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Gaucho review

Neil Sowerby welcomes the arrival of an Argentine meat fest in Park Row

Written by . Published on April 21st 2010.

Gaucho review

Gaucho, the Argentine steak chain founded by Israeli-born Zeev Godik, is unshackling itself again from its London heartland after the success of its Manchester branch.

That’s set in a spectacular former chapel building. In a recent refurb the redundant organ pipes became a stand-out feature of the soaring dining space, along with copious amounts of black and white cow fur and a bar area as dark as the heart of a desperado.

Wine to accompany? We struck liquid gold. For pinot noir Patagonia is the new frontier. You read it here first.

The Park Row restaurant can’t do pipes or breathtaking, but offers the full Desperate Dan fetish quota of banquette fur and, boy, it does dark. Imagine a coalmine with the only light the glimmer in a distant pit pony’s eye.

I exaggerate. Chandeliers and lots of mirrors mitigate the primarily black decor and there’s plenty of room between tables to calm the claustrophobe. And it is a great romantic fumbling spot for couples engorged by too much red meat.

We stumbled out of a soft Leeds monsoon into the discreet (i.e. easy to miss) entrance but the weather was soon forgiven as we embraced the fur (a technical term) over a glass of Terruno Torrontes. This is one of a number of house wines co-produced with Argentine wineries to showcase varietal styles. In future they will be known as ‘Seleccion G’ after a name clash with a big South American wine operation.

This Torrontes, at £4.65 a glass, is the cheapest wine on an exclusively Argentine list that can soar in price and quality. Intensely floral on the nose, grapefruit to the fore and spicy, subdued gewurztraminer on the palate, it knocks spots off all those flaccid pinot grigios foisted upon us.

Sommelier Jake Crimmin, up from the Smoke to spread the word about Gaucho’s stupendous wine list (also available at retail prices from Cava de Gauchos), provided us with a couple more Torrontes examples of this indigenous white grape plus a Zuccardi Malbec rose, each designed to partner one of our starter trio of ceviches/traditos.

Ceviches (pronounce say-veech-hey) are Peruvian/Ecuadorian in origin and are shellfish or fish cured (i.e. effectively ‘cooked') in citrus juices with other wine-challenging flavourings such as chilli, ginger and coriander. Tradito’s a variation as far as I can see. Our tuna tradito was particularly toothsome with lots of soy and citrus and rough-mashed avocado.

The Ecuadorian prawn ceviche was a bruiser, roasted tomato and lime sauce conquered finally by rose. A bit smudgy.

I preferred the squid ceviche, a heavenly fresh melange of baby squid, shallots, jalapeno, ginger, mint and guacamole, perfectly partnered by the lighter of the two Torrontes, Don David 2008.

The ceviches are all just under the £10 mark. Not cheap. Gaucho on the whole is not cheap. The tuna tradito is £12.50. Our three-dish sampler cost £18.75.

In ordering the mains we went the same route. It had to be meat and the £75 Gaucho Bife sampler gave us four 300g chunks of cuadril (rump), chorizo (sirlon), lomo (fillet) and ancho (rib eye).

These prime cuts can be ordered in different weights ranging from 225g to 400g (£13 to £36.50) with a choice of sauces (the mushroom in lamb jus was particularly fine) or in spiral cut form marinated for up to 48 hours in lots of garlic, oil and parsley.

The staff are exceptionally well-briefed, not just in wine recommendation but in explaining the provenance of the Argentine-raised Aberdeen Angus beef.

It can be disconcerting when your server appears out of the darkness with a wooden platter bearing the meat choices in their raw state. We’d been there before but didn’t interrupt the informative spiel on what degree of rareness to have each individual cut. Just to shortcut the process, medium or over is best for the fattier cuts such as sirloin and the well-marbled rib eye.

Somewhere on the menu there is a vegetarian choice such as spaghetti and alternatives to steaks include braised rabbit, spatchcocked chicken and Argentinian (no surprise) lamb chops.

In truth, even with just a few chips and salad as sides, we were overfaced by 1200g of prime steak between two. Fortunately, Gaucho provides one of the cutest doggie bags ever. It’s actually a sturdy box featuring a picture of two boys playing table footie outside a corrugated hut cafe.

The rump tasted much better the next day cold. Both it and the fillet I found a mite bland and flabby in texture.

The sirloin was chewy but well-flavoured, while the rib-eye was simply terrific. I’ve had some truly awful fatty, stringy examples in recent times, notably at the Hotel du Vin in Brighton, but this was the perfect example of how a marbling of fat gives true flavour to (well-hung) beef.

Wine to accompany? We struck liquid gold. For pinot noir Patagonia is the new frontier. You read it here first. The wild southern region closer to Antarctica than Buenos Aires is on the same latitude as New Zealand’s Central Otago, acclaimed for its pinots.

As it opened out in the bottle (which cost in the restaurant £59.85, ouch) our Chacra Barda Pinot Noir 2008 from the Rio Negre revealed its sumptuous, almost Burgundian charms. It’s the Patagonian project of the Italian who created the Super Tuscan red Sassicaia.

We also sipped a glass of Argentina’s flagship red, a malbec from Gaucho’s own vineyard named after creative director Patricia Godik (£9.65 a glass but worth it).

Puddings range from coconut pannacotta to a strange offering called Don Pedro, pairing ice cream with whisky and walnuts. We were too full to indulge but in the interests of research downed a Torrontes late harvest sweetie. No botrytis or noble root in dry, dry Argentina but this still displayed pure honeyed flavours.

Service was splendid and Gaucho preens itself on a code of best practice on tips, which I admire. In fact, I admire so much about the place I may even be back soon to host a wedding anniversary in their swish 14-seater private dining.

It’s my own preference but I just wish it was a bit brighter and the cowhide didn’t tickle quite as much. Still, definitely one for the decadent romantic in you or the inner gaucho... if not the committed veggie.

The Manchester outlet won that city’s restaurant of the year title. It seems destined for honours in Leeds, too.

Rating: 16/20
Breakdown: 8/10 food
4/5 service
4/5 ambience
Address: Gaucho
21-22 Park Row
0113 246 1777

Venues are rated against the best examples of their kind: fine dining against the best fine dining, cafes against the best cafes. Following on from this the scores represent: 1-5 saw your leg off and eat it, 6-9 get a DVD, 10-11 if you must, 12-13 if you’re passing,14-15 worth a trip,16-17 very good, 17-18 exceptional, 19 pure quality, 20 perfect. More than 20: Gordo gets carried away

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