Wednesday, 7 May 2014

Argentina: Buenos Aires

Sorry for the long long silence! While Elle has been up to her ears in sawdust I have been working horribly hard and neglecting my sisterly blog-writing duties.

Here is Buenos Aires at long last, written up by area... (with an extra section on steak of course!)

San Telmo

Looking back to when I landed, I didn't really know what to expect but found a tornado of scribbled graffiti covering just about every building within arms reach. San Telmo is a picturesque example of this, and would be a great place to stay (there are a lot of cheap and cheerful hotels around there). It is a largely derelict but charismatic area housing the bulk of Buenos Aires antique / vintage shops which mostly sell overpriced tat but makes for many amusing wanderings. On a Sunday the streets fill with tourists as the Plaza Dorrego market sets up stalls all over Defensa.

lovely little book shop sign

Also in San Telmo is a great Mexican cafĂ© called Banco Rojo which blasts out very loud music and sells the most delicious tacos and barbecued pork. It is pretty cheap and the perfect spot for lunch on the go. 

Tacos 'especiales'

Tacos with BBQ pork

Villa Crespo

Our favourite area, and where we spent most of our time was Villa Crespo. There you can stay at Pop Hotel for amazingly cheap prices in quirky 'pop art' decorated rooms, eat fantastically well, and dance Tango for Argentinian prices. The tango really was the highlight for me thanks to the wonderful teachers at El Esquinazo (Tango Estudio)
who I had daily private lessons with.

Our room at Pop Hotel
After discovering Pick Up the Fork blog, we were guided through the area's best food offerings and found some real gems. There are two great places for breakfast, Cafe Crespin (photographed below) and Cafe Crespo which was sadly closed while we were there but is open again now. Crespin serves up hearty breakfasts and delicious pastries and had us coming there almost every day. 

There are plenty of great places for dinner but our favourites were Espera Ascura -  great and unbelievably cheap tapas restaurant with mouth watering burrata, and a Venezuelan restaurant called Arepas Buenos Aires which I forgot to photograph, oops!

Recoleta and Retiro

The other neighbourhoods we explored a little were Recoleta and its neighbour, Retiro. These host a couple of our favourite cocktail bars of the trip. The first, Floreria Atlantico in Recoleta, is a well-hidden speakeasy. You arrive at Arroyo 872 to find a flower and wine shop which you pass through an and open up a secret door leading, downstairs, to the bar. Down below, you find a dimly lit, narrow cellar filled with young, well-dressed Argentinians. 

Outside the bar

'The flower shop'

The food was, with one exception, fantastic. We started with some beautifully marinated anchovies, then had the special of griddled ram steak with sweet potatoes and a berry sauce. The meat was divinely tender and flavoursome, and the sauce accompanied it well. 


Avoid the pizza!!

The cocktail menu is fantastic and listed by the country that inspired them (see France below) – I ended up going for an Argentinian one that mixed Mate tea with some sort of bitters and fruit juice and some sort of Barley concoction which arrived with a lit cinnamon stick in it. 

The other bar worth a mention is Million. Situated in a converted three storey mansion, it really does feel lavish… I don’t know if it was the rather idiosyncratic characters in the bar – a white suited, artfully wrinkled 50 year old with a much younger glamazon lover, a gay couple with the most outrageous hairstyles I have ever seen, and a load of designer glad Argentinian glitterati – but the whole place reminded me of the early clubbing scenes in The Great Beauty. It is a fantastic place for people watching, and sampling interesting cocktails too.


Now I can’t finish a post about Buenos Aires without mentioning steak. We tried a few places but came to the conclusion that Parrilla Pena was the best. We had the ‘lomo’ – tenderloin which was - as it should be - tender, flavoursome and perfectly cooked. Not only that, their chimichurri was also the best we have had – it had a stronger herbal flavour than most, going heavy on rosemary and oregano, as well as a slightly sweet, vinegary sharpness – my mouth is watering just writing of it. And they know how to do a decent salad – a skill that we have found sadly lacking elsewhere in Argentina. The photos aren't anything special but God did it taste good!