Neighbourhood watch: Retiro

Mullu Jocelyn MandrykWhat do you think of, if I say “Retiro” to you? A grotty train station whose glory days were way back when? Perhaps you consider it the site of fabulous constructions such as the Kavanagh Building and the Torre Monumental, formerly of the English people? A bustling port that made the headlines in 2012 when a cargo ship carrying fertiliser exploded, causing the infamous “toxic cloud”? Certainly many foreigners are familiar with the immigration office. Or perhaps all that springs to mind is a sprawling shanty town built next to the bus station?

One of my personal associations with the neighbourhood comes from being pickpocketed in the train station, and – touch wood – it was the first and last time. My backpack was where it should be (on my back) rather than where it ought to be (around my front) and I paid for that lapse in attention by donating my coin purse to someone.

But this is where the bad karma hopefully ends. Retiro is now very much blooming, so much so that the city’s newest and hippest bar, which opened at the end of January, is in fact disguised as a florist. Although this central barrio is still home to dilapidated stations, both bus and train, the port, the slum and the wonderful architecture. And in terms of fuelling up and kicking back, there are plenty of interesting options that can take you from a working lunch, to after-office drinks or a full-on dinner.

Let’s start with Florería Atlántico (Arroyo 872), the best drinking spot in Buenos Aires today that is ticking all of my boxes. Jointly owned by bartender Tato Giovannoni (in his first such venture) and Julián Díaz from ocho7ocho, at first look at the ground level entrance, it appears to be a rather lovely florist that also sells above-average wine and a few crates of old vinyl. Look past the bouquets and head downstairs to a “grungeon” – a very urban space hand-painted by graphic designer Giovannoni rather like a grungy dungeon that you actually want to spend time in.

Chef Pedro Peña’s menu includes succulent Spanish octopus and even more tender ojo de bife chunks laid out across a wooden board, ready to be devoured hors d’oeuvres-style. With a cocktail list inspired by yesterday’s immigrants from England, France, Poland, Spain and Italy, you’ll likely to be served up a Campari-based drink in a jam jar or a clericot in beautiful cut glass. Only open evenings, Atlántico is getting busier as the days pass – and for a slice of live mixology and grilling, grab a space at the end of the bar for maximum exposure.

Two spots that seamlessly cater for the lunchtime crowd, the I-need-a-drink-after-work crowd, and the dinnertime crowd are Dill & Drinks and Dadá. At Dill (San Martín 986), dream team chef Leandro Leyell and barman Juan Sebastián Ruiz keep the thirsty and the hungry in their element. A daily menu also ensures punters come back for more – this past week has seen pork loin with wasabi, fennel purée-stuffed agnolotti and Portobello mushrooms soup on the board. With a pretty and lengthy enough bar to seat a whole work-weary office at, the cocktails specials also change up each day. Splendid first date joint, splendid and original dishes and drinks.

Dadá (San Martín 941), located across the street, forms part of the Golden Triangle on that particular block. A regular watering-hole for residents living in the hood that also caters for hungry workers during the day, its drinks are second to none and it garners quite the festive spirit come Friday nights.

Filo (San Martín 975), the third triangular point, is practically next door to Dadá. A hugely deceptive downtown space, Filo fits in office works, wealthy businessmen and mooning couples keen to share a large pizza for various motives. As well as an extensive pasta and risotto menu, the main highlight is the baked dough with cheese and tomato. There’s no skimping on the mushrooms on Il Funghi while the Margherita is topped with basil – good to know that Filo has no issue with a half-half pie. You won’t get much change from 100 pesos when you add in a few drinks, but the base is pretty thin and would rank second to Siamo nel Forno in terms of tasty BA pizza.

Meanwhile, have on hand this address to impress. Mullu (Ricardo Rojas 451, see Herald, January 20, 2013) is both heaven and haven in terms of Peruvian-Japanese fusion. While shellfish, and raw fish are menu staples, why not try Tiradito Don Alfredo – sashimi-style beef drenched in lime. Mouth-watering. Mullu is one of the restaurants that will be participating in Buenos Aires Food Week from April 15-21 with special menus and prices at lunch and dinner.

If you only have time for a caffeine injection, two new hot spots have just added great flourishes. Grand Café brings a retro garden-style ambience to Retiro – try the medium-rare burger whose chips even come in a metallic planter – and definitely has local businessman in mind given that strategically placed flatscreen TVs are tuned into football matches. And around the corner is the second branch of Farinelli (Arroyo 900), a boutique café if you will, that makes delicious tartlets and dazzling pastries, serves up a decent glass of wine, and is so fabulously contemporary you’ll hope you can take the furnishings home.

Other honourable mentions in the ‘hood include Café Retiro inside the train station – home to a stunning stained-glass dome, it is also a “notable café” that does a 40-peso Argentine fare of a lunch menu – and Club Danés, an ace Danish restaurant with the best harbour views in town.

Published in the Buenos Aires Herald on March 31, 2013

Photo by Jocelyn Mandryk

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