Situated in Broadway Market, Hackney (where all the Nathan Barleys have seem to have decamped to from Hoxton) Buen Ayre is an Argentinean restaurant that specialises in steak, steak and more steak. This restaurant seems fairly unassuming from outside, with the interior décor being equally no-frills, but once you set your eyes on the massive barbecue suspended from the ceiling under sizzling hot coals, you immediately get what this place is all about. The grill is loaded with different cuts of meat and sausage and is kept under the eye of a chef who makes it all seem quite effortless. If I had been standing there, sweat would be flying everywhere, over the bar staff and over the customers which would have been very off putting.
We were shown to our table by our waiter, a Bobby Gillespie look-alike who was so spaced out that one suspected he shared the same penchant for narcotics as his name sake. It took a little while for Bobby to get it together but he eventually fought off the fairies dancing on his head and brought the menu over which presented a wide selection of animal protein in various guises with the occasional side salad thrown in. It is at this point that I should have made a note that our hosts Al and Emer (who had been before) were making noises about going straight to the main. But gutso here wanted to kick off with the marinated ox tongue so everyone else followed suit with starters of Serrano ham with palm hearts and empanadas, south America’s answer to the Cornish Pasty. Al then recommended we all go for the parrilladas which is a kind of mixed grill for two served on a brazier.
I think the last time I had a mixed grill was in some Beefeater type fare, where the skinny lamb chop clings desparately to the bone, your sausage is actually a saveloy and the rump is as tough as your old man’s boots but I trusted Al, he likes his meat. Then these two troughs of beef turned up and I thought he had made a mistake. “Alan, you’ve ordered for a wedding banquet you fool! How can we afford this, let alone send it back?”. The girls looked stunned by the spectacle and clutched at their throats nervously. Even Al looked worried and remember he likes his meat. “This does seem to be a bit more than usual” he whimpered but what where we to do? Well of course there was only one thing for it, we would plough straight on and go for it, thus sparing us the humilation of telling Bobby we’d got our order wrong, bugger the cost.
So the verdict? Well the different varieties of steak were indeed very good, cooked medium rare, succulent and tender. The pork sausage was chunky and garlic and the addition of melted provolone cheese added an extra touch of indulgance but it was the black pudding that was a real revelation. By Emer’s own admission of it being the best she’s ever tasted (and coming from Ireland that’s saying something), I’d have to agree. Almost velvet in texture, moist and richly flavoured, I would have been happy to have a plate on the stuff on its own. Except of course I couldn’t have done really, I think the protein overload would have sent me spinning out into the street to pick a fight with a Nathan by flicking the trilby of his head and suggesting that his jeans weren’t tight enough.
With that in mind and the fact that our colons were crying out in agony, we all sensibly stopped at around the halfway mark .When we managed to slow our heartbeats down and finally catch our breaths, Al stretched up his long arm to ask for the bill and a doggy bag figuring that if this meat extravaganza was going to cost us an arm and leg then we’d damn well want to take the leftovers with us. The damage came to under £30 a head which for starters, half a cow, side orders and two bottles of wine was not bad all. It was still perplexing though that we got so much and we could only come to the conclusion that in such a busy restaurant the chef can only keep so much on his barbecue at a time. What with juggling the orders and keeping everything at steady rate of service, there must come a point when he has to off-load or risk overdoing the steak so we must have simply come in at the right time. A good theory when you think about it, at least there no waste and everything goes to the customer.
Either that or all the leftover meat goes to Bobby which would explain everything, the poor guy is so stupefied by his intake of amino acids, he doesn’t even know what planet he’s on.
*So focused was I writing about the food, I forgot to mention the wine as chosen by my good wife was the Finca La Linda, Malbec 2004, from Argentina naturally, of which wines I have little experience of tasting. Still I’d say this was a fine drop which was neither heavy or light going very well with our meal. The menu also points out that its balanced tannins obtained through three months ageing in French oak. I wouldn’t really have a clue about that but I’m learning.
Oh and I forgot my camera : (