It has almost been five years since I had gorged on Argentina's finest red stuffs for a month and the same amount of time since such epic meat sweats! Eating experiences in situ naturally out run their distant exported cousins. So I have abstained at length from particular cuisines back in London because of this until now. It was the draw of the hand on heart words of promise from trusted individuals coupled with the promise of my beloved Torrentes that swayed me to try Zoilo.
From the outside it looked like an ideal place to thaw out with a bottle of Mendoza's finest. We peeled apart the chill proof curtains and noticed we were the first to arrive, all eyes and smiles were on us as we were led downstairs to the fish bowl bar. I am a sucker for watching chefs work, their movements so precise, agile to the finger tips, and chose our position at this bar below because of this - although there is another bar on the first floor if you prefer watching mixologists at work. Central to the kitchen and in fact Argentinian cooking is the parilla, the grill. Priding themselves on the quality of their meat, particularly their prized cattle characteristically tender due to the countries flat herbaceous plains for easy, relaxed movement and tasty diet. Argentinians like nothing more than simple charred quality meat. Other signature ingredients such as blood sausage and offal appeared. As does their infamous empanadas, like miniature Cornish pasties but invigorated with spices, sure to be a crowd pleasers. We sampled all three, the two meat options clearly fell from the same tasty tree, super savoury and spiked with cumin, although the spinach was the dark horse sweet with jewels of raisins and pine nuts.
Then came the small plate of gnocchi, with roast pumpkin and sage which was saved from being a tad run of the mill with crunch and a nutty bitterness from the crushed amaretti biscuits on top. We had a moment of madness and ordered a dish currently gracing a vast majority of eateries around the country in one guise or another, beetroot and goats curd. Thankfully as with the rest of the menu there was an Argentine twist, from garrapiñada, caramelized peanuts that were ground then incorporated in the coating of the deep fried cheese, adding texture and another level of sweetness.
We noticed many a little frying pan packed with cubes of white cheese go in the oven then topped with thyme which turned out to be a version of the Italian cheese provolone. As we chatted away to the chef, he explained quite vividly origins of dishes which mirrored flavours from across the Atlantic, chorizo, polenta and various cheeses had a stable home amongst Argentinian cuisine. For the meat dishes we went for the asado flank steak with creamy celeriac and bone marrow gravy, which was a mini plate of a hearty richness. For me it was the pork, chorizo and prawn al ajo dish that brought me back. Each meat cooked to maximise their flavour, the belly sous vided for optimum succulence, chorizo pan fried to ignite it's mild fieriness and the prawns flamed on the grill all topped with a herby garlic mix.To finish we opted for the three in one desert of dulce de leche creme bruleé, silken and sweet with a perfect crust, and banana split ice cream complete with dark chocolate chunks.
I would quite happily return and exhaust the menu completely, the sweetbread dish and "humita" crab soup are next on the list. The only reason I would not rush to do so is the price tag the meal comes with. I am a "small plates" fan. In theory, you can sample double the amount of dishes at a lower price, win win. However following the recommended three to four options per person you will end up with a dishes decreased in size with a price that doesn't follow suit. But come back I will for another throwback to the country built on great meat, even better wine and all the other delicious things inbetween.