If there are two things that Dubai has in abundance, it’s tall buildings and steakhouses – and despite the excess of each, there isn’t a day that goes by when we don’t hear of a new one in the pipeline. The latest new launch is Gaucho, an Argentine steakhouse that became a household name in London, which lands in Dubai in October. But what can it offer a city that’s already swimming in sirloin?
To ask this is, according to newly appointed Gaucho international operations director Ryan Hattingh, to miss the point entirely. ‘I don’t want to be obnoxious,’ says Hattingh, ‘but we’re not a steakhouse. We specialise in Argentine beef.’ We’re not inclined to argue with the imposing South African. Besides, if there’s anyone who knows about steak, it’s Hattingh – the man has been grilling meat since 1983.
As you’d expect from any Argentine steakhouse (sorry, restaurant), Gaucho’s beef is imported from the grasslands of Rosario in Argentina. The vast majority of the restaurant’s grape-based beverages are from Argentina, with the exception of bubbly. The beef is taken only from Angus cattle, a shorter and stockier breed, meaning smaller, more flavourful cuts. But it’s the way the cattle are reared that Hattingh wants to convey.
‘We don’t supplement at all. By ‘supplements’, I mean grain, corn and any other stuff that they give to these animals,’ he says with emotion. ‘I know there’s a big market campaign around the fact the meat is being grain-fed and whatever-fed, but, at the end of the day, cows are made to eat grass and walk around and live happy lives.’ Until they end up on the plate that is.
‘Rearing cattle properly takes time and effort,’ continues Hattingh. ‘If you grain-feed cattle, you put them in feeding lockers – you’re giving these poor animals a buffet of grain and corn and all sorts of stuff, and they just stand there and eat. This way you get a lot of marbling and the animals fatten quicker, so instead of slaughtering them in two years they are slaughtered in 10 to 11 months.’
Hattingh’s opinions will doubtless ruffle feathers in Dubai, because the menus of many restaurants here proudly state that their steaks come from grain-fed cattle or wagyu farms.
‘If you take a grain-fed, corn-fed or supplemented animal, they’re put in a pen and within 24 months will weigh up to 700kg,’ continues Hattingh. ‘Our cattle will weigh between 300-400kg. What’s more, if you take a piece of rib-eye [from a grain-fed animal], the amount of fat is going to be between 24 and 30 per cent – much higher – and 80 per cent of this is going to be saturated [fat]. The animals can’t walk off the fat – they don’t move around, they eat bad stuff, so it’s not healthy for them or us. What’s more, you get a spongy texture that has no taste.’
The meat that will be served at Gaucho when it opens on October 1 was slaughtered at the beginning of September, packed by September 10 and preserved by a process called ‘wet ageing’, before being flown out to Dubai on September 23.
The long, intricate journey undertaken by Gaucho’s prime cuts is all the more remarkable considering the minutes, if not seconds, it takes to prepare a steak. Gaucho’s chefs use a custom-made German KSF grill, which warrants a mention not just for the built-in water bath (the water creates steam, lending moisture to the meat), but the fact that this equipment flies in the face of the notion that steaks should be cooked at high heat.
‘For me, this is one of the biggest myths about steak – you only burn it this way,’ says Hattingh. ‘We use corn oil [on the steaks] because it has no taste and a very high smoking point. We don’t want flames; flames lick the meat and burn it.’
The intricacies involved in rearing and slaughtering cattle, preserving and transporting the meat, and preparing and serving of steak, perhaps explain why Dubai is still in love with this seemingly simple dish: dining on good steak is to dine on a flavourful, complex back story. In this respect, the steakhouse is a unique breed of restaurant, which is why there’s always room for one more. Gaucho, we hope, will be a valuable addition – even if it’s not technically a steakhouse.
Gaucho opens on Saturday October 1 at DIFC, www.gauchorestaurants.co.uk.