Over the course of my four visits in 2004, 2011, 2014 and 2018, I’ve managed to go to most of the famous steak restaurants in Buenos Aires. My favourite, La Cabrera, and another one I really like, La Carnicería, are both in Palermo Soho. The famous Don Julio is in the area as well. You’ll find them all on my city map).
La Cabrera (Advanced A+), 5065 Cabrera, Palermo Soho, Tel.4832 2259, lacabrera.com.ar
As I mentioned, this is my favourite steakhouse in Baires, an example of a restaurant that, for me, has got everything right, down to the last detail. The fact that they’ve had to open an annex on the next block (La Cabrera Norte at Cabrera 5127) to cope with demand demonstrates how successful they’ve been. I love everything about this place; the waiters in flat caps and leather aprons, the dish clothes for napkins, the mobiles of toy cars and other amusing artworks, the pictures of Hollywood stars in the toilets, the food porn playing on the telly and the soundtrack of accordion covers of Spandau Ballet tunes. It’s the little details like these that add so much to the experience and in my opinion La Cabrera is everything a modern parrilla should be.
Naturally a place of such quality is not particularly cheap but another great thing is that everything you order between 7 and 8pm is 40% off the asking price on the menu, including the wine. This of course is great for people who like to eat early, like the British. Aim to arrive at about 6.45 to snag an outdoor table. The terrace was full by 7.10pm when I arrived (on a week day) so I had to sit inside. By 8pm other latecomers were queuing down the street.
While you’re waiting for you food to reach the table you’re provided with a small dish of gorgeous liver pate (B+) and a basket of different kinds of excellent bread (B+), which comes with some nice mayo (B) and delicious cherry tomatoes (A). The half portion (still huge) of Mollejas Grilladas I had for my starter were the best I’d ever tasted. Euphemistically known as sweetbreads (as opposed to sweetmeats), perhaps due to their sweeter taste relative to meat, they are usually just the thymus gland (found in the neck) of the cow, but here included the slightly tougher pancreas as well (A+ and B+ respectively). My friendly waiter suggested a very reasonably priced Malbec by Reto www.vicentinfw.com.ar which was also excellent (A).
Another thing I love here is the multitude of little pots of extras you get with the steak which offsets the potential boredom of eating so much meat. On the tray put in front of me there were small pots of potato puree (A), pumpkin puree (A), another dish using more cherry tomatoes (A), a miniature zucchini soufflé made with parmesan and cream (A), mustard sauce (A), grilled red peppers (B+), couscous and sweet corn (B+), baby pickled onions (B+), apple sauce (B), lentils (B). The perfectly seasoned and cooked Ojo de Bife (ribeye) was fantastic too (A+).
To finish the Volcan de Chocolate was a chocolate fondant with Chantilly cream studded with blueberries and ice cream and a berry sauce, which was visually stunning and tasted divine (A). This was ordered after the 8pm watershed however so it cost me $112. Given the quality I was quite happy to pay that though.
With the bill came a tree of lollipops, as if to sweeten the blow, but it wasn’t too bad. It should have been $541 but with the 40% discount it was reduced to $324.60. The experience pressed more buttons than I knew I had. In fact I decided this could well be my favourite restaurant ever!
On my last trip in 2018 I went to this excellent hipster joint…
La Carnicería (Intermediate B+), 2317 Thames, www.facebook.com
In contrast to most of the big name parrillas, La Carnicería is an intimate steak restaurant that focuses on feeding a few customers very well. They were the hottest place in town when I was in Baires in November 2018, so getting a table wasn’t easy and I had to book ahead by a few days.
I began with one of their renowned G&Ts (A), made with local Principe de los Apostoles gin, an old friend from my favourite bar Floreria Atlantico (post here). I had the Mollejas to start, a dish which I adore, and these were again the best I’d ever experienced (A+), even beating La Cabrera above into second. The sweetbreads have been caramelised in molasses and cumin and served with corn cake with yogurt and black garlic.
For the main, the Corte Parrilla, one of the biggest steaks I’ve ever had, and grilled to perfection and served with a smear of sweet potato (A).
No doubt the wine and other trimmings were great too (mislaid notes sorry).
La Carnicería is a top spot that should to be experienced. This next place however, not so much…
Don Julio (Advanced C+), Guatemala 4691, Palermo Soho
According to many blogs and guides (back in 2014) this place is also a contender for best parrilla in the city but I think many of the reviews were written before La Cabrera opened. They have got many things right, it’s a beautiful restaurant, but sadly the food just doesn’t score highly with me.
Arriving at 12pm without a reservation for Sunday lunch, my friend Nicky and I were surprised when we got a table outside after just a short wait of a few minutes, which had been made more tolerable anyway by a complimentary glass of fizz. The service was very efficient and polite and in no time at all we were tucking into a slab of grilled Provelta (B-) and a bottle of good Malbec from Tempus (B) www.tempusalba.com.
The Tabla de Achuras (offal platter) was okay, but the kidneys were overdone and I couldn’t finish the intestines (B-), which isn’t like me. The Parrillada de Vegetales (grilled onion, pepper, yams and potatoes) was unimpressive too and lacked any finesse (C). Another blogger who loves the place did say that the veg wasn’t great, but I didn’t listen. (Btw, his tips are to get the ribs and avoid the marrowfat peas).
My butterflied Bife de Chorizo, although usually a tough cut, was chewier than others I’d had and rather disappointing in flavour (C+).
The Panqueque Dulce de Leche with vanilla ice cream rescued things a bit (B+) and the glass of 2012 Malbec Dolce from Achval Ferrer we had with it was excellent (A), but too expensive at $85 for a tiny glass. The final bill was $675 each, about £55, but not good value as far as I was concerned.
The ambience inside is nice enough (impressive displays of wine bottles), the service is impeccable and I like the leather tablecloths but the once hip Don Julio has been superceded by the other places above in my opinion.
Some more restaurants in Palermo Soho next…