Make no mis-steak, says Zoë Perrett – Gaucho Leeds knows its way around beautiful beef
‘Callooh Callay’ isn’t an expression one tends to reach for in everyday life. But it is indeed nothing short of a frabjous day when one discovers Gaucho is less than a one-minute walk from where they’re currently residing in Leeds city centre.
Out of the front door, round the corner, down a steep flight of stairs to the basement location and we’re in. Thankfully Gaucho’s northern outpost shares signature style with its London brethren, or I’d have felt a right plum in the little black and white dress I’ve chosen especially to match the venue’s abundant use of cow print.
We all know the nineties are back, and so the long-established restaurant group’s unchanged vibe – glam, low lit, clublike – feels bang on trend whilst simultaneously reminding LB of the City Boy largesse he enjoyed back when I was still ordering from kids’ menus. It’s plush and cosseting and just a really, really nice place to be.
Nice, too, are the truffled nuts which accompany our pre-dinner drinks – a martini and a negroni which are perhaps the least interesting options from Gaucho’s long and intriguing cocktail menu but are also exceptionally well-executed and much-relished.
But nuts don’t keep a hospitality professional’s appetite at bay for long, particularly when two of them are fighting over a single saucerful. So we drink up and up sticks to our table, awaiting the menu and the many minutes of indecision which are guaranteed to follow its arrival.
Gaucho’s all about the steak, and while we have no beef with anyone who comes here and chooses to dine on the probably-very-delicious mushroom and sunflower ravioli or the salt-baked chicken, they’re really missing a trick. Those who get sidetracked by starters, too, are playing with fire, but they all sound so good that we decide it might be worth getting burned.
Three sizeable empanadas later and we’re already eyeing each other in the wary manner of two people who know they’ve bitten off more than they can chew but are intending to press gamely on. ‘Just a mouthful’ was the solemn pact when it came to sampling Argentina’s equivalent to the Cornish pasty in beef and raisin, tomato, basil and mozzarella, and corn, cheese and chive incarnations, but the few crumbs that remain are evidence that we were clearly lying to each other and ourselves.
For our main course? A perhaps ill-advised six-steak taster plate which we accept no responsibility for ordering. No – the blame lies squarely with our charismatic waiter Rob, who sold us the notion by weaving a romantic tale of how he shared the same thing with of his now-fiancee on their very first date, then sealed the deal by giving us a glimpse of the goods in all their ruby-red, raw resplendence.
But when he carries the wooden board to our table, we forgive him entirely. Gaucho uses multi-award-winning Black Angus Beef, and boy do its chefs know how to cook each and every cut to show off their unique characters. The trio of medallions offers juicy, well-marbled ribeye, flavoursome flank, and tender fillet which truly warrants the heinous, over-used phrase, ‘melt-in-the-mouth’. Then there’s a sirloin with a bold, brilliant flavour, a piece of almost gamey picanha, and the revelation of the meal: the entrana fina – skirt steak.
We’d never, ever have opted for the latter of our own accord, but it’s one of the most beautiful pieces of meat either of us have tried – and that means it trumps rather a lot. An olive oil, garlic and parsley, marinade boosts the steak’s rich, deeply umami flavour further, making this the one worth stabbing your partner in the back of the hand with your fork for (especially after a glass or three of Malbec).
A supporting cast of side dishes and sauces features super-smooth mash, double-cooked fat chips, a superior red wine jus and a nicely piquant blue cheese dressing, plus the must-mention humitas: a mix of chive-seasoned mashed corn and provolone cheese wrapped in a corn husk. Eaten alone, it could do for dessert; alongside a mound of meat, it’s the perfect foil for all that salt and savouriness.
You probably already know that cows have four stomachs, but did you know that some humans boast a second stomach reserved solely for the consumption of dessert? We are two of those supreme beings, and because of that we are able to enjoy a trio of Gaucho’s finest – a silky-smooth chocolate praline mousse; substantial-not-stodgy coconut banana bread pudding; and a winter berry crumble whose filling tastes like that glorious, fleeting moment where stewed fruit turns to jam.
Be it a film, a novel, a Tinder date or a meal, it’s rare to rate anything as superior start to finish, but our experience here has proved pretty darn flawless. Gaucho’s not a new kid on the block and it’s all the better for it – rather than striving to be hip and clever, its attentions are devoted to upholding enduring high standards in terms of food and service. Long may it remain our nearest, dearest Leeds restaurant.
Make it happen
Where: Gaucho Leeds, 21-22 Park Row, Leeds LS1 5JF
Find out more: To visit the website, click here