8b Lamb’s Conduit Passage, WC1R 4RG Tel: 020 7430 9073
Cost for two people with wine £60
I’ve always been convinced that I’d fit in pretty comfortably in Argentina. After all, it is known for its meat, beef especially, and as a self-confessed steak junkie, the idea of visiting Garufin, the new Argentinean restaurant in WC1, was a treat.
If the name rings a bell, you’re probably familiar with its elder sibling, the much-loved Garufa steakhouse in Highbury. Following on from its success, Alberto Abbate and Gustavo Vasquez, the men behind the successful restaurant, have opened Garufin with the intention of making it central London’s answer to easy, traditional food and drink.
When I arrived, a week after opening, it wasn’t particularly busy. Aside from my partner and I, there were only about four other couples, which wasn’t particularly a bad thing. The basement dining area, the lower of two floors, feels intimate, the type of place you feel in the know for knowing about, and are reluctant to tell people about for fear of it becoming too popular. The exposed brick walls, low lighting and black and white tiled floors, alongside the wine cellar housed at the back, serve as the perfect backdrop.
The starters include several regional favourites and much of the menu comes in tapas style portions, encouraging you to try different things. Empanadas, a popular dish in South America, came in several different combinations, like spicy tripe with ox cheek (Mondongo) and scallops and tomatoes with olives (Patagonica). Pre-empting the fact that the main would be quite a meaty affair, I opted for the sweetcorn and goat’s cheese (Veruda) empanadas, which was a hit; the softness of the filling providing a good counterpoint to the crispy exterior. They made no mistake with the delicious sour dough bread and steamed butter (pan).
The upstairs space is currently the home of a café during the day but has the intention of turning into a wine bar at night, offering an array of Argentinean wines by the glass or carafe (thanks to an enomatic preservation system). As a result, the wine list is quite extensive – the perfect excuse for me to break away from my usual Rioja. My partner and I opted for a 2008 Malbec on recommendation from the owner, a wine made in the vineyards in San Juan. Great choice. At only £25, it quickly had us both writing the name down to pick one up on the way home to enjoy over the weekend.
For the main course I went straight for the sirloin steak and chimichurri (bife de chorizo) with roasted baby potatoes. Rather disappointingly, the meat was only marginally better than you would get from any decent high street grill – succulent and well seasoned but missing that “X factor”.
Completely full from the second course, it took us nearly 45 minutes to even consider looking at the desert menu. However, determined to try the sweets, we decided to share a quinoa cream pudding with vanilla and cinnamon ice cream. While I was initially disappointed that the menu was limited to ice creams and fondants, we were won over. The lightness of the quinoa cream pudding, which was a bit like a less dense rice pudding, was the perfect palette cleanser after the heavy meal.
The affordable prices and intimate setting means Garufin will no doubt be just as successful as its North London counterpart. I’ve already booked my next trip and if you want to experience the intimate setting, I’d advise you to do so too, before everyone jumps in on the action.