‘It is pretty cool,’ nodded the hostess, as if reading my mind. She was right: it was pretty cool. The elevator door breezed open and we stepped into the high-ceilinged, slate-black environs of the dining room, punctuated with dashes of cattle hide (which worked far better than I was expecting) and a couple of magnificent arched, ivory booths that accommodated round tables perfect for larger groups.
Our hostess nodded towards what will be the balcony area and informed us that once the outdoor space has been granted a licence, the misted windows will be cleared, affording guests unobscured views of the Emirates Towers. Our attention was also drawn to the glowing chamber behind the staircase, which will soon be lined with bottles of fine Argentinian grape. The best, it seems, is yet to come.
Before we embarked on our meaty mains, there was the small matter of the starters to deal with. My date’s salmon ceviche was served in a miniature mountain of soft pink curls, which had a subtle citrus tang and the soft vinegary flavour of palm hearts. My octopus tiradito (a mosaic of translucent octopus slices bathed in tomato passata and crowned with an emerald-green bundle of rocket) certainly made an impact when it arrived at the table, but not so much when it reached my mouth – the passata drowned the octopus and the dish was a little deflating in that it reminded me that I was eating in a restaurant, rather than some kind of otherworldly, luxury spacecraft.
In spite of the management’s insistence that Gaucho isn’t a steakhouse, we were never really going to judge the restaurant on its seafood starters – the quality of the meat is the deal breaker. But there lies the rub: well-cooked, quality steak tastes much the same wherever you eat it, and while it’s obvious that Gaucho’s grass-fed beef is exceptional, it’s let down by its supporting cast of sides. While my churrasco chorizo, a cut of sirloin that had been marinated in garlic, parsley and olive oil, was excellent and my date’s tenderloin was cooked to perfection, the fries were verging on soggy, the spinach was slightly too salty and the tomato salad was rather boring. Granted, the Argentinian grape was lovely, and while I found myself enjoying the meal, I certainly wasn’t blown away.
Gaucho may not offer an exquisite dining experience (don’t get me wrong: it’s still very good), yet it offers an excellent restaurant experience – the decor, the service and the convivial atmosphere (it was packed by the time we left) are more than enough to lure me back. In this respect, Gaucho is an unrequited success.
The bill (for two)
1x Still water Dhs25
1x Salmon ceviche Dhs50
1x Octopus tiradito Dhs68
1x Bife de cuadril Dhs155
1x Churrasco chorizo Dhs196
1x Chips Dhs20
1x Spinach Dhs25
1x Tomato salad Dhs30
1x Dulce de leche Dhs40
Total (including service) Dhs678