Archive for the Buenos Aires Category

Buenos Aires – La Boca

Posted in Argentina, Buenos Aires, La Boca with tags on November 14, 2015 by gannet39

La Boca and San Telmo are the oldest barrios in Buenos Aires, and the birthplace of tango.

La Boca, the port area, was populated by Italian, and in particular Genoese, immigrants. For this reason fans of Boca Juniors, the football club the immigrants founded, are known as ‘Los Xeneizes’.

Some say that La Boca got its name from a part of Genoa called Boccadasse (I’ve been there, see my post). In both cases ‘la boca’ refers to ‘the mouth’ of a river.

The area has a militant political history as well. In 1882 after a General Strike, the barrio seceded from Argentina and formed the ‘República Independiente de La Boca’ over which they raised the Genoese flag (the St. George cross), until the revolt was put down by the President Roca and his army.

In 1904 the barrio elected the first Socialist member of the national congress and in 2001 it was the scene of big demonstrations over the economic crisis.

The neighbourhood is famous for its brightly-painted multicoloured houses. The story goes that this came about because the inhabitants were using up leftovers from painting the ships in port. This paint would quickly run out so they had to use another colour, or several colours, to finish the house.

On my last night in Buenos Aires in 2014 I went out with a group of friends to this famous restaurant in the neighbourhood.

El Obrero (Intermediate A), 64 Agustín R. Caffarena

This is a down-to-earth parrilla (El Obrero means ‘The Worker’) that has heaps of character, a must do in my opinion.

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The walls of the restaurant are covered with football scarves, pennants, posters and pictures, including some choice ones of local hero Maradona.

We kicked off with some Calamari rings and grilled Proveleta, both of which were fine (B).

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As it was my going away do, I got to have a platter of offal; sweetbreads, liver and kidneys (all B), although my companions didn’t give me much help with it.

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Three kinds of steak were on show. I ordered Vacio (flank steak) as I’d never had it before, and never will again (C).

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Thankfully my friend Nicky couldn’t manage all of her excellent Bife de Lomo (A), so I came to her aid.

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Anthea went for the Asado which was so big she took half of it home with her.

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The six of us got through three different bottles of Malbec. Can’ t remember how good they were but they went down a treat.

Despite being a bit of a rowdy crew we got excellent service from our lovely waitress. She showed us a few pictures on the wall of her and some Hollywood stars and members of European royal families who’d popped in for a steak.

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Finally we all got a shot of real limoncello, homemade and served ice cold as it should be. This was definitely evidence of a strong Italian influence as nowhere else in Argentina seems to be able to serve it properly.

So, a fantastic evening. Good food and a great atmosphere. I really can’t wait to go again!

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At night you should get taxis to and from this restaurant as walking around the side streets in La Boca isn’t a good idea after dark (or in the daytime either for that matter) as it’s a very poor area. Please see my La Boca comments in my post on Staying Safe in BsAs.

Buenos Aires – Palermo Soho – Restaurants & Bars

Posted in Argentina, Buenos Aires, Palermo, Palermo Soho with tags , , , , , on November 13, 2015 by gannet39

Along with Palermo Hollywood (see separate post), Palermo Soho forms what is still sometimes called Palermo Viejo. For me it’s the biggest, and best, entertainment district in BsAs.

La Cabrera (Advanced A+), 5065 Cabrera, Palermo Soho, Tel.4832 2259, lacabrera.com.ar

For my colleagues; La Cabrera is just 25 mins and $60 in a taxi from the Hotel Sileo, so you need to meet in the lobby at 6.15.

This is my favourite steakhouse in Baires, an example of a restaurant that has got everything right, down to the last detail, as far as I’m concerned anyway. 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 the place; the waiters in flat caps and leather aprons, the dish clothes for napkins, the food porn on the telly, the mobiles of toy cars and other amusing artworks, the pics of gorgeous female Hollywood stars in the gents (also vice versa I’m sure) 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 it’s 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 English. You should 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’ve 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).

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The perfectly seasoned and cooked Ojo de Bife (ribeye) was fantastic too (A+).

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Another thing I love 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).

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My friendly waiter suggested a very reasonably priced Malbec by Reto www.vicentinfw.com.ar which was also excellent (A).

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To finish the Volcan de Chocolate involved 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.

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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!

Don Julio (Advanced C), Guatemala 4691, Palermo Soho

According to many blogs and guides 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 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 by Tempus (B) www.tempusalba.com.

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The Tabla de Achuras (offal platter) was ok, but the kidneys were overdone and we couldn’t finish the intestines (B-).

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My butterflied Bife de Chorizo, although usually a tough cut, was chewier than others I’d had and disappointing in flavour (C+).

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The accompanying Parrillada de Vegetales 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).

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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.

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The final bill was $675 each, about £55, 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 I’ll be going back to La Cabrera next time.

Cabernet (High Intermediate B+), 1757 Borges, Palermo Soho, Tel. 4831 3071, www.cabernet-restaurant.com

This is a nice spot with an open air courtyard and reasonably priced food. I came on a work outing and had the Bondiola Braseada a la Miel de Jengibre con Arroz Pilaf Oriental (roast pork loin with honey and ginger sauce with a pilaf) as I wanted a change from beef and was craving rice. It was fine (B). I also enjoyed the Bonarda from La Madrid which made a nice change from the more full-bodied Malbec (B).

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Burger Joint (Elementary B), Borges 1766, Palermo Soho www.facebook/burgerjointpalermo

This is a branch of an American chain of hipster burger bars and it’s certainly doing well in BsAs as the crowds of customers demonstrate. It’s a great business concept that presses all the hipster buttons with its graffiti covered walls, collections of Star Wars characters and other plastic dolls on the walls, menus written on old bits of cardboard suspended above the service bar and a band of buskers playing on the pavement outside.

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The one thing that lets it down is the crappy bread buns they use, which is a shame because the burgers are pretty good. I had the Mexican Combo with Papas Fritas (B-) with a plastic glass of draught Pale Ale for $90 (£4.50). I guess they’re keeping things simple to keep the prices down but if they just got a few more details right, like the buns, it would be the perfect antidote to Mac D’s.

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Post Street Bar (Elementary A), Thames 1285, Palermo Soho www.poststreetbar.com

A dive bar with walls covered in graff and street art. The best thing is the large outdoor terrace they have on the first floor. My friend Damian and I put away a few pitchers of draught beer up here one hot Spring evening.

Isabel (Advanced A), 1664 Uriarte, Palermo Soho barisabel.com

This beautiful bar is at the other end of the scale from Post Bar above. It’s one long room with a list of good cocktails and an excellent sound system and a DJ with good taste (at least when I went). I’m sure it’s packed at the weekend but I went very early on a weekday just to check it out. The door to the unisex loos is invisible unless you know where it is and once inside the mirrored walls make you even more confused. A great bar but I can imagine it would be difficult to get served once it gets busy.

Victoria Brown Bar (Advanced B+), 4827 Costa Rica, Palermo Soho victoriabrownbar.com

This place is pretending to be a secret bar (a trend in BsAs) but as soon as you enter the doorman pushes a handle and the wall moves away, revealing a very large jam-packed room, and you just walk right in. There are seats around the sides and one long bar, with about five mixologists all working at full stretch. I didn’t get served as quickly as I’d like but the cocktails were decent.

Buenos Aires – Centro – Places to Eat

Posted in Argentina, Buenos Aires, Centro with tags , on November 12, 2015 by gannet39

You’ll need a pit stop after working up an appetite from walking around nearby Plaza Lavalle (see separate post) so here are a couple of suggestions. Here’s a map of the Centro to help you get your bearings.

Pizzeria Guerrin (Intermediate B+), 1368 Avenida Corrientes, www.pizzeriaguerrin.com

I’ve mentioned my dislike of Fugazetta, the local style of pizza, elsewhere (see my review of El Cuartito in my Recoleta post) but this place isn’t actually too bad. They make a thin crust ‘a la piedra’ pizza as opposed to the thicker pizza ‘de molde’ at El Cuartito. The buzzing atmosphere also adds to the experience.

I went for the classic combination of Fugazetta and Farina , a chickpea pancake with its roots in Genoa (both B). Some locals put the Farina on top of the pizza and eat them together. Apparently you’re supposed to have a glass of sweet Moscato wine with it as well but it was a bit early in the day for me. If you find the ground floor too frenetic there is the quieter Sala Familial upstairs. Guerrin has been an institution since 1932 and is definitely worth a visit.


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La Pasta Frola (Intermediate B+), 1365 Avenida Corrientes, www.la-pastafrola.com.ar

Rather than have dessert in Guerrin I dashed over the road to this Italian pastry shop immediately opposite and treated myself to a Sfogliatelle Ricce (B+). The shop has been around even longer than Guerrin, since 1917.

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Buenos Aires – Centro – Plaza Lavalle

Posted in Argentina, Buenos Aires, Centro, Plaza Lavalle with tags , , , , , , , on November 12, 2015 by gannet39

Plaza Lavalle is the heart of the theatre district in the centre of BsAs.

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This was the last walking tour that I did. More details here. See my separate post Centro – Places to Eat.

For me the highlight of this walk was viewing the beautiful interior of the Teatro Colón at Tucuman 1171. It’s a popular tourist sight so there are tours in English every hour, on the hour. You can buy tickets ($180 in 2014) from the ticket office inside by going in one of the side entrances on Tucuman or Viamonte.

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Opened in 1908, the theatre has been ranked as the third best opera house in the world by National Geographic. Highlights for me were the statues and the marble work of the grand staircase in the main hall and the stained glass windows and electric chandeliers upstairs in the Salón Dorado.

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In the auditorium itself the guide pointed out the hidden gallery reserved for widows in mourning who shouldn’t be seen and the musician’s gallery high up in the ceiling. The acoustics are fantastic and we were invited to sing if we wanted to, although thankfully no one did!

The theatre was renovated fairly recently (finished in 2010) and was shut for many years due to the work was being done and because all the money for it mysteriously disappeared. The tour was very informative but the guide judiciously ignored my thorny questions about the corruption and the love triangle that led to the death of the first architect!

Next door to the theatre at 581 Libertad is the Escuela Presidente Roca, a school that many people confuse with the Teatro Colón because of its Greek revival architecture.

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On the other side of Teatro Colón at 621 Libertad is the Byzantine-style synagogue Templo Libertad, built in 1897.

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Next to that in the northeast corner (where Libertad meets Cordoba) is the Teatro Nacional Cervantes, built in the Spanish colonial style.

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In the opposite southwest corner of the square is the monolithic Palacio de la Justica (Supreme Court). Also known as Tribunales, the building is defended by police barriers due to the many protests that take place in front of it.

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There are several other nice buildings around the square.


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And a few others I stumbled across in the streets around it.

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Leading off the square is the pedestrianised Avenida Presidente Roque Sáenz Peña which gives excellent views of the Obelisk, the iconic symbol of the city. I’d like to have seen it in 2005 when it was covered with a giant pink condom to commemorate World AIDS day!

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Buenos Aires – Monserrat – Getting Fed

Posted in Argentina, Buenos Aires, Monserrat with tags on November 11, 2015 by gannet39

Chan Chan (Intermediate B+), 1390 Hipólito Yrigoyen

Out of the back door of Palacio Barolo (please see my Avenida de Majo post) you’ll find this affordable and authentic Peruvian restaurant.

It’s highly rated by Time Out who suggest trying the Ajiaco de Conejo (rabbit and potato stew), Arroz Chaufa (Peruvian-style fried rice) and a pitcher of Chicha Morada (a sweet fruity drink). The Guardian suggests the Ceviche and sides of Papas a la Huancaina (sliced potatoes in a thick cheese sauce) or fried Yuca (cassava).

Upon arrival you get a bowl of Choclo which are large kernels of toasted and salted maize. They’re okay but are often quite hard and crunchy (C). This comes with two sauces which I guess were Salsa de Aji Amarillo (yellow pepper sauce) and Salsa Verde (coriander sauce). To drink I had a stellar Pisco Sour (A).

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I ordered the Degustacion de Ceviches (B) which included Tiradito, Ceviche, Ceviche Mixto and Ceviche en Crema de Rocoto, which was served with sliced red onion, lettuce and cold potatoes.

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Tiradito reflects the influence of Japanese immigrants as it is sliced and served raw. The indigenous Ceviche however is cubed and marinaded. Crema de Aji Rocoto is a salsa made with the hot Rocoto pepper.

To be honest I struggled to finish the whole plate as it was so large and I wasn’t really in the mood for cold food. Generally I’m still learning to appreciate this cuisine which is why I always try to come to a good place like this to try it. It’s not on the level of Osaka (please see my Palermo Hollywood post) but it’s much cheaper.

Buenos Aires – Monserrat – Avenida de Majo

Posted in Argentina, Buenos Aires, Monserrat with tags , , , , , , , , , , on November 11, 2015 by gannet39

This is another architecture walk I did starting from from 575 Avenida de Mayo and finishing at Plaza Congreso, all in the barrio of Monserrat.

At 575 Avenida de Mayo you will see the Casa de Cultura (the office for culture in BsAs) which used to be the home of La Prensa, an important newspaper. Frommers describes a tour of the interior (weekends only) as ‘a must do’ but it looked closed up on the day I went. On the exterior though I loved the ornate lion’s head door knockers.

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At 825 Avenida de Mayo you’ll find Café Tortoni, the most famous café in the city. It’s so popular that you’ll probably have to queue to get in. I was up for a coffee and a medialuna but the service was so poor that I just took some snaps and left.

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Continue along Avenida de Mayo and cross over Avenida 9 de Julio which is the world’s widest avenue. It can take quite a while to cross the five sub streets, maybe two or three flashing green men, but I have managed to sprint across the whole width in one go. If you go more slowly though you can take in the fountains and the Don Quixote monument.

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At 1152 Avenida de Mayo is the architecturally unimpressive Hotel Castelar. Once one of the most important hotels in the city, this is where Lorca the famous Spanish poet lived for six months in 1933. Apparently his room has been kept as a shrine and can be visited by arrangement.

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On the north side of Avenida de Mayo where it meets Santiago del Estero you’ll find the Hotel Chile, another formerly important hotel. The Art Nouveau structure has Middle Eastern influences with round window tops decorated with faience (ceramic glaze).

At 1333 Avenida de Mayo is my second favourite building on this walking tour, the Art Deco Federal Police HQ. I adore the ornate statues on the façade. Frommers suggest just wandering inside for a look but it was always closed whenever I went past.

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At 1370 Avenida de Mayo is my favourite building; the highly eccentric Palacio Barolo, which was once the highest building in South America. Its Italian freemason designer Mario Palanti intended it to be an architectural celebration of Dante’s Divine Comedy (the poet was also a mason). I snuck in for a look at the lobby which, with its light bearing dragons and condors and coiled snakes in the corners, is meant to symbolise Hell.

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I came back on another occasion with my friend Nicky and took the guided tour. The middle floors represent Purgatory and are relatively unadorned although the cornices have faces if you look at them from a certain angle. From the 14th floor you ascend narrow stairs into Heaven, which is represented by a lighthouse.


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From the upper levels you can get stunning views over the city and Plaza Congreso. Actually sitting in the lighthouse with your backs to the glass windows can be quite vertigo inducing though! Originally the parabolic mirror sent a beam of light to a sister building, Palacio Silva in Montevideo, (please see my Montevideo Centro post).

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You can join an English speaking tour (at 5, 6 and 7pm most evenings, more times at the weekend) by reserving first (Tel. 4391 1885 or 5027 9035) and then paying for your tickets ($135 in 2014) at the small Art Nouveau ticket booth on the ground floor. The tour is one of my top tips for experiences to be had in Baires.

Continue up Avenida de Mayo and on the south side between San Jose and Peña you will see La Inmobliaria, an Art Nouveau office block with an ornate tiled sign at the top of the façade. This building marks the end of Mayo and the beginning of Plaza Congreso.

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In the Plaza you can see a copy of Rodin’s Thinker aka El Pensador in Spanish. Next to it is the Kilometro Cero from which all distances from BsAs are measured.

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Next you’ll see the fountains of the Monument of the Two Congresses. I’m not a fan as I think it obstructs the view of the Congress itself.

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I’m told the guided tours of the Congress building are quite interesting. Ask about them at the Rivadavia entrance.

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To the right of the Congress is another favourite building, the sadly derelict Confiteria de Molino with its windmill tower. Once the informal meeting place for all the politicians from next door, the Art Nouveau café was closed in 1997. There are plans to renovate and reopen it one day but the state of the Argentinean economy hadn’t allowed it at the time of writing in 2014.

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Buenos Aires – Centro – Calle Florida

Posted in Argentina, Buenos Aires, Calle Florida with tags , , , , , , , , , on November 10, 2015 by gannet39

Leading from Plaza San Martin is Calle Florida, the BA’s most important shopping street. It’s kind of the equivalent of Oxford St in London except that it’s a pedestrianised.

It starts at Plaza San Martin in the Retiro and goes through the barrio of San Nicolas before finishing at Avenida Rivadavia in Monserrat. Together San Nicolas and Monserrat are known as the Centro.

There are heaps of fantastic buildings along the length of Floridabut its easy to miss them unless you look up. Most people are too busy avoiding the numerous buskers, salesmen and money changers pestering them at street level.

I managed to see a few thanks to this architecture tour.

Coming from Plaza San Martin, the first stop is Centro Naval at 810 Cordoba, where it meets Florida. Unfortunately the sun was too bright for me to get a good close up of the golden statue that sits above the doorway on the corner. It’s of a naked sea god blowing a conch while sitting in a Spanish galleon. The cast stone façade is also very impressive.

As always please click on these pics to get the best view.

Next stop is Galerias Pacifico (on Florida between Cordoba and Viamonte), BA’s most famous shopping mall, built in 1889. It was inspired by the Galleria Vittorio Emanuele in Milan and has quite a history, some of it quite dark.

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The cupola in the basement level has some frescoes that were painted in 1946 and the upper levels house an art gallery.

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Next at 460 Florida is the Sociedad Rural Argentina with its beautiful Belle Epoque doorway and balconies.

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On the west corner of Florida and Corrientes you’ll find was has to be the world’s most beautiful Burger King. Go inside, walk up the stairs and look up to see the stunning stained glass ceiling of the rotunda. The ornamental plaster ceilings in the other rooms are beautiful as well.

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Midblock on the eastern side between Corrientes and Sarmiento you’ll see Galeria Mitre. The building was designed in classic colonial style and has an astonishingly ornate frieze above the doorway.

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Not sure what building this is but the balconies are great.

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Midblock on the west side before Peron is what used to be an optician’s shop, as alluded to by the pairs of spectacles on the bronze plaques.

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If you look up at the tower on the western corner of Peron you’ll see the name Gath & Chaves, as the building was once a British department store.

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On the other side of the road there’s a Spanish Gothic building with a big bronze door.

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At 165 Florida you’ll find Galeria Guemes which looks like nothing special from the outside but has a stunning interior and beautiful ornamental elevators. It was designed by the same architect who designed the Confiteria del Molino (see my Avenida de Mayo post).

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At 99 Calle Florida (on the corner with Diagonal Norte) there’s another Spanish colonial building with bronze doors made in England. The cupola is one of a row of five that mark the intersections along Diagonal Norte.

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In front of the latter is the Art Deco monument to Roque Sáenz Peña who was president of Argentina between 1910 and 1914.

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This statue marks the end of the walking tour I was following but on other occasions I’ve found some other gems on the streets around Florida.

Such as the Art Deco Teatro Opera at 1860 Corrientes, built in 1936.

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Also Iglesia San Miguel Arcangel Bartolomé at 886 Mitre.

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This stunning statue of Ophiuchus is in a square nearby but I can’t remember the address for the life of me.

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Buenos Aires – Retiro – Plaza San Martin and around

Posted in Argentina, Buenos Aires, Plaza San Martin, Retiro with tags , , , , , , on November 10, 2015 by gannet39

Plaza San Martin is my favourite square in Buenos Aires, mainly for the beautiful trees that grow in it, but also for the impressive buildings that surround it.

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Several types of tall exotic trees shade the southern end of the plaza. My favourites are the purple flowered Jacarandas that are a symbol of Buenos Aires and can be found all over the city.

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The south-eastern side is dominated by El Edificio Kavanagh, the Kavanagh Building, which was South America’s highest skyscraper when it was buiilt in 1936. The architects took a Rationalist approach to a combination of Art Deco and Modernism which has resulted in a beautiful, slender construction. It has quite an interesting history.

Next door is the Plaza Hotel. The restaurant in the basement was the top spot for the elite to dine and socialise for more than a hundred years. The bar is a good spot to treat yourself to a posh cocktail in classy surroundings (see my post on eating and drinking in the Retiro).

In the north-western corner is the imposing Circulo Militar, a club for retired military offices. We tried to sneak in to get a glimpse of the interior but were ushered out straight away. I think you can get in when the cafe is open.

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Part of the building looks like it should be in the Loire valley.

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The square has many allusions to Argentina and Britain’s love/hate relationship. In 1807 (the square was created in 1883) the land was the site of Britain’s defeat when it made a second attempt to conquer Buenos Aires during the Napoleonic wars.

At the southern end of the square is the Falkland’s memorial; a long wall bearing 645 names of the fallen. Argentina lost more than twice as many men as Britain during the conflict.

Opposite the memorial is the Torre Monumental, a clocktower that was a gift from the local British community to commemorate the centennial of the revolution of 1810. It was once know as Torre de las Ingles but was renamed in 1982 after it received minor damage from an angry anti-British mob.

Beyond the memorial is the Retiro Railway Station with its three terminals. The most historical is the Retiro Mitre Station, built by the British in the early twentieth century. The steel frame, like many similar structures in South America, was cast in the UK (Liverpool in this case) and shipped over.

As ever, please click on the photos for an enlarged view.

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I find it hard to believe (as I think it’s quite ugly) but for a long time it was considered an engineering masterpiece and one of the most important buildings in the world.

I do like the station’s beautiful cafe though and it’s a good place to stop after a fair bit of walking around. The station also appears several times in The Secret in Their Eyes, an excellent Argentinian movie which one the Oscar for Best Foreign Language Film in 2009.

I did this architectural tour which gives a lot more detailed information about all these buildings.

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For a few days in November 2014, Plaza San Martin hosted this amazing outdoor exhibition of alien figures made entirely with plastic water bottles.

This seems to be a major art form in Buenos Aires as I’ve seen ingenious plastic creations on numerous other occasions.

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Buenos Aires – Retiro – Places to Drink, Eat or Avoid

Posted in Argentina, Buenos Aires, Retiro with tags , , , , , , , , , on November 10, 2015 by gannet39

Floreria Atlantico (Intermediate A) 872 Arroyo, www.floreriaatlantico.com.ar, Tel. 4313 6093

This is the kind of place I’d like to open at home. They should sort the décor out but the space itself and the concept are great. To the outside world it just looks like a florists but down in the cellar it’s a whole different world.

The flower shop assistant is actually the bar greeter and the solitary customer is in fact the security guard in casual clothes. Just go in as if you know the score (with just a ‘hola’, no password necessary) and one of them will open the secret portal (a fridge door) that allows entrance to the bar below.

Downstairs there is just one long room with a very long bar and high stools, and on the opposite wall there are tables that seat four that can be reserved (a good idea, do it with the greeter for next time). I’ve been here several times and have tried a few of their cocktails. They are a bit expensive (around AR$100) but top quality.

My favourites were firstly the bar’s version of Agua de Valencia, made with fresh orange juice, triple sec and gin I think (A+). Secondly, the ‘smoked’ Negroni, made with the bar’s own distilled yerba mate gin ‘Principe de Los Apostoles’ (I bought two bottles from the bar it was so good), Campari, Amaro Averna (unusual, it’s usually vermouth), Agua de Mar (no idea), Eucalyptus leaves and pine nuts, aged and served in its own little bottle. I was told the gin had been put in a bucket on the grill so that the smoky flavours could infuse into it. For a lover of Negronis this is all very original and highly delicious (A+). The gin cocktails served in a mate gourd with a metal straw were also a nice touch.

DaDa Bar (Interemediate A), 941 San Martin, Tel, 4314 4787

This is another little spot that I adore. The downside is that, as it deservedly gets great write-ups in all the guides, it can get crowded and queues can form at peak times. It’s a small place, about 30 seats, so go before 9 if you want one. In 2004 it was just over the road from the Dazzler Suites San Martin where I was staying, so it became my regular after-work haunt.

The walls are covered with period paraphernalia, particularly surrealist and pop art and there’s a swinging, jazzy soundtrack. The bar staff are really on the ball and highly attentive to their customer’s needs, which isn’t always the case in BsAs.

Mattias the mixologist in 2004 was a master of his trade and knocked me up ‘the best Pisco Sour in the South’ (A+), even if he said so himself. However, his personal recommendation of a ‘Mexico City’ with tequila, curacao and lots of lime juice was ok but didn’t blow me away (B).

The tipple of choice in this town is Fernet, an Italian bitter (amaro) with Coke, which to my mind would be totally unappealing, but I decided to try it here to see what all the fuss was about. It’s basically alcoholic coke with a bitter aftertaste, refreshing but it’s nothing to write home about (C+), although I am.

They have a good selection of wines too and I had a glass each of Malbec (B) and Cabernet Sauvignon (A), both from bodega Ruca Malen, one of the better cantinas on their list, to go with my Caesars Salad (B+). In 2014 I came for lunch and had the lomo which was fantastic (A+). A great little bar that should definitely be experienced.

Marriott Grill (Advanced A), Marriott Plaza Hotel, 1005 Florida, www.plazahotelba.com

For a posh cocktail in nice surroundings there’s nowhere better than the Marriot, where they have been serving the rich and famous for over 100 years. I can vouch for the G&Ts and Negronis. They aren’t cheap at about US$18 a pop but you do get plates and plates of nibbles to go with each drink. I’m sure the grill restaurant is good but I’ve never tried it.

Irifune (Intermediate B), 426 Paraguay, www.irifune.com.ar

A decent bit of fish is very hard to find in Argentina so I came here to get my fix before shipping out to the provinces. They have a good rep for Japanese food and apparently are one of the few places in town where you can get tuna. I’m not keen on the ambience (C) as it’s very brightly lit and not particularly attractive but the food is okay (B+).

I had the Chirashizushi and loved the rice (A) as I’d been craving it for a while. Also the Salmon ‘Geisha’ with Philadelphia cheese and tiny avocado was okay (B), as were the Kimchi (B+) and Misoshiru (B+).

There’s another Japanese place called Sipan just down the road at 626 Paraguay www.sipanrestaurants.com which also has a good rep. I just popped in for a look and haven’t tried the food. The atmosphere is darker and more intimate, and the staff seem nicer, but it’s more expensive. Eat Like A Girl recommends it.

Dora (Advanced B), 1016 Avenida Leandro N. Alem, www.dorabaires.com

A very good, if slightly expensive, traditional restaurant with old waiters in black and whites and an air of formality. I came here in 2004 for one of my first meals in BsAs and hopefully it’s still okay. I remember having a good steak and bottle of wine.

And some places I’m not so keen on…

Filo (Intermediate B+ or D!), 975 San Martin, Tel, 4311 0312

Just a few doors down from DaDa you will find this trendy modern pizzeria that’s plugged in many guides. It’s massively popular with office workers and you’ll find it hard to get in at midday due to their business lunch deal. I used to be a big fan (modern decor, live DJ playing chilled tunes while you eat) but then they poisoned me with their Patagonian mussels when I first came in 2004 and I still haven’t forgiven them. Stick to the pizza (thinner than elsewhere) and you should be ok.

Fervor (Advanced B), 1619 Posadas

This is a posh high end restaurant that seems to attract richer tourists. I came for the seafood grill, supposedly the best in town, but it was too expensive. I ended up with half a grilled chicken, Pollo a Las Brasas (A), and some rice as I’d been craving it. On the plus side the Alamos Torrentes was one of the best I’ve ever had (A), even if it wasn’t cheap at $139. The glass of Santa Julia Tardia (late harvest) dessert wine I had was okay too (B). Total cost $463 which priced me out of going again.

La Dorita (Intermediate C), 798 Avenida del Libertador

20141119_213437I ended up here after discovering the place I wanted to go to was closed. It’s very popular with locals, perhaps because it’s fairly cheap. I wasn’t keen on the Ribs de Ternera y BBQ con Papas Fritas (rack of veal ribs with fries) that I had, although I did eat it all out of sheer hunger (C). The Imperial Lager was a new one on me (B).

Broccolino (Intermediate C), 776 Esmeralda, www.broccolino.com

This Italian place was recommended to me by a school director who loves his food and a personal friend, so I was really disappointed when I had one of the worst meals ever in Argentina.

20141120_205834I started with the house special their ‘most famous dish’, Calamaretti Broccolino; a huge portion of squid flambéed with white wine and onions. It was absolutely rank and I couldn’t eat it (D).

I drank the wine and left as I’d lost my appetite but they were generous enough not to charge me for the food. When I reported back to my friend she said, ‘Oh, you should never eat seafood in Baires’. Well thanks for telling me…

And so to finish, here’s my rant…

I’ve been to Argentina three times and have never been overly impressed by the standard of cuisine anywhere I’ve been in the country (or in Chile and Uruguay for that matter). In Argentina you’d think that a society of people predominantly descended from Italian and Spanish immigrants would know how to cook but it’s almost as if these two great national cuisines cancel each other out.

The chorizos have no spice, the pasta is never al dente, the Fugazza pizza is horrendously thick and drowned in gloopy ‘muzzarella’ (and is never the ‘real’ buffalo milk version), the limoncello is always warm and good chocolate and decent coffee are really hard to find (thank god the Kiwis have arrived). The national dessert Dulce de Leche (made from caramelised milk that has been browned very slowly) is far too sweet and is seemingly used in every single dessert, although admittedly the ice cream and pancake versions can be quite nice.

Obviously there’s no disputing the quality of some of their ingredients, the beef (from the North) and the lamb (from the South) are fantastic but they’re always overcooked. If you want a rare steak (vuelta y vuelta, muy jugoso) it will come medium rare (poco hecho), although if you know this and order one level down from what you actually want, you can get round it. However, decent seafood doesn’t happen and vegetarians will struggle.

My advice is to keep your choices simple and generally avoid anywhere with pretensions. If you stick to what they do best, parrilla, it will mean eating a lot of meat which can get quite samey when you come here for a month or more as I do. Thank God the wine is good!

Buenos Aires – Changing Money in Recoleta

Posted in Argentina, Buenos Aires, Recoleta with tags on November 9, 2015 by gannet39

The first thing that you will need to do when you arrive in town is to change money. Due to the devaluation of the Argentinian peso, there were two exchange rates when I last went in 2014. In December that year the official government-set rate was AR$8.4 to US$1 whereas the ‘blue’ rate fluctuated between AR$14 and AR$12 to the dollar, quite a significant difference. You can of course use your credit and cash cards but then everything would be a third more expensive as they use the official rate.

October 2018 update:  the current rate is a very high 39.47 per US$.

October 2016 update:  the difference is very small now, just 15.40 per US$ as opposed to 15.00 in normal exchange places.

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Despite government clampdowns it was still possible to go to semi-secret ‘Casa de Cambios’ which will give you the blue rate. I went to two during my stay in BsAs. The first was in a small shopping arcade at Posadas 1564. As you enter on the right you will see a door with a picture of a cow on. Ring the bell to gain admission to the waiting room and then wait your turn to go through to the exchange windows. It was very busy on the morning I went. They also changed sterling here which was stronger than the dollar at the time (about AR$19 to £1).

The second place was at 938 Florida in what looked like a residential building. Breeze past the concierge with a ‘hola’ and take the lift on your right to floor five. Ring the bell of flat 5B and when tell them you want ‘cambio’ on the intercom when they answer (they don’t speak English). They will buzz you through into a small secure room where business is conducted through a small hatch. I got AR$14.4 to the dollar here when the official rate was AR$8.5.

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Both establishments were honest and felt safe but only seemed to be open in the mornings. Walking down Florida (or any main street in big towns) you’ll be assailed with chants of ‘cambio, cambio, cambio’. These guys will probably take you to a casa de cambio but they might change small amounts on the street. Personally I’d avoid doing that as there’s much less security.

Many restaurants will also provide exchange services, although the rate will vary greatly. For example, on Junin Street in Recoleta (facing the front entrance of the cemetery), Clark’s offered a rate of $11.4 to the dollar, whereas Montana (the place with the plastic cow outside) offered $12 and the black guy outside the Freddo ice cream shop $12.2.

Some business minded hotel concierges might also be able to help you out if you are discreet, i.e. don’t ask them in front of colleagues and cameras and conduct the transaction in your hotel room.

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In all cases you will get a better rate for lower notes ($1s, $10s, $20s) than high dollar notes ($50s, $100s). So, how much to change? This will of course depend on your spending habits but personally I reckoned I needed 500 pesos for taxis to work per day on average in BsAs, and another 500 pesos a day personal spending, but then I’ll happily use all of that on a single meal with wine. In the provinces I’d spend half that amount, so it really depends on your appetites and where you are.

Buenos Aires – Recoleta – Stuff to See and Do

Posted in Argentina, Buenos Aires, Recoleta with tags , , , , , on November 9, 2015 by gannet39

Recoleta’s main attraction is of course the famous cemetery which I have given its own post. I’ve also written a separate post on places to eat and drink.

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After traipsing round the mausoleums you might feel the need to reaffirm life with a spot of shopping. Next to the cemetery you’ll find Buenos Aires Design www.designrecoleta.com.ar; a whole shopping mall dedicated to modern design, which is my idea of heaven.

On Saturdays there’s a flea market in front of the cemetery in Plaza Francia with about a hundred stalls selling handmade artisan products.

Over the road from Plaza Francia, in Plaza Ramo Carcano, another sight to see is the huge rubber tree (Ficus Elastica) known as El “Gran Gomero,” with its multiple trunks and formidable root system. It’s thought to be over 220 years old.

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There’s a huge wine shop called Winery on the ground floor of the Recoleta Mall at 2030 Vincente Lopez www.winery.com.ar which is usually my last stop before I fly home.

Not strictly in Recoleta but not too far away in Barrio Norte (Avenida Santa Fe 1860 between Callao and Riobamba) is Ateneo Grand Splendid, a huge bookshop located in a former theatre. It frequently appears in a high position on lists of the most beautiful bookshops in the world. You can sit and read in one of the boxes or have a coffee in the cafe on the stage. An amazing space!

Recoleta has some nice architecture, especially along Avenidas Alvear and Arroyo where many of the buildings were inspired by the French Beaux Arts and Art Nouveau styles.

These Belle Epoque mansions once belonged to wealthy Argentinean families who fell on hard times during one of the many economic crashes that have blighted the country. The state subsequently stepped in to buy these houses and use them as embassies, notable examples being the Brazilian and French embassies.

When Avenida 9 de Julio was being expanded the plan was to demolish the French embassy but the French government refused to move, which accounts for its strange position jutting out towards the avenida.

More details about this architecture walk can be found here.

Buenos Aires – Recoleta – Places to Eat and Drink

Posted in Argentina, Buenos Aires, Recoleta with tags , , , , , , , , , , on November 9, 2015 by gannet39

This post is primarily for my colleagues who are usually billeted in Recoleta at the Hotel Sileo at Azcuénaga 1968, www.sileohotel.com It’s an excellent hotel with helpful staff, a decent breakfast and big rooms that overlook the back of Recoleta cemetery (for which see my separate post). The best views are from the roof which also has a postage stamp sized swimming pool.

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Generally after a hard day’s work we just want to go to the nearest place that’s any good. The problem is there are so many restaurants in the area to choose from and many are either expensive tourist traps or aren’t much cop in terms of the food they serve. So where to go?

All of the places mentioned in my posts on Buenos Aires can be found on this Google map.

Rodi Bar (Intermediate B), 1900 Vicente Lopez (four blocks from the hotel)

This is an old school, traditional place that’s very near the hotel. It’s very popular with locals living in the area so arrive early or reserve. The food is good value and unpretentious, nothing amazing but fine for every day dining.

On my last visit I had the unattractive but nutritious Sopa Verduras Mines (veg soup) followed by the simple Bondiola con Guarnicion (pork loin with salad and chips), both of which scored a B. With a bottle of Norton Classico (B+) for $75 and a glass of Bols Limoncello (B) the bill came to $335 or £17.

Roux (Advanced A), 2300 Pena (four blocks from the hotel) rouxresto.com

To get to this place turn right out of the Sileo Hotel and keep walking straight. It’s on the far left hand corner of the fourth crossroads you come to.

Also popular with locals, this is a small bistro with excellent service offering beautifully-crafted French-inspired dishes at a very reasonable price considering what you get. Two of us had three courses with a bottle of wine and a digestif for $500 each, about £40. Of course you could eat and spend less but we pushed the boat out as the food was so good (unusual in Argentina).

The croquettes (chicken, cheese and mushroom I think) were some of the best I’ve ever had (A+) and my twice cooked saffron squid risotto with alioli was a work of art and completely delicious (A). My friend’s humita stuffed quail with crispy cannellonis also looked great. There were a couple of my favourite Torrontes white wines on the menu but we went for a new one (Crios 2014 for $150) which was excellent (A).
My dessert involved Quinotos (kumquats) with a pineapple sorbet and a very delicate slice of crystallised orange. Once again pretty as a picture and very tasty too (A). My friends apple and cinnamon crumble with apple sorbet was great too.

To finish I finally got to try the hard-to-find Hesperadina ($85 a shot), an Argentine liqueur made from orange peel and served in a chilled glass without ice. Originally created by Italian immigrants, it’s considered a drink for the older generation and so is quite hard to find. I loved it; the kids are definitely missing out.

El Sanjuanino (Intermediate B), 1515 Posadas (six blocks from the hotel) www.elsanjuanino.com.ar

A regional restaurant specialising in cuisine from the province of San Juan, which is apparently slightly spicier than elsewhere, although I didn’t notice this. The food is hearty and simple, again nothing amazing but filling and inexpensive. They specialise in empanadas which I can definitely recommend (B+). My lentil and chorizo stew and accompanying salad were also fine (B) if rather too large to finish. We enjoyed the Alamos 2013 Malbec too. (B+). Upstairs was full when we arrived so we were put in the slightly gloomy basement. The friendly service made up for this though.

Cumana (Intermediate B+), 1149 Rodriguez Pena (nine blocks from the hotel)

This is a very popular place that attracts a fairly young crowd of locals, perhaps due to the well-priced food and wine and the modern atmosphere. There are bowls of crayons on each table so you can doodle on the paper tablecloths while you wait for your food!

I tried the Locro , an interesting Andean stew (B) originally from Ecuador but also popular in Peru and Argentina. It’s made here I think with cannellini beans, pumpkin, chunks of chorizo and pork on the bone and topped with a spoonful of Quiquirimichi, a mild red sauce made from red peppers and paprika. Great comfort food and very tasty. The Ensalada de Tomates y Bocconcinos (small balls of mozzarella, covered with shredded basil was ok (C+) but half the tomato was unripe and the mozzarella didn’t have much flavour. I also had a Pinguino (a typical Argentinian penguin-shaped wine jug) of house red, which was rough but drinkable (C). Total spend $72.50, about £11, which is very cheap for BsAs.

La Cholita (Intermediate B+), Rodriguez Pena 1165 (nine blocks from the hotel)

This place is right next door to Cumana above and is apparently owned by the same people. Five of us had a delicious mixed grill here which was very good value for money (B+). As next door, the house wine was pretty ropey though (C-) so I splurged on something better. Worth a visit if you’re on a budget.

There’s a decent bar on the first floor of the building exactly opposite La Cholita called Casabar at 1150 Pena www.casabarargentina.com. You’ll recognise it by the round window above the door.

Milion (A), Parana 1048 (ten blocks from the hotel) www.milion.com.ar

This is a great bar and restaurant in a beautiful old villa. You can sit outside in the garden to eat although I’ve never dined here. My friend’s cocktail ‘Yo No Tengo Un San Valentin’ (made with Bacardi) was nice (B) but the Pisco Sour (D) was the worst I’ve ever had! Don’t let that put you off though, it’s a beautiful spot. Cocktails were $95 to $75 when we went.

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Grand Bar Danzon (B+), 1161 Libertad (eleven blocks from the hotel) www.granbardanzon.com.ar

The entrance is very easy to miss as it’s through a narrow doorway and up a staircase.

Not actually as grand as the name implies, but still a posh cocktail bar with a fantastic wine list (starting at £2 a glass) and a nice atmosphere with lots of comfy sofas. My only complaint is the candles and lights are so low you can’t read the menu.

On the cocktail front I particularly recommend the ‘Sourama’ made with Pisco (a spirit from Chile), maracuya (passion fruit), a dash of apple juice and served in a champagne glass with the rim dipped in sugar. Absolutely sublime! (A+). The food is supposed to be good too, although I haven’t tried it.

There are of course many other restaurants and cafes in the area, the most attractive being those opposite the cemetery entrance. Personally I think they’re all overpriced tourist traps, as the touts outside demonstrate, and the food is often sub-standard. But who cares on a sunny day when you want somewhere to sit in the sun with a drink and rest your feet while watching the world go by. The best place to do this is the terrace of La Biela at 600 Avenida Quintela www.labiela.com which rivals Bar Tortoni (see my Avenida da Mayo post) as the most iconic café in town.

El Cuartito (Intermediate A or C!), 937 Talcahuano (twelve blocks from the hotel)

Actually in Tribunales, a neighbourhood adjoining Recoleta, this is one of the oldest pizzerias in the city (since 1934). It certainly looks the part with a huge woody interior, pictures of football teams and old Buenos Aires all over the walls and towering stacks of pizza boxes.

Sadly though the pizza just doesn’t cut it for me but then I’m a bit of a snob when it comes to these Italian pies. I like my Margheritas very thin and simple and the local Fugazzetta (a style derived from Genoese focaccia, particular to Buenos Aires) with its cheese-filled dough topped with grated onions, is exactly the opposite.

The ‘Margherita’ I had here was small in diameter but very thick and smothered in a thick layer of ‘muzzarella’ (probably from cow’s milk and not the real thing, yellow and gloopy in the wrong way), no basil and a handful of unasked for green olives, very unsubtle.

Still, what do I know, the place was rammed by 11pm and it gets great reviews from everyone (locals, blogs, guides) except me. The big bottle of Patagonia ‘amber’ lager I had with it was ok though, much better than anything I had in southern Patagonia. Total cost, about £10. By all means go, you might like it. They do Empanadas too.

Buenos Aires – San Telmo – Stuff to See and Do

Posted in Argentina, Buenos Aires, San Telmo with tags , , , , , , on November 8, 2015 by gannet39

San Telmo is my favourite barrio in Buenos Aires. Palermo has the glitz and the glamour but as the oldest neighbourhood, San Telmo has more atmosphere and culture in my opinion.

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Here’s the barrio website which has lots of useful info. Please see also my separate post San Telmo – Places to Eat and Drink.

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Perhaps the most famous building is the beautiful indoor Mercado de San Telmo which takes up a whole block in the heart of the barrio. It was built in 1897 by the Italian Argentine architect Juan Antonio Buschiazzo who also designed Recoleta Cemetery. Much of it has been given over to antiques now but there are still some fruit and veg stalls and a butchers.

For many tourists San Telmo is the place to be on a Sunday when you can go to the antiques market, El Feria de Antigüedades, in Placa Dorrego.

nice-tray When perusing the 270 stands I like to indulge my penchant for heavy glass ashtrays and usually manage to bag a couple of beauts. There’s lots of other affordable, collectable stuff too. It runs every Sunday from 10 am to 4 pm.

As you’d expect there are heaps of human statues and other street performers here on a Sunday. I don’t usually stop to watch but I was blown away by Wind Man!

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wind-man

San Telmo, along with La Boca, is ground zero for tango. You can see live Tango on Calle Defensa on Sundays and on some evenings, after the antique stalls have closed and moved, there are free dances in Placa Dorrego.

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The best thing is to just walk around and take in the sights. You’re constantly bumping into things you wouldn’t expect to see.

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Like a troupe of Candombe drummers warming up their drum skins.

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There’s lots of beautiful and unusual architecture too.

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Like the Russian Orthodox church, Iglesia Ortodoxa Rusa de la Santísima Trinidad, at 315 Avenida Brasil.

I love the bizarre statues on this building (on Avenida Independencia I think). You can click on them to get a better view.

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You’ll find the smallest house in the city, the eight foot wide Casa Minima, on Calle San Lorenzo. It’s steeped in history as you can see in this article.

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Nearby, at the end of Calle San Lorenzo at Defensa, is El Zanjon, a beautifully restored nineteenth century house. They do guided tours but I didn’t get time to go.

Five blocks away at 272 Peru (technically in Barrio Montserat) you’ll find Manzana de las Luces (the ‘illuminated block’) which is a group of old cultural buildings. Historians believe this was the area that was first settled in 1536. manzanadelasluces.gov.ar

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Factoid: street corners in San Telmo were rounded to lessen the chance of bumping into someone with Yellow Fever, a disease which killed a lot of Porteños in several epidemics in the nineteenth century.

If you’re a fan of Mafalda (a cartoon about a little girl who makes highly observant comments about Argentine society, politics and life in general) you’ll find the neighbourhood store, Almacen Don Manolo, that appears in the cartoons at 774 Balcarce.

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So as you can see, there’s lots to see and do. Enjoy!

Buenos Aires – Cerviche and Sushi in Palermo Hollywood

Posted in Argentina, Buenos Aires, Palermo, Palermo Hollywood with tags , on November 23, 2011 by gannet39

Palermo is one of my favourite barrios in Buenos Aires and is probably where I’d choose to live if I could (I wish).  It’s also one of the biggest neighbourhoods and is subdivided into smaller areas as you can see on this map.

Palermo Hollywood and Palermo Soho (see separate post) together form what used to be called Palermo Viejo. The area is particularly known for its nightlife and many of the best bars and clubs are here, as well as lots of good cafes and restaurants.

Palermo wall

The following places are in Palermo Hollywood, so called because of the number of TV and radio producers who moved here in the 90’s.

Osaka (Advanced A), Soler 5608. Tel. 4775 6964

I was very excited to come to this place as I’m a huge fan of Sushi and had heard a lot about Cerviche but had never tried it. Both are specialities of this restaurant which is reputed to be one of the best in Buenos Aires.

Cooking crew

Cerviche is an ancient food originating from Peru, where it was further refined by Japanese immigrants. I sat myself at the sushi bar where I could get a good view of the action and chat with the chefs.

Place setting

Interestingly they use Japanese cutting and rolling techniques, and shout ‘sushi des’ when it’s ready but otherwise can’t speak a word of Japanese. I was here to treat myself and eat heartily and did so; obviously you could spend much less.

Tools of the trade

 While looking at the menu, I had the house cocktail; Caipi Osaka  (A) made with vodka, passion fruit juice and fresh strawberries with a sugar halo, yum!

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 For the first round, I had the Degustacion Cevi where you choose three different preparations from a list of six. I went for the Wasabi which was white fish, sea bass I think, in Leche de Tigre (marinade of key lime juice, fish and hot pepper), fresh wasabi (the traditional Japanese horseradish that is usually mixed with soya for dipping the sushi into), curly sweet potato and chulpi (sweet maize) popcorn.

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Also the hot and sour Indo (salmon with chilli jam, mango, coconut milk, scallons, togarashi (Japanese chilli) and topped with crispy quinoa).

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Thirdly the Classiche, (fish, cerviche base, peppers, herbs and red onion, served with glazed sweet potato and lettuce). All three were absolutely amazing.  (A+)

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The Torrontes white wine I wanted to try (Colome) had sold out but the waiter recommended another (San Pedro Yacochuya 2010) from the same grape which was perfect for the fish (A).

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Next, Terimaki Temaki, a nori seaweed cone of fried langoustines, slices of salmon and lime, Philadelphia cheese and teriyaki sauce which was heaven in the mouth (A) …Teriyaki Temaki

…especially when dipped in a little soya and wasabi.

 

dips-e1511169009513.jpgFor a bit of heat I was also given some yellow Aji chilli sauce, although the waiter described it as TNT!

VietnamitoAlso a plate of Vietnamito, salmon with chilli jam, ajies (chilli pepper variety), fish sauce and grated coconut. This is made in Teradito style, a Japanese-Peruvian method of preparation similar to Cerviche and Carpaccio but without onions and using Japanese fish cutting methods. Sadly this was my least favourite as I didn’t like the sweetness (C). Lots of other Teradito on the list to try though.

After this the 2 Salmon  Temaki, another cone of spicy salmon ‘tataki’ (seared with a gas torch) and avocado with ‘Osaka sauce’. Amazing again (A).

2 Salmon  Temaki

And Misoshiru (B) bean paste soup, which came in a square wide-lipped bowl. This offended my soup-drinking sensibilities as it needs to be in a small round bowl you can drink straight out of, so I sent it back to be changed. In Japan misoshiru is drunk instead of water at mealtimes.

Misoshiru

Finally, Centolla Nigiri, two pieces of rice topped with king crab and held together with a band of nori seaweed, again very nice (A).

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For dessert, Chees Maracuya (sic), a tasty passion fruit cheesecake with deep-fried basil leaves on the side (B).

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Sadly the limocello was served only slightly chilled again as it always seem to be in Argentina (D) and I had it changed for a Grappa (B).

Grappa

 

I was told I would need to reserve a couple of days earlier (and before 6pm) but instead I was on the doorstep when they opened at 8 and got in that way. As it turned out, there were empty tables anyway so maybe the hype has subsided a bit. My total spend with tip, $630,just shy of £100, but I would happily spend this again, it was easily worth the money.

caiparinhia.jpgAfter this wonderful experience I went to Congo at Honduras 5329 (open Wed to Sat from 8pm to 4am or 6am) for a Passion Fruit Caiparinhia (A) in their garden bar, which according to Time Out is one of the best outdoor drinking spaces in the city. This was my last night in Buenos Aires and perhaps my best. Really hope I can go again soon, love this town!

Staying safe in Buenos Aires

Posted in Argentina, Buenos Aires on November 22, 2011 by gannet39

I have been to Buenos Aires three times, (2004, 2011, 2014) and have had some of the best trips of my life here. It’s a fantastic city with a very cosmopolitan atmosphere and as my blog posts show, somewhere I could quite happily live.Jacaranda

It’s not all idyllic though. It’s important to be aware of the crime situation and you should try to be alert at all times. I’m fairly street smart, having lived in some pretty tough neighbourhoods, so I’ve rarely had problems. I go quite regularly to quite dodgy cities like Naples, or pickpocketing hubs like Barcelona and Madrid, andI would say BsAs is hairier than any of them.

The things that have happened to me personally have all been quite minor and involved taxi drivers. Once on the way to the airport a cabbie tried to overcharge me and became quite aggressive during the journey. I just kept my cool and didn’t react. When we arrived at the terminal, I took a video of him as I paid the correct fare. I also threatened him with the police. and he backed down very quickly.

On another occasion I made the mistake of taking a cab from the rank outside the Retiro central bus station. A taxi mafia controls things here. I was watching the meter as we drove and the fare suddenly jumped up to something much higher than it should have been. I paid up as it was small beer to me and I didn’t want any hassle as I had all my bags with me. Next time I arrived at the bus station though I walked a couple of blocks and flagged a cab down rather than use that rank again.

Another friend’s taxi drove off with her suitcase still in the back, although she got it back via the police six days later, minus a few valuables. The advice from my hotel concierge was that you should only flag down moving cabs and never take ones parked up or waiting in a rank. I also sometimes take pictures of their number plate and taxi licence as an extra security measure.

Another thing to watch out for is how your change is given. I’ve heard of waiters not returning spare change from the bill or not applying the discount for cash payments.

Counterfeit money is also a problem. Someone I know even received counterfeit notes out of a bank ATM! She couldn’t complain because the bank was shut at the time. The advice from a local was to only use the machines when the bank is open so that you can complain immediately. It’s probably a good idea to have plenty of smaller denomination notes for taxis so your not dealing with lots of paper. If you are given a high denomination note, check the watermark.Money town

Most crimes are non-violent and most areas are fairly safe in central BsAs however in some neighbourhoods such as La Boca, everyone should beware of muggers. An elderly female friend was hit and had her camera stolen when she made the mistake of going down a side street in La Boca at night. Another tall, middle aged male friend did a similar thing and was lassoed around the neck with a belt from behind, pulled down and again had his camera taken. Yet another acquaintance was chased but got away, all in the same area.

Even in the more upmarket Retiro, an older female colleague was set upon by a gang of kids and her bag was stolen. However, Recoleta (the area where work usually puts me up) is relatively safer and you only have to watch out for pickpockets (eg pairs of women standing near you pretending to take photos) and opportunists (eg people who hang around in hotel lobbies and walk off with your bag).

So, if you are alert and aware I’m sure everything will be ok. Please don’t let any of this put you off coming here, Buenos Aires is a fantastic city!

A steak in Puerto Madero

Posted in Argentina, Buenos Aires, Puerto Madero on November 22, 2011 by gannet39


Puerto Madero
is the old port area of Buenos Aires. Derelict and run down for many years, it is now the site of a huge urban regeneration project, attracting many international architects and designers (Foster, Starck etc), and is the new residential area of choice for many young professionals. Think Liverpool’s Albert Dock area but on a much larger scale.

Puerto Madero

It’s also the location for many top-notch bars, clubs, hotels and restaurants, including this one:

Cabana Las Lilas (Advanced A), Alicia Moreau de Justo 516, Dique 4 (4313 1336)



Another posh parrilla, possibly the best one in town. It’s a bit over the top , but the beef really is top quality. I was told by several different locals (thanks Erna and Julieta) that I had to try it. The meat is from the restaurant’s  own estates (estancias) and has won multiple awards for its quality.

Steaks

The grill is quite a sight (you can see the kitchen through the plate glass as you enter), like an industrial production line with several steaks being cooked simultaneously. Next to the steak station there’s another huge grill totally dedicated to sausages!

Grill

The staff to customer ratio is very high and I was asked at least five times if I wanted water. Once I was settled in though the service was very good. The wine list is on an Ipad which I found a bit showy, but I guess it allows them to update their huge list more easily. Too much information, give me a paper version any day! I just went with the friendly sommelier’s suggestion of the Arroba Cabernet Sauvignon, which was very good (A) for the money, about £25.
A plate of complementary starters arrives at your table unordered and I met my vegetable needs with some excellent baby tomatoes with dried oregano (A), warmed polenta (B+), nice grilled salmon and red pepper (B), but I wasn’t so keen on the tasteless grilled aubergine and boconcinos of mozzarella (C).

Your starter for 4

You get lots of complimentary bread too, both on the table or from a waiter with a basket with fresh warm buns and loaves who regularly stops by to top you up.

For the meat starters I ordered two tiny links of Morcilla  (A) which popped like a balloon when pierced. Also a half portion of Rinones de Ternera (veal kidneys), cooked at the table. They were good (B) but a little overdone, perhaps I should have told him how I wanted them, or maybe he should have asked.

Rinones de Ternera

I really wanted to try the Kobe beef but reigned in my spending and went for a big juicy rump steak (the best cut in terms of flavour) and had a Picanha Tapa de Cuadril (A+), which is a thinner cut than the Picanha Summus. You actually get two steaks when it’s cut this way. I had them very rare and they were fantastically tender, one of the best steaks I’ve ever eaten. My warmed plate (hallelujah) was soon swimming in juices but was chilled too quickly by the powerful overhead fan (choose your seating carefully). I was also given the biggest steak knife I have ever seen.

Picanha

Sadly I’ve yet to have a decent portion of chips in Argentina and was not impressed by the dry brown thin-cut Papas Fritas (C).

I find the national dessert, Dulce de Leche, to be tooth-achingly sweet but acting on a tip (thanks Gordon) I went for the ice cream version which was delicious (A).
I was about to order a flask of Orujo (Galician aguardente) to go with this but two flasks of complimentary grappa and limoncello suddenly appeared which made this unnecessary. The ‘lemoncello’ was of fairly good quality and slightly cold but still not frozen as it should be (B-). I polished it off nonetheless.

Grappa y Lemoncello

Total spend $530, or about £80 (Nov 2011), which is a bit pricey but it was still a great experience that I’d definitely recommend.

Buenos Aires – San Telmo – Places to Eat and Drink

Posted in Argentina, Buenos Aires, San Telmo with tags , , , , , , on November 21, 2011 by gannet39

San Telmo is the oldest barrio in Buenos Aires so it has heaps of characterful bars and good quality restaurants. Many have their windows painted with “filetes”, a typical Argentine decorative painting style.

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I holidayed here for a week in 2014 and got to know the area quite well.

Please see my separate post for stuff to see in the neighbourhood. This post has reviews of two Parrillas (steakhouses), one expensive, one cheap, a wine shop, a pork restaurant and a Japanese dining room. There are a few bars which also do food at the bottom of the post, and finally the guest house I stayed at. All of them are on this Google map.

La Brigada (Advanced A-) 465 Estados Unidos (between Bolivar and Defense), Tel: 4361 5557/4361 4685

Given that La Brigada was described by several locals and Time Out as the best Parrilla in town (and this in the capital of a country which justifiably believes that it has the best beef in the world) I really needed to try it out, and I wasn’t disappointed.

There was a long queue when I arrived (Sunday lunchtime must be the busiest day due to all the tourists going to the antiques market) but I left my name and came back in half an hour whereupon I had the good fortune to meet Chris, a friendly American also dining alone. We joined forces and shared a table and lots of good conversation.

We were hoping for some kind of mixed grill affair but unfortunately each meaty item was sold and served individually. I started with a tiny link of Morcilla (black pudding) which was one of the moistest and tastiest I’ve ever eaten (A+). I think it had a fair bit of garlic in it which added lots of flavour. I followed this with a solitary Chorizo which was tasty but needed several dollops of Chimichurri to bring out the flavour (B).

For me this was followed by two rare steaks; a Bife de Chorizo (sirloin) and a Lomo (tenderloin), both of which were fantastic (A+) but with the sirloin having a bit more flavour.

As you can see in one of the pictures below, their boast here is that the meat is so tender that you can cut it with a spoon.

I had the steaks a side order of unspecial Papas Fritas (B-) and a bottle of Finca las Moras Malbec, one of the cheapest on the very extensive list at 70 pesos but wonderfully full-bodied and well worth the money (A).

For dessert, it had to be Panqueque de Dulce de Leche, pancakes filled with the ubiquitous sweet made from caramelised milk which you will find everywhere in Argentina and Chile (where it’s called ‘manjar’). Nice but so sweet it made my teeth hurt (B-).

Finally a shot of Grappa Luxardo (B+), described by the waiter as local but actually from Italy, finished the proceedings nicely. The only downer was the waiter who could only cope with one thing at a time and had to run round rather frantically as a result. Overall though, while it was more expensive than a normal Parrilla, it was definitely worth the visit.

 

Desnivel (Elementary B+), 855 Defensa

This is big famous parrilla that quickly fills up with locals and tourists so you need to get there early during busy periods. There is no finesse here, just plastic tablecloths and bendy cutlery, but the waiters are all great personalities, which can’t be said for the ones I met at La Brigada.

The meat is fine but choose the wine carefully. I’d give the house red a miss (C-) even though it’s served in cute Penguinitos (small penguin shaped wine jugs). I changed mine for a half bottle of Norton thinking it would be the Classico which is usually quite decent (B+). However it turned out to be Norton Coleccion which is also pretty horrible (C+). Doh! I’d spend a bit more on something decent if I were you.

I had the Tabla de Achuras to start. This involved intestinos (intestines), rinones (kidneys), higado (liver) and mollejas (thymus glands aka ‘sweetbreads’). All fine but slightly charred (B-). The following rump steak was great (B+).

To finish Budin de Pan, aka bread pudding with Dulce de Leche which satisfied my sweet tooth. To go with it, a glass of sweet Cosecha Tardia (late harvest) also from Norton but much more palatable (B).

Even if better food can be found elsewhere Desnivel is a great choice for those on a budget and should definitely be experienced.

 

Parrilla Lo de Freddy aka Nuestra Parrilla (Elementary A), 471 Carlos Calvo

A hole-in-the-wall parrilla (in the outer wall of the Mercado de San Telmo) where you can get excellent Choripán, a butterflied and grilled chorizo in a bread bun. The sausage should be smothered with Chimmichurri (chilli, red pepper, coriander, parsley and more) and Salsa Criollo (onion, bell peppers, vinegar et al). I can also recommend the Morcipan (A). Fast, flavoursome and inexpensive, it’s a must do experience.

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Chochan (Intermediate A), 672 Piedras, www.facebook.com/chochanbuenosaires

I really like this place and if I were to open a restaurant it would be just like this one! Everything on the menu is pork based (finally a change from beef) and they have a good selection of wines which the English speaking waitress will be happy to tell you about. The atmosphere is bright and modern and they really should have more customers but being tucked down a side street off the beaten track probably means they don’t get many walk ups.

I started with the Croquetas de Papa y Morcillla, aka potato and blood sausage croquettes, which were unsightly but very tasty! (B+). I followed up with the Panceta Braseada sandwich, pork belly with grated carrots and peanut butter. The first bite, which included some crispy crackling, was a revelation, one of the best things I’ve ever eaten! (A++). However when the crackling ran out it became a bit cloying and hard to finish (B-). More crackling please.

 

 

Comedor Nikkai (Intermediate A), 732 Avenida Independencia

I adore Japanese food and when I find an authentic place I’m all over it. What could be more authentic than the dining room of the Asociacion Japonesa en la Argentina, a cultural association where you can also take classes in all things Japanese (martial arts, flower arranging etc).

I always come here for lunch when I’m in town. Their set menus are great value and taste pretty good (B+). On this occasion I had Menu 3 which involved Toriteri (fried chicken with teriyaki sauce), Harumaki (spring rolls with sweet sauce), Gohan (white rice), three pieces of Makimono sushi roll (salmon, cream cheese, cucumber), a salad and a bowl of Misoshiru (soya paste soup) for a piffling cost of $100 which included a 10% discount for paying in cash. A bottle of Crystal beer took the bill to $140, just over £7.

The entrance is along a corridor down the side of the cultural association’s front door and you wouldn’t know it was there unless you looked carefully. It’s well worth the effort of finding it though.

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Señor Telmo (Intermediate C), 756 Defensa

I’m a pizza snob and am totally unimpressed by the quality of pizzas in Baires, despite it’s huge Italian immigrant population. Can’t remember what this one was called but it was horrible (C-). Just look at the luminous sausage! Even though it has a good rep this is one to avoid I reckon.

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Coffee Town (Elementary A), 976 Bolivar (inside the Mercado de San Telmo), www.coffeetownargentina.com

As the name suggests this place makes some of the best coffee in town. They also do a mean Mexican breakfast of Huevos Rancheros which is generally how I started my day.

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The oldest bar in the area is Bar Federal (599 Carlos Calvo), built in 1864. The coffee is ok here so it’s a nice peaceful place to have a medialuna and a cortado.

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Bar Plaza Dorrego (1098 Defensa) with its graffiti covered furniture is a good vantage point to watch the goings on in the square of the same name which hosts the famous antiques fair every Sunday and tango dancing the rest of the time.

Just up the road another favourite bar is El Hipopotamo (401 Brasil), built in 1904. I come here for a ‘submarino’ (a chocolate bar melting in hot milk) and a slice of Tarta Manzana (apple tart) Both were good (B).

 

 

Also woody and atmospheric if a bit run down is Gibraltar Bar (895 Peru) www.thegibraltarbar.com which has the feel of a British pub. They reckon they serve the best Thai green curry in town but don’t believe them (C).

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Many of San Telmos drinking establishments have been listed by the city government as being ‘cafes y bares notables’ (full list here).

Exactly opposite La Brigada there is a great wine shop called Vinotango (at 488 Estados Unidos) which is run by a lovely couple who speak excellent English. If you liked your wine in La Brigada, they’ll probably have it here. They also have regular wine-tasting sessions in the shop during which Huan the husband sings Tango songs.

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I stayed at Tango Hogar (Elementary A), 772 Estados Unidos www.tangohogar.com.ar, a guest house with just four rooms in a large rambling family house. It’s very cheap and friendly and a good place to meet other international travellers. NOW CLOSED!

Please see my separate post for stuff to see and do in San Telmo.

Cementerio de la Recoleta

Posted in Argentina, Buenos Aires, Cementerio, Recoleta with tags on November 15, 2011 by gannet39

This is the most amazing cemetery I’ve ever been to, a must visit if you ever come to Buenos Aires.

It’s the final resting place of many of Argentina’s great and good, including Eva Peron (Evita) and several presidents, generals and writers. It’s like something out of Gormenghast, a huge necropolis with hundreds of mausoleums in many different architectural styles, predominantly Gothic but with lots of Art Noveau and Art Deco, in various states of repair. Many are falling apart and filled with rubbish, the coffins exposed to the prying eyes of the hordes of tourists who come to pay their disrespects every day.

There are many beautiful statues by famous scupltors, one of my favourites is the  Tomb of Liliana Crociati de Szaszak who died tragically in an avalanche on her honeymoon in Austria. The poem on her tomb by her father is really sad (click on the link to read it).

Here is the cemetery webpagesome more info.

Please click on these photos to go to an enlarged slideshow.

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