With its glittering chandeliers, grand leather booths and huge open skylight, Gaucho is the epitome of Buenos Aires grandeur.
One of the top steakhouses in Manchester, they’ve recently taken on a new executive chef to take on the menu development, research and chef training for all of their sites.
Argentina-born Max Castaldo comes to Gaucho from The Lanesborough Hotel, where he oversaw the Michelin-starred Celeste restaurant and brings a wealth of experience with him.
He’s worked at some of the most renowned South American and Asian restaurants across the world including Nobu Berkeley Street, three Michelin starred restaurant Lasarte in Barcelona and Sushisamba.
So when we heard that he was behind the latest upgrade to Gaucho’s a la carte menu, we had to take ourselves down to try it out.
Famed as much for their fine Argentine wine collection as they are for their steaks, we started with a bottle of Gaucho’s finest: a 2014 vintage grown in their very own vineyard in the district of Lunlunta, Mendoza.
Rich, elegant and powerful with aromatics of violets and sweet spice, it has everything a great Malbec should. An excellent start to our lunch.
Looking at the new menu, we decided to start with empanadas. It would be rude not to.
This quintessentially Argentinian dish is actually inherited, passed first from the Moors to the Spanish, then to the Argentinians where it quickly became popular with the working classes as a hot, portable snack.
Ours come out hot, all tender beef and creamy corn humita encased in a soft and flaky pastry, with a scattering of coarse sea salt across the top. Served as a minimum of two with mild salsa on the side, they’re gone in seconds, leaving the plate still warm.
And of course, we have to order the big asado sausage board if only to try the morcilla – Argentina’s answer to blood pudding. Asado is huge in Argentina, and after tucking into a small sampling we can understand why.
Soft, rich and flavourful, the morcilla melts in the mouth. Grilled over a hot flame and served with romesco alongside chorizo sausages (thoughtfully arranged in order of spiciness for those who aren’t keen on hot food), we’re in carnivore heaven.
Next up is one of Max’s new additions – a starter of charred corn salad packed with fresh edamame, crumbled feta, cherry tomato.
It’s a wonderful side dish full of colourful spring ingredients topped with a spicy and fresh lemongrass vinaigrette providing vibrant hints of ginger and chilli.
We also try the striking new beetroot tartare, a clever twist on the classic American favourite of raw ground beef and egg yolk.
This variation is completely veggie friendly, switching out beef for beetroot and making a feature out of the ‘yolk’ by placing a beguiling mango concoction in its centre.
Served with a sourdough crisp and buttermilk dressing, it’s certainly eye-catching and refreshing on the palate too.
The stand out on the new starters, though, has to be the yellowfin tiradito.
Somewhere between sashimi and ceviche, it’s a dish of Peruvian heritage but reflects the influence of Japanese migrants on Peruvian cuisine.
The yellowtail comes out in raw slices, topped with panko breadcrumbs and yuzu soy pearls with a big dollop of truffle mayo on the side. For added theatre, the soy is poured in front of us at the table.
This is a top-notch dish. Between the smoky, citrusy sourness of the yuzu, the saltiness of the soy and the crunch of the panko, it was all we could do to refrain from licking the plate clean right in the middle of the restaurant.
Moving on to the mains, and we’re absolutely spoilt for choice.
It goes without saying that one of the biggest draws for diners at Gaucho is the impressive steak selection.
All their beef is bred in Argentina’s fertile Las Pampas region across 45 hand-selected farms. Reared by trusted partners of the restaurant, they are left to roam freely and graze on seventeen different types of grass.
The meat is then wet-aged to produce both a vibrant flavour and melt-in-the-mouth texture. A Gaucho steak is so soft you can cut through it with a butter knife.
Our server returns with a flourish and a board full of seriously sexy steak specimens including the house speciality – churrasco de lomo, a spiral cut marinated in garlic, parsley and olive oil for 48 hours before cooking.
She talks us through the different cuts, asking how we prefer our steak to be cooked and informing us that their highest recommended temperature is medium rare.
We decide it would be churlish not to try their prize dish so we order a fillet and a sirloin cut. Both come with fries and chimichurri included.
And then what we’ve really come for: the new dishes.
These include corn-fed chicken breast, Atlantic cod with quinoa, a stuffed chargrilled aubergine for veggies, and Iberico pork with kombucha apple and malbec mustard kohlrabi – the latter of which, we’re sad to say, was not available on our visit.
The cod comes out flaky and perfectly cooked with a bright and punchy blood orange vinaigrette poured on top by our server. Light yet filling, it is a guaranteed feelgood order.
The corn-fed chicken, meanwhile, comes locally sourced from Fairfax and is served with caramelised corn kernels and two purees – the first carrot and ginger, the second creamy corn humita puree – plus a hearty and smoky romesco sauce on the side.
Super sweet, but wonderfully creamy with each flavour on the plate complementing the next. We hoover it up.
At this point, we’re all feeling immensely full. But not to be defeated, our arms are twisted as we’re presented with the dessert menu.
We opt for the new items again: chocolate ganache (a sort of cross between a deconstructed crunchie and a banana split), coconut tres leche (a coconut flourless cake), and the salted dulce de leche cheesecake – a longstanding Gaucho favourite that has been tweaked with the addition of toasted marshmallow on top.
Dulce de leche – or caramelised milk – is huge in Argentina. Look at any list of must-try dishes and you’ll find it on there.
Served with a perfect spiral of toasted marshmallow on top – it comes out rich, creamy and deliciously claggy. We can’t get enough.
The chocolate ganache, meanwhile, is surprisingly light thanks to the addition of fresh banana and banana ice cream. Beefed up with hefty chunks of honeycomb and a thick slather of chocolate, it’s gone in no time.
We leave stuffed, and mighty impressed – not just with the steak, which was wonderful, but with everything else too.
Max Castaldo is certainly setting the bar high with these new dishes, all of which stand their own against Gaucho’s premium steak offering.