(Palermo) Hollywood’s latest blockbusters

Nowhere in Buenos Aires sees such a fast turnround of eateries as Palermo does, and Hollywood is very much the trend’s leading lady. The past couple of months has seen another new round of soon-to-be familiar faces pop up out of nowhere but given their USPs, it looks like they are here to stay. Introducing Hollywood’s latest blockbusters, perfect for brunchaholics, sandwich junkies and caffeine addicts.

Just a few weeks ago, I was being mocked by friends in London’s trendy Shoreditch for getting the name of the latest cup of cool caffeine wrong. So white flat sounds like an acceptable kind of coffee in my book…

LAB looks just like a, errr lab.
LAB looks just like a, errr lab.

Homesick Aussies who are picky about their beans will thrill that the flat white (32 pesos) has landed in Palermo courtesy of LAB. Part café, part coffee roasting laboratory, the LAB team also offers courses for wannabe baristas who want to get their foam just so. And, given their pride in doing things right, LAB sells beans sourced from Guanes Genuino in Colombia, Washed Sidamo from Ethiopia and Pedra Azul from Brazil among other places then roasted with high-tech Diedrich toasters.

The LAB look is friendly industrial, with a lengthy wooden bar surrounded by stools made from construction bars and the poured cement floor is finished in resin, so it looks like you could be wading through a milky coffee. The back corner has a couple of comfy armchairs sporting recycled bean bags as well as a small set of bleachers perfect for those downing an espresso.

I'll have a white fl... I mean flat white, por favor.
I’ll have a white fl… I mean flat white, por favor.

The flat white has gained multitude of fans for its creamy texture with what appears to be relatively little milk, and is suited for latte lovers looking to move up the sophistication scale. The key is the addition of “flattened” milk, using a little less foamed cow juice than a latte but giving the impression of a lot less as it has been compressed down, thereby offering greater intensity, less air and more small bubbles then a latte.

LAB’s flat white sported more milk than its London counterpart, but it was smooth and rounded in the mouth. The caffeine injection was subtle, there was enough milk to combat the bitter intensity of espresso that wimps like me can’t handle solo, but it could have been hotter. I prefer my cup to cool off under my own terms. Order at the bar, staff will bring your pressed bean juice to you. The place for a coffee fix in 2015.
LAB, Humboldt 1542

I’ve been peering into the window of Il Posto Mercato from aboard the 108 since mid-November, anxious to see what they’re getting up to inside. And the answer is a swanky gourmet deli totally in keeping with the trendy ‘hood.

Legs of ham as a decisive part of the décor get my vote.
Legs of ham as a decisive part of the décor get my vote.

While tradition (and the 80s) shall forever remain close to the Argentine heart, we’re on the long road to the 21st century, restaurant wise, with increasing numbers of hip places thinking long and hard about their design and concept as well as a menu to land straight in 2015. Take Aramburu Bis, La Carnicería, NOLA, Ninina, the aforementioned LAB… these are all brands that have considered every last detail.

And Il Posto Mercato is no exception. Run by Venezuelans, service is genuinely friendly, not nauseating or fake, and the space is ace — anywhere that uses vast pork legs as legitimate decoration and cute chalk decoration gets my vote. While prices aren’t displayed on the herbs, spices, biscuits, Thai sweet chilli crisps and other goodies (only the wine is priced up) which is a bit annoying, the staff are happy to help.

I picked up a three-man picada for 200 pesos, which might seem pricey but it was freshly prepped and sliced and included various cheese such as blue, Dambo, Parmesan and Brie, and charcuterie such as pork loin, Serrano style ham that was so finely cut it was practically transparent, leberwurst and Milan-style salami. That little lot went down well later that evening with a juicy Clos du Prieur 2009, a Syrah/Grenache blend, from Languedoc.

But besides browsing this fresh-looking grocery store, one great selling point is its sandwich selection. For 60 pesos or less, you can eat in at this hip urban joint, kicking back with a super sarnie. Flank, chimichurri and fresh tomato is a snip at 50 pesos, while cured pork backed up by gruyere for 60 pesos puts the “which” into sandwich, making decision-making more tricky. Also ask about the gluten-free range of baked goods. The must “sangucheria” and deli for 2015.
ll Posto Mercato, Soler 5502

After quite the hiatus (given that the man behind the weekend foodie shenanigans, Hernán Gipponi, is no longer in charge of the kitchen), brunch is back at the Fierro — every day of the week.

With a complete overhaul from the kitchen to the look, the style and the concept, HG restaurant is now a distant memory, morphing into Uco, and is in the able hands of Irish chef Ed Holloway, who Bariloche food fans will know from his intimate eatery Butterfly.

At the heart of Uco.
At the heart of Uco.
Spreading his wings to take on a renowned hotel restaurant is no small feat but menu matters have been simplified which makes Ed’s job easier. Gone is the emphasis on the fancy midday tasting menu – though one brunch option is six dishes for sharing, tapas style – and more solid proposals are on offer, certainly at lunchtime, including that every-day brunch that naturally comes with an Irish twist.

Walking into Uco is rather like walking into a barrel, with slatted wooden walls and tables, and the window where you could once peek into the kitchen has sadly been blacked out. The lush garden has also been given the barrel treatment, with decking now extended out where the lawn once was. Lovely photos of Mendoza adorn the barrel walls, featuring bunches of grapes and a man on horseback among others, as does a collection of wooden chopping boards.

The table to book is the booth, backed up by a delicious Chesterfield-style sofa which offers more intimacy plus a view up Uco should your company prove dull. The rest of the layout is a little sparse, and one might feel a little awkward dumped in the middle – another booth in the opposite corner might have mellowed matters out. In addition, there’s been an oversight, at least with regard to the slatted table I was at, which spoils the effect: crumbs fall into the cracks where the wood isn’t properly joined or hasn’t been finished.

On to the main attraction and brunch is still well priced at 260 pesos a person and includes a glass of fizz. And in a nicely subtle way this is still a tasting menu but with more emphasis on sharing. Round one kicks off with the old favourite of a healthy fruit juice shot though it didn’t turn up; the fresh OJ and coffee did however.

Organic homemade yogurt with caramelized apples and granola formed part two and was really quite delicious, plus I’m sold at the magic words organic and homemade. Tasty, fruity, healthy, all elements to help combat the imminent fry-up. Plus the doll-size patisserie needs a mention, giving a nod to French and English classics — pain au chocolat and scones — but in teeny tiny bitesize portions. Cream and homemade strawberry jam atop that mini scone was another win.

And why should brunch be limited to weekends only?
And why should brunch be limited to weekends only?

Back to the fry-up and in fact there’s a choice of main: Irish breakfast or smoked trout on a soft-boiled egg. Clearly I went big and chose this despite it only being Tuesday, but I was ready to tackle a perfectly spherical fried egg, Ed’s secret sausage made by Piaf the butcher, black pud, bacon, baked beans and grilled tomato.

The sausage was like a classic English banger, though perhaps it had been sitting on the warmer a while as it was a touch dry. But the flavours and spices were legit, the size, the crunch of the skin next to the soft meat. A decent sausage.

Fortunately, given it was, still, only Tuesday, the morcilla wasn’t a whole one to myself but a small piece, as soft and as juicy as you like. Not too rustic or chunky but good flavour and not overly spiced, this could be the blood sausage to convert the haters.

Beans. The ones of the baked variety are the stuff of my childhood nightmares and I haven’t eaten them for 20 years. But in the name of research I gave Ed’s a shot. With a mixture of ketchup and tomatoes as the sauce, the beans’ texture was firm, dispelling the soggy myth of my youth.

You won’t be let down by the trout. Cured in salt and sugar then smoked in house with quebracho wood, this eggy fishy mess was a winning dish, its goo perfect for mopping up with potato bread, a nod to the chef’s heritage.

And I haven’t even got to the dessert of the week, in our case a delectable apple pie on a puff pastry base, so beautiful it didn’t deserve being carved into, Ripper style.

An excellent feed in a revamped space, bar a few small details. The new generation of Fierro staff is very helpful, and my fellow sommelier student Marco Castellacci is leading service matters. And the fact that everyone’s favourite meal is now available every day of the week is a stroke of genius.
Uco, Soler 5862

Buenos Aires Herald, January 18, 2015
Last week’s Wining On: Emiliano Schobert goes for Bocuse gold later this month.

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