place for a long leisurely catch-up lunch. And we didn’t just talk about boys. Erm.. Service is good but unintrusive, you can sit for hours. The wine is lovely and by the carafe – we had the light Poeta (£6 for 250ml and £12 for 500ml, we tried both for research purposes). The food is Italian tapas-style sharing plates which is always brilliant for sociability and ease of ordering. But Brits will always refuse to eat the last portion on each plate. They were delicious:

Arancini – these were new to me but little parcels of risotto – delicious

Calimari – tasty but a little dull?

Flank steak – the best plate for me – perfectly cooked juicy beef in peppery rocket and a lovely creamy truffle sauce

Cauliflower – delicious take on cauliflower cheese, my FAVOURITE SCHOOL DINNER EVER 

Polpette – delicious and tomatoey

All this grub, plus the wine (only downside – Saturday night got a bit blurry due to lunchtime vino drinking – beware)  and a coffee came to £28 each including tip which is brilliant – highly recommended for lazy weekend lunches or after-work dinners if you can get a table (or try Polpetto which serves similar food but where we got a table easily).

Polpo on Urbanspoon

2. Santa Maria Del Sur, 129 Queenstown Road, Battersea, SW8 3RH

Oh how I miss Argentina. The horses, the weather, the steaks, the Malbec – just not the same in London. After a crappy meal at the Pampa Grill on Battersea Rise, I was excited about going back to Santa Maria Del Sur. I’ve been before and raved about it (one of the best steaks in London I said! I have not been to Hawksmoor still!) but this time was following its win on Gordon Ramsey’s F Word for the UK’s best Americas restaurant (and you knew it – now impossible to get a table without booking well in advance) and after big-biceped manager Jose moved to the Moo Grill.  

The Chef and I were hungry and I was excited to see a really authentic menu – Fernet and Coke! Quilmes! – and our starter empanadas were just aaaamaaaazing. We then ordered the mixed grill which has 2 steaks – bife de chorizo (sirloin) and bife de lomo (fillet) as well as 2 sausages and some provolone cheese . Oh and some black pudding just in case you hadn’t got the meat sweats yet.

The steaks were excellent – really juicy and perfectly cooked. I’d go for the fillet steak which was perfect. The sausages and black pudding were good, but I could take or leave them, and the cheese although lovely was random. No necessito in my humble opinion. Decent Malbec (I ordered the Zuccardi because my friend Aileen fancies the owner’s son) but not amazing and I’d have loved to see some better names on the menu. Main disappointment? The sides were terrible. In Buenos Aires, the best meal I had was at La Cabrera where you got amazing steaks with delicious sides of mustardy things and salads and veggies. But at Santa Maria the sides were rubbish – a salad was some lettuce and tomatoes with not much else and the peppers were tastless, although the chips were good (I avoided – damn no carb diet). We finished up with a delicious flan with dulche de leche

All this food, with G&Ts to start and a bottle of Zuccardi Serie A (£27) came to £65 each which I think is a bit much for a local restaurant. The steaks were good and the but I’d have a fillet steak with chips next time and hope they’d improved their sides, with a cheaper bottle of wine. Still a lovely atmosphere for a date though, which explains why it was fairly heaving with couples.

Santa Maria Del Sur on Urbanspoon

A guide to Argentina in 2-and-a-bit weeks

No, I’m not writing this now to piss you off. I’m writing this guide because I know at least two people who are off to Argie (I hate this abbreviation too but quicker to write it like this) in December / January and I promised, sorry.

Anyway, if you, like me, were worried that your backpacking days are over; or you regret never travelling in South America but think because you only get 25 days holiday a year it’s not worth it, the good news is that 2 weeks is plenty to see a decent amount of Argentina. I saw a lot and never felt rushed (which might have something to do with the relaxing night buses). And you can backpack it or do it in style – travel is easy, fun and friendly and you can go from posh restaurants to hostels and back. Here’s some ideas of what to do (and I’ve also written about Argie hospitality and steaks here,  Argie food here and travelling  on  your own here):

1. Buenos Aires

Like everyone, I stayed in Palermo, the Notting Hill / NY West Village of BA. Filled with cool graffiti and art galleries, great restaurants, bars and pavement cafes, it also has amazing clothes boutiques so make sure your bag is only half filled when you arrive. I stayed in a mixed 4-bed dorm in Palermo Hostel Suites which was brilliant – they book trips and tours and buses and meeting people was as easy as “Hi I’m [insert name], do you fancy a beer?”. I keep banging on about it, but eat steak at Palermo’s La Cabrera for an incredible feast to introduce you to Argentina. If you go and have the cash, the Home hotel looks amazing.

Head to La Boca to watch Tango at a pavement cafe eating a giant steak (see photo above), admire the colourful houses and take in a football game (but avoid if you are claustrophobic or have tummy issues – no doors on the loos). It’s very touristy but worth a look and don’t wander down sidestreets, I met people who had been mugged. The Sunday market in San Telmo is huge and fantastic with brilliant leather bags and hats and streetside tango. You have to see the Plaza de Mayo and if I had more time I wanted to check out the Eva Peron museum, the Jardins Japonaises and the Recoleta Cemetery where Eva is buried.

2. Iguazu

I was going to head to the beaches of Uruguay (especially Puerto del Diablo) but it wasn’t hot enough in November and to be honest I wanted a tan, so I took an overnight bus from BA (with free dinner, reclining beds, wine and a film) to near the Paraguay and Brazil borders to see the Iguazu waterfalls. Now before I went up there, I had the rather patronising thought that yeah yeah its a waterfall, I’ve SEEN frickin’ waterfalls before. But these are truly amazing – huge, vast, stunningly beautiful – you really should go. You should see them from the Argentina side to get up close, and the Brazil side to see the vastness of the whole area.

You can stay in the town of Puerto Iguazu but I stayed about 5 kms outside at a 6-bed dorm at the Hostel Inn – noteable for its amazing pool and poolside bar but the food and dorms weren’t that great. Remember it’s HOT and HUMID up there (30 degrees at about 8am) so a pool is a lovely luxury. I grabbed the roadside bus to both sides (7 pesos to Argentina and 85 pesos or so to Brazil) and took half a day at each (yes not a lot but its so rammed with people that I couldn’t sit and marvel and started getting impatient). Thanks to Still Travelling Sarah, I found a great restaurant which I think is called Terra in Puerto Iguazu, a few doors downhill from the bus station, which does caipirissima cocktails and Asian fusion food (honestly you’ll sicken of steak after a while) and the nearby Timbo Iguazu shop which sells hand-made clothes and jewellery including some beautiful pale pink rodocrosita stones, speciality of Argentina.

3. Mendoza

From Iguazu, I utterly cocked up on geography / common sense and got an overnight bus back to BA followed by another overnight bus to Mendoza. This was stupid – you can go direct (but 24 hours to Mendoza) or via Cordoba. Or just don’t be a tight arsed Scot FFS and fly.

So Mendoza is right by the Chilean border with the snow-capped Andes in the middle and is awe-inspiringly beautiful. It has the San Martin park in the centre with a river running through it which could be in Oxford, its so calm and peaceful. And it has desert outside where you can gallop Argentinian horses in the sand (see photo below). It has hot springs. But better than all of this, it has wineries (bodegas) where they make the most amazing Malbec, and Syrah, and lots of other wines. And like anywhere that produces wine this means it is relaxed and gastronomic and green and lovely. The wine industry is fairly new so it’s not as “rock up and open a bottle” as Hunter or Napa Valleys – you need to call up and book ahead. I stayed in a 4-bed dorm at the Mendoza Inn (friendly and central on the Aristides street by all the bars, but a bit of an oonst oonst party place) and I did the hostel’s own cycle wine tour and it was a bit rubbish – far better to organise and do it yourself. We went to see the wonderful Carmelo Patti, Alta Vista (photo above) and La Guarde bodegas and the wine was just wonderful. The Tempus Alta bodega also has a gorgeous rooftop wine terrace. You can also do great wine tastings at the Vines of Mendoza in Mendoza itself. As a treat, you should try a coffee or beer (or high tea!) at the Park Hyatt hotel overlooking the Plaza Independencia or a steak at Azafran. Again if you have the cash, definitely check out Francis Mallman (Argie’s most famous chef) and his restaurant 1884 – set in a beautiful bodega just outside Mendoza’s centre, it’s a real treat.

Aristides has some great shops – especially La Matera for authentic leather belts – and there’s other good boutiques on Sermiento and 9 de julio, and a market in the Plaza Independencia. The Raices jewellery store just off the main square was lovely too.

4. Bariloche

Yes you guessed it, I took an overnight bus from Mendoza to Bariloche in the Lake District of Patagonia. But this time there was bus bingo and champagne, hurrah, although it was my third bus playing the Bounty Hunter, sigh. I stayed at the Hostel Patanuk which had the perfect view – overlooking the stunning lake with snowcapped mountains behind. Bariloche is wierd – with it’s chalets, fondues and touts flogging photos with a St Bernard dog, you could sort of be in Switzerland.

But there are two things you must do – you must go galloping on horseback through the Patagonian forest to the lake and then up the mountains. I rode with Hugo from Tom Wesley stables and he got me galloping like a pro – even though I’d last ridden when I was about 9 and horses scare me a bit. They will do an asado (BBQ) if you do a full day trek. You must also hire a bike and do the circuito chico – a fairly up and down cycle ride past amazing views. It will take you between 4 and 8 hours to do, depending on how much you stop and if you decide you can’t be arsed cycling and push your bike up the hills instead, ahem. Finally, Bariloche is famous for it’s lamb, trout and venison, I liked La Marca for lamb brochettes, and La Esquina for coffee and dulche de leche alfajores, and you must have a bife de chorizo at El Boliche de Alberto.

Funnily enough, after my two weeks of overnight buses and slumming it in hostels, I decided to treat myself to a flight from Bariloche back to BA and a night in a lovely boutique hotel in Palermo. Only my flight was cancelled so I had to take a 5 hour bus to another town and wait in the airport until 5am to fly. So I got to my nice hotel at 6.30am only to pay an astronomical sum for 3 hours of my head touching the pillow. There is a lesson there, somewhere.