If you visit Argentina and Mendoza and if you’re looking for a total food experience, then can I lure you to dinner at Francis Mallman’s 1884 restaurant in Godoy Cruz, inside the historic Bodegas Escorihuela Gascón Winery?
No. I’m not on commission. But we had such a magical evening that if you travel half way around the world it would be such a shame to miss it. Mr Mallman cooks with open fire, utilising every aspect of it from the flames to the hot ashes. Whether it’s a parrilla, la plance or the clay oven, his book “Seven Fires: Grilling the Argentine Way” is a South American kitchen staple.
The main dining room was again three times as big and had a massive mural that covered the back wall. There was a nice buzz and languages from all over the world could be heard chattering over service.
Soon after we sat down, two large serving platters full of fresh burrata, aubergine with onions, chilli and parsley, an acid cream and spiced chick peas was brought to the table.
The starter menu had plenty of choices and with 12 dishes it took a while to make decisions. I began with the salt crusted pear with burrata, rocket and bacon chips ($60) which was delicious but the winners of the night were the shrimps in the iron box with potatoes and bacon ($65) and the humita with basil oil ($52). A porridge-like corn chowder tasted of toasted fresh corn and was gorgeous and a dish you’d expect to be heavy. It wasn’t, and a hint of chilli with the basil oil was delicate and helped to season what could have been a very dull dish. Empanadas Mendocinas with green salad had been cooked in the clay oven outside ($60) which while nice probably wasn’t the most inspired choice.
Once we’d tackled the weighty wine list, we opted for the Enrique Foster Malbec Limited Edition 2006 ($220 per bottle) each individually numbered and 100% Malbec. Elegant, dark purple and full of cherry and blackberry notes with a hint of liquorice. That good, we managed to polish off four with relative ease.
Main courses are separated by cooking method – the clay oven, the barbecue and the kitchen. Again a huge 19 dishes to pour over but I found it very easy to navigate and had my eye on just one thing. The King Tournadoes wrapped in bacon and sage with thin potatoes and onions ($116) cooked medium rare. On reflection, this was probably one of the best steaks I’ve ever eaten.
The steak knife made light work of the three inches and cut off perfectly cooked beef, the salty bacon with the herby sage was simple but worked well.
The paper-thin potatoes and onions were crisp and plentiful. The salt-crusted chicken (a Mallman speciality) didn’t disappoint either ($85). A chicken breast arrived in a thick layer of salt crust and once cracked revealed moist meat with a veneer of crisped skin.
The chicken was sizeable and served with bundles of watercress, croutons, avocado, tomato salad with aioli. It drew gasps from us all and tasted as good as it looked. The tuna was cooked on the griddle ($134), and its seared casing revealed a rare pink juicy, fleshy fish which melted in the mouth and was served with a sprout, funnel and pine nut salad.
The rib-eye steak with regulation chimichurri sauce and Patagonian potatoes ($128) was another winner, no one who ordered the meat in any cut was disappointed with the cook on the parrilla.
Sirloin marinated in mustard with rosti potatoes ($116) was cooked in the clay oven and had just the right amount of mustard sauce. The rosti potatoes were finely grated and were crisped as though they’d been deep fried; they were also given the clay oven treatment.
My attempts to persuade a fellow diner to have the grilled octopus with paprika from Murcia ($141) failed miserably and even the merits of eating lamb which had been cooked for 7.5 hours didn’t swing it.
We opted for two of the 1884 desserts for four, but I have to admit to not being inspired by many of the baked custards and dishes offered to finish off a meal here in Argentina.
We chose plums baked with red wine and mascarpone, a Dulce de Leche caramel flan, strawberry with mint soup and ice cream and sweet preserved fruits of the Andes with cheese. We ordered chocolate for fanatics ($39) as we had a chocolate-lover with us, a delicious chocolate cake arrived with chocolate crumb and chocolate ice-cream, hardly anything to hold the menu for, although the chocolate lover was happy.