Herald on Sunday rating: 3 1/2 out of 5
Address: 234 Jervois Road
Phone: (09) 360 0678
Open: Tuesday-Saturday from 5.30pm; Sunday 11.30am-4pm
They're fond of their meat in Argentina. When I reached Buenos Aires during my Latin American peregrinations in the 1970s, I'd landed in steak heaven after months of stringy chicken in Andean countries.
A steak smaller than your thigh was regarded as an appetiser and, because inflation was running at about 450 per cent and hard currency was in such high demand, one American dollar bought a pretty decent feed for two people.
On recent visits, I saw that it's still a land of enthusiastic carnivores and size, rather than subtlety, is the order of the day. In show windows of fancy eateries, chefs dressed as gauchos prepare cordero asado (roast lamb) in the time-honoured way of the pampas: an entire lamb, ripped from stem to stern, is spatchcocked and wired on to an iron cross, which is driven into the ashen turf at the edge of a huge open fire. There the meat sizzles and spits until carved to order.
They don't do a standing cordero asado at Buenos Aires in Herne Bay, but they do the next best thing: they cook on the glowing embers of manuka. If this leads to occasional imprecision - my steak, ordered medium-rare, arrived blue, but that was remedied promptly and efficiently - it does lend an authentically chargrilled flavour to the meat.
Meat is what this place is about, though vegetarians get a decent trot, too: the three meat-free dishes are more considered than those in many places, which offer only an afterthought pasta or risotto.
The restaurant is directly opposite the top of a side street - if you face the window you are blinded by headlights - in premises briefly and ingloriously occupied by the pan-Med joint Marrakech. And it seems already to have attracted a good following.
I was distressed to learn that the first of the three choices on the offal-rich entree list (tongue, chicken liver, sweetbreads) had run out. Few places offer tongue and it's time-consuming to cook at home, but I found consolation in the lamb sweetbreads. (Our waitress adopted that charming Argentinian habit of miming her own evisceration as she confirmed these were from the thymus, not the pancreas - she would later stroke her hip to demonstrated where flank steak comes from.)
Anyway, the sweetbreads were great, braised in white wine and lemon juice. Andrew showed his red-bloodedness with a trio of sausage, kidney and black pudding, while the Irishman gave a good report of a chicken empanada - the crescent-shaped pies are an Argentinian staple.
I was about to accuse him of being a vegetarian when he ordered a chicken main too, but he would have probably argued that chicken is not strictly vegetarian, so I left it. Andrew discovered that flank steak is a bit chewier than a pretty waitress' hip, but he enjoyed the experience anyway, and I was most impressed by my thick and juicy scotch the second time around.
The meals come with two choices from an extensive sides menu of salads and potatoes done various ways. It's a generous line-up, though it could do with something warm and green - some beans, perhaps, or broccoli - on a cold night.
But our desserts - including some man-sized churros (extruded doughnuts) with chocolate dipping sauce - were the perfect finishing touch to a hearty meal.
If it's delicate and subtle cooking you're after, this is not the place, but it's a juicy taste of beefy BA on the other side of the world.
Ambience: Not yet
Vegetarians: Thoughtful options
Watch out for: Headlights
Bottom line: Meaty bites
$275 for three