It is the simplest things in life that leave the deepest and most lasting impressions on your heart, mind, soul… and stomach!
During my recent visit to London, I first heard of this place called Gaucho which is, for all intents and purposes, just a steakhouse. But apparently not! Throughout the 2 weeks that I was traipsing around festive London, polishing off large platefuls of crisp Fish n Chips at Borough Market, or digging into giant bowls of hearty Hungarian Goulash at Camden Lock Market, or glugging warm mulled wine by the gallon, or sinking my teeth into the giant German Bratwursts that the Brits can’t seem to get enough of at the various Christmas fairs, I came across several people who vouched for Gaucho’s quality of food, or exceptional service, or plush spotted-cow interiors. The only deterrent mental block? The high price tag, as conspiratorially revealed by a friend who actually works there, no less!
So… when fate took us to the doorstep of Gaucho at Hampstead on the very last night of our London stay, there was understandably a tremendous amount of excited anticipation, mixed with a certain sense of inevitable doom, as I was entering the place. Why doom? Because this ONE meal was going to be equivalent to FIVE big ones back home, with a currency conversion of UK pounds to Indian Rupees being 1 is to 100! Yes, that’s right, everything on the menu times a HUNDRED!
But as soon as I was handed a menu, all sense of trepidation went up in smoke and merged into the aroma of smoky steaks hanging in the air. A simple, short menu, at first glance. All you had to do was choose your cut of beef from 5 regular or 4 special cuts, choose how you want it cooked (although the only real option is medium rare!), and an additional sauce or side. Simple? Only if you are a butcher, love!
But help was at hand as our server brought out all the raw cuts on a wooden platter for us to choose from, much like how Mahesh Lunch Home or Gajalee or other coastal cuisine restaurants will get whole live crabs and fresh catch fish to your table for you to pick. Now before you start squirming, no, the meat cuts on the display platter are not alive, (duh!) but they are as fresh as you can get them, really. Add to that the fact that the meat is sourced exclusively from Gaucho-owned and operated ranches in Argentina and shipped all the way to UK to reach that plate you are sitting in front of, and that you are here after having travelled across half the world yourself to sit at this very restaurant in quaint and charming Hampstead Village in London’s posh north-west… Yes, this had the clear makings of one of the, if not THE, most memorable meals ever…
And then the steaks arrived at our table! Between the four of us (my Londoner lil sis Simi, her Italian hubby Giorgio, my usually-happy currently-grumpy Teddy, and wide-eyed me!) we had managed to order all the different beef cuts on offer from Lomo to Ancho to Cuadril and so delectably on… When the server assured us we would not need a steak knife for our huge slabs of meat, we nodded sceptically, but a slow-motion cut through the charred, smoky outside into the pink, tender inside of the steak with an ordinary dinner knife showed us why this was a completely different animal! ;)
I cut out a small piece, dabbed it lightly in it’s own oozing juice (you don’t really need extra sauce) and popped it into my mouth, my eyes automatically shutting in single-minded focus. As I breathed in the smoky flavours, the sweetness of the charred sugars and the earthiness of the beautifully marbled sirloin, I was in food paradise. It was moist, tender, caramelly, gamey, smoky and sweet all at the same time, and I just wanted to float in that sensation. When I opened my eyes, I could see the same emotions reflected around the table… and it was grumpy-back-to-happy Teddy! Such is the power of food, this food.
I have not ordered a steak here in Mumbai since I have come back. Call me a snob, a sell-out or a steak Nazi. For me, it’s more like the never-ending pining for lost love! I miss the texture, the aroma, the clean bite, the lovely doneness… heck, even the emotions attached with the experience! But most of all, I miss the simple glorification of meat, the unapologetic hero-worshipping of that one single ingredient, and the frills-free altar that is the plate, placed almost ceremoniously before you! And knowing that I am being and will always be served Buffalo meat for a steak here in Mumbai is not helping me contain my dangerous dam of tears… at all! Booohooohoo!