Dubai has a lot of steakhouses. More than a city of this size and population really needs, so if you’re going to stand out then you need to be exceptionally good or markedly different from the competition. And this is why you should know that Gaucho is not a steakhouse, it’s an Argentinean restaurant. To differentiate is important.
Of course the menu is full of meat options and of course we ordered steak for our main course, but how it’s done and what comes with it is the story here.
To start with, the breads aren’t just a basket of bread. The pandebono cheese-infused bread is something of an institution. We were told of one diner in the London branch who politely removed the napkin from his lap, got up and left upon hearing that they had run out of pandebono that day. It’s little things like this that set places apart from the herd.
Likewise, the wine. Some of their wines are sourced in Argentina just for Gaucho restaurants, which is impressive, as is their whole wine list. We’ve been to restaurants and seen that the wines at the cheaper end of the scale are just hugely-marked up bottles of the exact same Montes we buy for less than a quarter of the price at our local A&E or MMI. Here it feels special and the sommelier offers us a sample try first with a promise that if we don’t like it, he’ll help us pick another red. When was the last time you had that kind of quality service in a restaurant in Dubai?
Their Argentinean chorizo sausage with confit peppers and grilled spring onion is like a full-starter version of the best tapas you’ve had, while the lobster salad, which came lightly dressed in the shell with a side salad of crunchy carrots and peppers julienne, wouldn’t be out of place in a top seafood restaurant.
For mains, we went for the vegetarian option… Nah, of course not. Chili infused, 250g Lomo picante which was as good a piece of meat as you’ll find anywhere in the city, and we’ve tried most of them. Pepper sauce and chips finished with thyme as an accompaniment. So yes, steak and chips.
But again, keeping it Argentinean was the side of humita saltena, served in a corn husk with roasted pumpkin and sweetcorn. It’s is – and has been for some time – in the top 10 things we’ve eaten in the city. Sweet and near unique, it’s a perfect accompaniment to steak and chips.
The person I was with had the Lomo fillet steak with a mushroom sauce and a side of broccoli lightly sprinkled with almonds – again the little touches that make something different.
To finish, the Dulce de leche fondant with Amaretto curd, chocolate crumble, vanilla ice cream and fresh fruit. The sweet Dulce de leche is one of Argentina’s best exports (although other countries are also known for this delight) and the little flourishes here make this a great dessert. The dessert wine on the side is just a little indulgence that really goes well. It’s recommended.
So here’s the thing… we’ve often puzzled over the fact that in the opposite building the frankly overrated Zuma is busy on any night of the week while other people rave about the nearby La Petit Maison with its snobby attitude, time limits and overpriced dishes, while Gaucho never feels like it’s going to be turning people away.
Perhaps it’s the sheer size of the place that makes it hard to fill, but there’s really very little wrong with Gaucho and so many things very right.
Sure, the Post-disco nightclub music seems a little strange and the décor was always more suited to an actual post-Disco nightclub that a South American restaurant, but it’s actually in keeping with the interior design of other branches in the UK. This isn’t a “wacky Dubai” thing.
In terms of food and service however, which is the main draw in any restaurant, Gaucho is a really great place to eat some fantastic Argentinian food and drink brilliant wine. Show it some love and it will love you right back.
For Esquire Magazine