You can feel the savage, arid heat on your brow as you shuffle through the dusty streets of Buenos Aires into a weathered and dimly lit Argentine Parrilla bar. When I first walked in, early of course because I’m cool like that – the kitchen and Parilla is on full display like a theatre. Staff in their whites are busying around the most amazing contraption. This amazing machinery is responsible for the intoxicating smell of grilling meat you are affronted with as you walk into San Telmo, nay, as you round the corner down Meyers Place. Is it possible to get high off cow? Speaking of, you’ll also notice your meal used as decoration around the entire restaurant – the darkened room is abound with dappled hides, leathered seats, embossed place mates and saddles. The aggregate result may alert you to the fact that you are about to eat meat like a man.
Pleasantly greeted and feeling like a lone gringo, I head to the back and seat myself at the bar, in front of a wine list that only speaks Spanish. I have no knowledge of the labels, regions or varietals, but when in Rome. Or Buenos Aires. Or wherever. It does feel otherworldly, but not novelty or comical as some themed restaurants may feel. There is still that touch of Melbourne modernism. Perhaps it is the green button you need to press to enter the restrooms? – which, by the way, is stocked with Aesop. Tick.
I order a Negroni, I’ll need a dash of liquid courage to pronounce my meal. You can always judge a bartender by his Negroni – it is a measure of sophistication. He passes. And he passes again when I trial him a second time. Tick. Tick.
The dining room is certainly dim, but that is because the kitchen and grill are the stage. Surrounded by dark leather and rich mahogany, I half expect a moose head, hunting equipment or a cigar wielding drug lord to be languishing in the corner. The exclusively Argentine wines are on display in an expansive glass cabinet.
We order a deeply rich Bodega La Azul Cabernet 2010 from Valle De Uco, Mendoza. A dark hue and intense flavour gives the impression that it is thick like molasses – okay not quite, but it certainly warms up my throat, heart and everything in between. The menu is designed to share, however I don’t share my meat with anybody so we all ordered a meat dish from the Parrilla, all generously sized, but not enough to split my dress (a good measure of quantity as you can imagine, though not quite practical ... and potentially indecent).
Palmheart, preserved pear, jamon and buffalo mozzarella ensalada ($16); crispy potato galette ($10); grilled zucchini, asparagus and toasted almonds ($10) for sides. My eyes dart straight to the Bife de chorizo en la costilla – 400g strip loin dry aged on the bone ($49). Mine all mine, no sharing, no touchy – it’s mine, I’ll bite you. I am dumbfounded by my gluttony at times. My dining couple ordered the same and also the Entraña ($40) (hanger steak, which sounds rather less appealing than Entraña – because everything sounds better in Spanish). Our waiter kindly strategized when and in which order our dishes would come out. We were too overwhelmed by Argentine wine to plan anything beyond – “We are having the MEAT with a side of MEAT.”
The palmheart, preserved pear, jamon and buffalo mozzarella ensalada was quality, fresh and pleasantly acidic. An absolute tease of a starter. Certainly my favourite of the sides.
The chef generously gave us a complimentary side dish of burnt carrots, thyme and goat’s cheese. The goat’s cheese dressing is inviting, thick but not overwhelming – almost like a goat’s cream. The zucchini was nicely charred and flavoursome and the almonds complemented it well. The potato galette, creamy but crispy - how could it not be amazing? We may have sparred forks over this. No courteousness at this table.
But you don’t want to know about the sides, you want to know about the star of the show – the 400g strip loin dry aged on the bone. I ordered it rare and it was thoughtfully cut up for me, as all the Parrilla dishes are, which insinuates that they are designed to be shared – however, no touchy, it’s mine. It was grilled to perfection, the pink meat was tender and the char grilled ends were intensely flavoured with a hint of fat. The hanger steak was nothing in comparison to this – there was some definite order envy afoot – cunning glances darting from dish to dish. Fine, I shared a little. I’m not completely heartless, though it was more to prove how amazing mine was compared to theirs. Okay you’ve had your bit now – so no touchy.
Dessert had to be done. As I mentioned before, the split of the dress was not imminent so it made complete sense to keep testing the seams. Flan de dulce de leche ($14). Can we say tongue twister? Okay I’ve avoided puns for the last however many paragraphs, but it just has to be said: it was FLANTASTIC. It’s trying to spell check “flantastic” right now – oh you won’t find it and don’t you dare auto correct it. Caramelised, sweet, smooth, divine.
So the prices are high, but so is the quality. It was $80 a head, but I’m sure it should have been more given what we ordered. The meat is prime, the service attentive, the wines auténtico and the ambience unapologetically Argentine. You'll need a siesta after all this gluttony.
14 Meyers Place
Melbourne VIC 3000
(03) 9650 5525
Breakfast - Monday to Friday
Lunch/Dinner - Monday to Saturday