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Published January 8th 2015
South American succulence in South Bank
It's funny how food and dining have recently become so much about fads and fashions. Not so long ago everyone who was anyone was eating pulled pork tacos in Mexican eateries that popped up everywhere like toadstools after rain. Before that it was Asian fusion. Before that it was... well, you get my drift. The hottest new food trend for 2015 is definitely South American food and in Brisbane you can enjoy Argentinian barbeque delights at the newest addition to the South Bank dining strip, Che Asado and Bar.
I have a bit of a thing for South American food; my Peruvian-born neighbour has us salivating on a regular basis as the smoky smell of his barbecue wafts towards us and my Argentinian daughter-in-law has introduced us to the delights of Argentinian food. So a trip to Che Asado was a done deal for us as soon as we heard of their opening.
The restaurant is a light, airy space open to the street on 3 sides, thanks to its position on the corner of Little Stanley Street and Ernest Street. A simple colour pallette, sleek timber chairs, tiled floors, small round tables and some timber bench seating make for stylish but unobtrusive surroundings, making sure that the food is the star rather than the decor. Thankfully they've steered clear of some of the in-your-face genre decorations of other restaurants. The only real design nod to Argentina is found in the brightly coloured images of the La Boca area of Buenos Aires on the cushions that soften the bench seating. The kitchen is open, which adds to the vibrancy of the space.
Staff hard at work in the open kitchen.
The place was still humming with the sounds of happy, noisy diners when we made our way there for a late weekend dinner with my son and daughter-in-law (and baby grandson in tow). They don't take bookings for fewer than eight people, but it's a large restaurant, so getting a seat shouldn't be a problem. That smoky aroma of Argentinian asado hung tantalisingly in the air as we were seated.
We all began with empanadas, an Argentinian staple. These were a real winner; tender beef cheek, olive and egg encased in crispy, flaky pastry. Delicioso, and great value at only $5 each. We also tried the chorizo skewers ($10), which were seriously smoky, and perfect with just a little of the housemade chimichurri (Argentinian parsley-based green sauce).
Argentinian asado encourages sharing so, while we all had individual mains, we ordered a slew of tasty sides to accompany our meals. The fresh green salad ($6) and hand-cut chips ($9) were very good but the standouts were the sweet roasted carrots with goats cheese and agave syrup ($9), and grilled provoleta atop a bed of sliced burnt onion with honey ($13). Yum!
There are options for vegetarians but seriously, Argentinian barbecue is really all about the meat; smoky, juicy, flavoursome meat. My husband, Comedy Relief (who must have been a T Rex in a previous life), was in his element. He and my son (another carnivore) dug heartily into rib eye on the bone, while my daughter-in-law had sliced beef short ribs ($27) and I opted for the apple roasted pork belly ($22). My pork belly was delectable, with probably the crackliest crackling I've ever had. The beef eaters all agreed that their meat was succulent and full of flavour.
Did we have room for dessert? Well, only just, but I can never resist the siren call of Argentinian caramel. If there's one culinary thing that Argentinians do better than anyone else it's dulce de leche (caramel). We shared a chocolate and dulce de leche pudding ($12.50) and alfajores ($5), a shortbread and caramel sandwich. The dark, rich pudding was served with a smear of caramel (what else?), and the tasty shortbread looked very pretty with a light dusting of icing sugar.
I'm not sure if it's because we were sitting adjacent to the wait station but the staff were friendly and attentive and one of our waitresses was clearly amused with my son's attempts to order the meal in Spanish. Our water glasses were constantly refilled from beautiful beaten metal pitchers, which were a nice rustic touch that was carried through in the stoneware plates and bowls. We complemented our meal with a bottle of Tomero Malbec ($46). Malbec is an Argentinian specialty that is increasing in popularity in Australia. This one, from the high altitude wine region of Mendoza, was characteristically dark, fruity and soft.
My only complaint about our whole evening was that our table was probably too small to really fit four people with all their meals, sides, water and wine glasses in comfort. We were constantly forced to move our share of the side dishes onto our own plates to free up some more space. But this is a minor quibble.
We liked Che Asado immensely, embodying as it does the best of the culinary and social aspects of Argentinian barbeque, in a pleasant, relaxed atmosphere. This is one food fad that I'm happy to embrace. Like it says on the T shirts of the wait staff, Viva La Argentina!