REMEMBER those cowpoke movies when they reassemble a gang of honest desperadoes for one last impossible mission? Maybe there’s a Pampas-driven version featuring Argentinia’s answer, the Gauchos, equally tall in the saddle and not averse to a juicy campfire steak or three.
Round up Churrasco do Loma, Mollejas and the Empanadas and we’ll recruit new blood in Tiradito and Arrabiata. Break open the Malbec, tomorrow we ride for Mendoza.
Odd the way your thoughts wander when you’re perched on the organ pipe balcony of a magnificent Methodist Church just off Deansgate. Even before Gaucho took over in 2001 it had been converted into a restaurant, Bill Wyman’s Sticky Fingers, named after a Stones album. Here notoriously at a 1996 celeb bash Caroline Aherne’s husband Peter Hook came to blows with a rival for her affections.
The most recent battle has been to avoid it shutting down along with the rest of the 16-strong upmarket steakhouse chain. Ailing sibling chain CAU went to the slaughter but new owner rescued Gaucho and have cannily re-installed one-time CEO Martin Williams, whose own London M steak restaurants are marvellous. The new regime has made some changes and we were here to check them out.
We realise it has been a while since we’ve been inside Gaucho, once a regular haunt, so the glamorous 2015 Bar is new to us – where we, naturally, sip pre-prandial Pisco Sours. Inside the restaurant there seems to be less of the black and white cowhide than of the yore. Pockets remain, more of a special feature in a couple of booths.
Thankfully lots of Gaucho customs survive. Our server Maria, clad like most of the servers in a refined Gaucho costume, is from Alicante but she is well-versed in the various steak cuts she introduces us to on board.
Ideal to reacquaint us to the Argentine way with steaks is our choice. Churrasco de Lomo (£49.50, below) is a 400g spiral cut, marinated in that signature churrasco blend of garlic, parsley and olive oil. We used its name ironically in our intro, but it proves once again to be an all guns blazing, blazing saddles of a steak when it arrives, pink and tender beneath its light char.
To accompany we had ordered (mainly because my partner is a fungophile) a bowl of mushroom confit, doused in stolid beef dripping. Such a mistake, abandoned at first gulp. We regretted not taking the bold step of Humita Salena, a Native American dish, smashed corn served in a husk, here with Mozzarella. All sides are £4.95 and broccoli with Stilton and toasted almond repaid that decision.
So perfect steak, classic Gaucho, but sharing the bill now on the Williams refreshment agenda, ‘Nuevos’ dishes that reflect the rest of Latin America, in particular the ceviches but much more. 2019 will see a series of collaboration involving various culinary trailblazers from the continent. Exciting stuff – will Manchester be involved?
Somehow resisting the pull of the Beef Empanadas, we ordered three starters, two of them ‘Nuevos”. Cured Red Patagonian Prawn Tiradito (£15.50, above) is the Gaucho take on the Peruvian raw fish equivalent of sashimi. Tiradito differs from ceviche in two ways – cubed rather than sliced and sauced (in a salsa verde here) rather than marinated beforehand. This was a delicate dish, the prawns not quite firm enough but we relished the tart pickled cucumber.
Fellow Nuevo Seared Scallops (£15.95) suffered from too much coarse chilli lurking amkng the spiced blood pudding and chorizo crumble. Spiced orange butter a nice addition; nasturtium leaves mere redundant greenery.
Maria championed that dish, but we felt top starter had to be an old stager. Buttermilk Fried Mollejas, it’s time to Tango! These are sweetbreads (Gauchos’ bacon) coated in aji amarillo batter, deep fried and slathered in spicy saffron sauce with pickled Guindilla chilli.
A heavenly £8.50’s worth, partnering beautifully with an earthy, old vines Patagonian Pinot Noir opening out.
Gaucho’s exquisite list is a legacy of their pioneering wine guru, Phil Crozier, who vinified and blended many of the brands over in Argentina; these days he’s that country’s UK wine ambassador.
For our second main (we would have no room for desserts) we went Nuevos again. Grilled swordfish, like the prawns yielded too softly for my liking but worked well with a mixed bean cassoulet, grilled lemon and palourde clams (£24.50).
It’s hard to countenance there are many Argie Veggies but the new Gaucho can offer them Pearl Barley Arrabiatta with grilled courgette, artichoke hearts, Peruvian olive, cipolline onion and cherry tomatoes. The times really are a-changing, but the Nuevo Gaucho hasn’t lost the feel of the Old Gaucho. Which is what we were desperately hoping for.
Gaucho, 2A St Mary's Street, Manchester M3 2LB. 0161 833 4333. Further comfort is that the Sunday Roast is still £20 – beef sirloin, roast potatoes and unlimited, beef-dripping Yorkshire puddings are given a Gaucho twist with carrots tossed in churrasco marinade and red wine gravy. Meanwhile, the Electro Brunch experience remains a trademark for Saturdays, combining a chilled club soundtrack with two hours of unlimited drinks and dishes for £49.95, 11am to 4pm.