Argentinian steak chain Gaucho used to be predictable: cowhide interiors seemingly inspired by Desperate Dan, hairy chairs, cut glass chandeliers, sharp ceviche, nice Malbec, good staff, great steaks. But when the group lurched towards bankruptcy, changes needed to be made to ensure survival. Step forward new CEO Martin Williams who not only saved the company but decided to take it in a completely different direction. Williams has transformed Gaucho into a true 21st century steakhouse, that not only accentuates the dishes but has also future proofed the concept.
The newest restaurant at Charlotte Street is something of a flagship for the new approach. Gone is the OTT ranch styling: downstairs now has low lighting, big booths, dark emerald and brushed gold colour scheme, centred around a beautiful bar that wouldn’t look out of place in New York. Cocktails are as stunning as the surroundings: the Truffle Old Fashioned (build around Johnnie Walker Blue, accentuated with fungi and sea salt) is truly astonishing while Penicillin (a whisky/tequila blend, served on the rocks) is the perfect palate cleanser. It is a splendid room surrounded by groups of people having a brilliant time - the all male meat fiends are vastly outnumbered by mixed groups celebrating in style.
Begin your meal with ‘The Big Sausage’. Despite the name (the table next to us got a good 15 minutes of comedic material out of this) it is actually rather refined. Rather than a single solitary schlong there were in fact a series of nine smaller sausages, speared on a kebab stick, paired with one tumescent banger that recalls the girth of Richard Scarry’s immortal "Bratwurst balloon". Whether chorizo or Morcilla, they are all intensely flavoured and moreish beyond measure. For contrast, try pairing them with an order of scallops - the signature Gaucho empanadas and ceviche are still available but these seared little pucks of joy are a delightful counterfoil. To drink, there are obviously big bold reds a plenty but, on the recommendation of charming sommelier Amy Morris, we opted for an organic white Rioja that was more than capable of standing up to whichever fatty meaty slabs were thrown at it.
Much has been made of the fact that you can now go to Gaucho and order something else other than a steak. Which is fine, and true: the swordfish causita and lamb shank we saw heading towards other tables looked delightful. But honestly sometimes there are moments when only a steak will do. The two we selected were a tender, flavourful chimichurri that was vast, tender and had a rare depth of flavour. But the signature Anglo sirloin was truly a thing of wonder. Without question the best steak I have eaten in London for over a decade - truly exceptional in every way and prepared absolutely flawlessly. Sides were fine - good chips, great mac and cheese, OK greens, odd heritage carrots - but honestly with meat so splendid, cooked with such prowess, I could have just eaten the steak unaccompanied.
Deserts, rather than being the afterthought they are in most steakhouses, still delivered the goods. The sticky toffee pudding was a sweet childhood delight while the Don Pedros - whipped cream, nuts and lashings of rum - was the sort of thing Mr Whippy would order if his wife left him. This is truly special restaurant - they even have managed the difficult art of making a steakhouse more sustainable (the beef they serve is now carbon-neutral, more wines are available by the glass, you can add a tree or some invisible chips to your meal to help good causes). A delight. A joy. Nothing short of a revelation.