So I had been silently singing my own praises about my potent Buenos Aires restaurant knowledge, busily compiling a 400-strong list without resorting to any tool apart from my own memory and notebook, when two people came along and burst that bubble.
First up was KT who invited me to a delightful three-for-two lunch at Moreneta, a chic, bistro-like café in the heart of Monserrat. I’d never heard of it or its two chefs.
Then out of the blue, strike two came when an old contact got in touch via Twitter. Gabriela, who owns a modelling agency, had seen my movements, and wondered if I’d a chance to sample the wares at Leopoldo. Who the hell is Leopoldo, I demanded, and when are we going?
It was a random happening to get back in touch — and I am fully supportive of those, as they are often the best kind — as some 12 months ago, I’d interviewed one of Gabriela’s Brazilian models (wonder how that kind of import gets in the country these days?). Leopoldo, according to her, had great cocktails, a great atmosphere and was the hip place to be. Oh dear. Another blip on my radar which had been completely missed.
Operating out of Palermo Chico, in fairness, that is not a hood I venture toward. I don’t know anyone who lives there, there aren’t buses I regularly hop onto which might lead me there, and it sounds like the area of Belgrano which houses the embassies: security on every corner, a bit posh and possibly unwanting of my sort (no dollars or designer labels) hanging around.
I’ve never been to the zoo, which backs onto Chico, although I did an interview at a boutique which has now moved to Palermo Soho, and once had coffee and conducted another interview at the bustling Voulez Bar — the man I was meeting cryptically said he would leave a copy of his publication on the table. I said I’d be wearing a bowler hat and carrying The Times. And that is where my familiarity with Palermo Chico ends.
Enormous doors, opened by security, open onto just as enormous velvet curtains which scream swank. A reservation lady asks to know my business and although I am not too scruffy, I probably could have done better and feel a little on edge. One of our party is already waiting so we mooch around the well-stocked bar. It’s a Tuesday, one of the coldest nights of the year, but beautiful people are slowly finding their way in.
Owner Javier Caínzos is an art collector so it’s of little surprise that some rather large and fabulous poppy works (by Cynthia Cohen) adorn the walls. But what is unusual is the seating — plush high sofas in aubergine with solid backs which mean a rather more comfortable eating experience. I sink in, warmed and happy.
Although the restaurant is not packed, the bar is certainly bustling and drinks are flowing. With our party of four in place, it’s time to get ordering.
Sizing up the menu, it offers up some interesting options such as “finger food” and “healthies”. We go for some warming starters to snaffle up with our hands such as duck spring rolls with hoisin sauce (92 pesos) and grilled shrimp with tonkatsu sauce (102 pesos).
That’s right, there is definitely no change from 100 here. And cubierto service is 21 pesos, the priciest I have seen yet. But as we are comfortably positioned and as Leopoldo slowly starts to fill, a disco vibe starts to resonate, not because the music is loud, but in a way that it feels like the place to be, that cold Tuesday night. And extraordinarily, for a place that is clearly aiming to, and succeeding in, attracting a high-end clientele, it doesn’t feel pretentious. It feels just right.
With just six mains, including catch of the day, duck and suckling pig, which vary between 107 and 146 pesos, I went for the classic Argentine cut, an aged medium-rare bife de chorizo steak, mainly because that was the first time I’ve seen “aged” on the menu. Poached eggs which are all the rage, a delightful broccoli purée and mushrooms sautéed in port were divine accompaniments bursting with flavour and enhanced chef Diego Gera’s beef. Reports on the pork and rabbit-stuffed tortelloni were also glowing.
Although some may balk at the price — and it is certainly a sign of our current financial times when all main courses cost more than 100 pesos — Leopoldo is managing to combine an air of innocence with its sophistication.
Wining On verdict: Penny-pinchers desperate to give Leopoldo a go should pop in for the house cocktail, made with pear-flavoured Grey Goose.
Cerviño 3732, Palermo Chico
Published in the Buenos Aires Herald on July 29, 2012