As I am lucky enough to be travelling across the world at the moment, it is undoubtedly a luxury. Not only to have the time to do it but a luxury to discover new places, meet new people and experience new flavours. The Argentine Experience is a unique dinner party which may appear on the outside like a fine dining venture but actually is a very relaxed dinner where you get to meet like-minded people in a very informal and fun setting. They offer two venues in Buenos Aires and Iguazú Falls. As I was travelling to both areas of Argentina, I chose the Iguazú Falls venue as it had just opened and it offered a more intimate space compared to the larger Buenos Aires venue. The kitchen endeavours to showcase some of the finest Argentinian national dishes including empanadas, chimichurri, dulce de leche and of the course the famous asado steak paired with a glass or two of Malbec wine so this was an experience I was really looking forward to and it didn’t disappoint. From the minute you arrive to the dinner party venue, you are aware that this will be a very unique experience. One of our hosts for the night Tatiana greeted us in the venue entrance which has a few surprises that distracts your mind from the everyday and immediately excites your sense of curiosity. The other great beginning to the night is a beautiful cocktail in the form of a chilled Malbeca expertly created by Richard, our bartender for the night, which combines Malbec wine, apple juice, lime and Pisco….you need to try it!
As I love to cook and of course eat, this dinner marries the two uniquely as once you are seated each diner gets their own apron and chef’s hat which is perfect for the empanada making class and to protect your clothes in the case of messy eaters!! The dining room can accommodate a maximum of 20 diners but on my night there was only eight – which was a comfortable number to get to chat to everyone and share travelling stories and tips.Next our second host, Paola – talked us through the eight-course mouth-watering menu from our welcome cocktail right through to the traditional Mate to finish. To kick start the eating we were served a beautiful fish ceviche which married a local fish called Sarubi (similar to trout), lime, red onion and passion fruit – a firework of flavours which was served with a white wine – Zuccardi Serie A Torrontes.
Now it was time to roll up our sleeves and flex our creativity for the empanada making master class. Empanadas can be found on every street corner in Argentina and like anything that is plentiful, quality wavers dramatically and there are many possible pitfalls from the contents to the pastry. We used the thinnest puff pastry sheets to provide crisp, flaky pastry once cooked with beautiful fillings of marinated slow-cooked beef, spiced fish and a caprese mix of slow roasted cherry tomatoes, herbs and mozzarella. Empanadas have a unique folding technique depending on the filling so we learned how to master each with some teething issues along the way. After the trial run, things heated up as now it was time for the empanada making competition. I had looked at the Empanada Wall of Fame a few days previous and you should see some of the creations….my butterfly didn’t quite make it to the wall of fame but it tasted spectacular!!
Argentina is famous for their Asado – which is basically a barbeque but takes hours to not only prepare but also to cook and typically don’t kick off until 11pm if you are attending one….my advice would be to eat well earlier in the day. Thankfully The Argentine Experience don’t make you wait that long for your main course but they also provide a beautiful Picado as means of a starter. Our picado, a mezze style starter course, included: lightly toasted country farmhouse bread, Spanish style chorizo in onions and cider, baked provolone cheese, slow-cooked pork belly, blood sausage rolls, black olive tapenade rolls and salsa criolla (red and green pepper, onion, parsley, white wine vinegar and olive oil) all paired with a light red – Zuccardi Brazos de los Andes Blend.Whilst we digested all that beautiful food, Paolo taught us some of the famous Argentinian hand gestures not all polite but great fun!! This may come in useful when taxi-drivers go the wrong way. We also learned how to order our cooking preference for the much awaited steak…believe it or not Argentinians like their steak cooked well done or “Bien Cocido”! Lomo – tenderloin was the steak cut we were served, all cooked to perfection with some guacho-style roast vegetables (carrot, red onion, potato, sweet potato and pumpkin) drizzled in a rosemary and garlic alioli …… food heaven!! The meat was so tender and juicy that the much-adorned chimichurri and salsa criolla were left untouched. The non-meat lovers amongst you need not worry as The Argentine Experience also offer salmon served with a zesty lime and salt crumb or a roast vegetable stack. Needless to say, not a morsel was left on my plate and it was nicely washed down with a Zuccardi Q Malbec.
After all that feasting, things began to wind down as we sampled some unusual cheese and sweet offerings of pumpkin and edible wood bark from the Yacaratia tree which tasted similar to fig. Then, it was time to get creative again to make the traditional dulce de leche filled Alfajor cookie and Mate tea. Mate is not just tea to the Argentinians but a way to socialise and share in the laughter, conversation and silences that it evokes. There are numerous rules involved and typically it is drank four times a day, you will encounter people walking down the street sipping from a cup or carrying large flasks of water everywhere they go and I thought the Irish were mad about tea! I am not the biggest tea drinker and not even the numerous health benefits of mate could convince me to convert to the fan club. However, the Alfajores were delicious as the shortbread biscuit was literally melt in your mouth!!All in all, it costs a bit more than a typical backpacker dinner but compared to a nice dinner out at home in Ireland it is great value and the quality of ingredients, wine and experience that the hosts provide is well worth it!! It is also a brilliant way to round off your trip or adventure, celebrate a special occasion or birthday or just treat yourself to a true Argentinian food experience.