Just one table

HG_carta2013_wr-146 (1)Never mind the reasons the closed-door dining concept came into existence (a dinner party you pay to attend, in essence), one of its most appealing characteristics is to cluster around the communal table, munching down a yummy meal while exchanging dialogue (if your dining neighbour isn’t overly fond of the sound of their own voice) with a freshly laid table filled with people.

Besides, there is a delicious feeling of secrecy, of being “in” on something innovative and naturally, the food matters as well. But there are so many options in Buenos Aires these days, it can often be hard to know where to spend those pesos wisely. From south-east Asian to Creole-Mexican fusion and pescatarian guestaurants, the offerings are now endless.

Back in the days where a scarf, boots and leg-warmers weren’t prerequisite for venturing outside, I dined at a French “supper club,” in a fairly stylish apartment rented by a Parisienne in Palermo. Hopes were high – the French know how to cook, right? – but it fell apart early on in the evening, given that she kept ushering us up to the terrace between courses “as the table is too close to the oven and I don’t want you to get too hot.”

Dereck Foster always used to make a point in his Herald restaurant reviews about whether a restaurant’s facilities were on the first floor or in the basement and after traipsing up and down the wobbly stairway like a bloody yo-yo, frankly I was over this joint way right when the starter was being cleared.

As well as eating a fairly average four-course meal and watching her puff away on a fag as she took a break between cooking, not surprisingly I left disappointed. Perhaps mademoiselle should have thought of these things before mademoiselle started charging people 150 pesos for the experience, shouldn’t mademoiselle?

Another shattered dream was dressed up as an alternative barbecue, southern style. Lured in by the thought of a sunny Sunday afternoon asado with a spicy twist, Mr. Links and I turned up to the dirtiest terrace I’ve ever been to, littered with fag butts, very much lacking in seating, and with a lot of kerfuffle about how to get the fire started. A frat boy party for the extremely hungover. I should have seen it coming. And although I couldn’t see any ash on my ribs, I’m confident it was there, perhaps even enhancing the pork. Again, perhaps the brains behind the outfit should have thought of these things before charging 80 pesos for the “experience”.

So just when it seems that everyone and their dog is setting up shop as a closed-door enterprise, along comes a big gun to sort the men from the boys. One Table is led by Hernán Gipponi, chef of the eponymous restaurant at the Fierro Hotel in Palermo. More usually known for his nine-course tasting menus, Gipponi’s latest gastro plan unfurled last Monday with the first of his now weekly dinners. An affable chef who generally leaves the kitchen for a quick chat with diners, One Table means he is now cooking, serving and hosting, all in one go. No mean feat for someone who is surely used to barking orders at a sous chef and cooks.

The spotty skinned tiger shovelnose catfish.
The spotty skinned tiger shovelnose catfish.
A more casual affair than a regular sit-down dinner, the 16 guests including TV chef Narda Lepes (who swears like the proverbial trooper in English, I assure you) – what a fabulous opportunity to mingle over a Ginger Smash cocktail not only with Gipponi, whose celebrity status is slowly on the make, but one of Argentina’s foremost chefs, whose name is emblazoned across herbs and chutneys!

Be warned: Narda might not always be there. Also, go with a really empty stomach. Besides the welcome drink and oven-roasted potato wedges served with a spicy salsa, there are four of the most substantial tapas to work your way through. Think it ends there? Leave all the space you can for the following five – that’s a whole hand of fingers – courses.

Although the table is enormous, therefore less intimate than at other supper clubs, diners can still chat comfortably to their neighbours, though perhaps an ear trumpet might help for conversations between end points.

As his hand-written menu says: “One of the reasons I became a chef is because of the pleasure of cooking for my friends, and one of the things I learnt working in the kitchen is that the best is always in the pot.”

And with Gipponi serving prawn-filled soupy rice from a vast iron pot, or slicing up a tiger shovelnose catfish (surubí) complete with spotted skin, caught in rivers in northern Argentina, the vibe is family style, among friends old and new.

The grilled beef heart, perfectly seared, was for divvying up. The salad steps, an almost cured magret de canard with crunchy chickpeas and burrata, which needs no introduction, were also for sharing. As Andrés Rosberg, executive sommelier of the restaurant and president of the Argentine Sommelier Association who selected the evening’s wine and was also going back to basics by serving it up, said: “What’s better than duck?” Nothing, I replied. Perhaps, apart from the tender rack of lamb that closed the savoury offerings.

There were two firsts for me, heart-shaped and catfish-shaped, and it should be noted that every last details, including the butter, is made in house.

With the menu changing up on a weekly basis, diners can expect the suburí to make a welcome return tomorrow, while in tribute to yesterday’s May Revolution Day, Gipponi will be getting in a stew with an emblematic locro, but “made my way.”

One Table at Hernán Gipponi Restaurant
Mondays, 9pm
Soler 5862, Palermo Hollywood, Tel: 3220-6820
380 pesos with wine pairing

Published in the Buenos Aires Herald on May 26, 2013

Ph: Jocelyn Mandryk

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