WHEN meat maestros Gaucho invited me to join one of their Chef Masterclasses there was one tiny problem…the last time meat passed my lips Margaret Thatcher was in power and ra-ra skirts were actually fashionable.
But Gaucho - with its emphasis on all things Argentinian - has spent the last year building a quiet reputation as a place to enjoy decent meat, so it was time for me to call in reinforcements…my mate Kate who is a committed carnivore.
The first thing that strikes you when you enter Gaucho’s discreet basement premises is just how dark it is; and then you notice the real cow hide that cover the seats. No shame here in celebrating good quality red meat from the Pampas.
Some masterclasses can be a rip off, but this was a relaxed affair as our experts guided us through the menu without patronising a table full of food lovers.
Our host for one of their regular monthly beef masterclasses was head chef Woody, and he was aware he had his work cut out as our fellow diners Alex and Lauren had just returned from a long break in Argentina eating local beef and supping wines around the country. So could Gaucho match up to their experiences in South America?
Mmmm....We kicked off with some bread including Pandebono - a cheese filled bread from Columbia, but it was worth starting at the other the continent as it was a really unusual mix of flavours complete with a fierce dip.
One of the key ingredients of the masterclass is the affable Woody explaining where the meat comes from on the cow, how it arrived in Leeds and how it is being cooked.
Our starter was Carpaccio cuadril of beef which Woody explained came from the rump of the cow and arrived in Yorkshire wet-sealed, which makes it less tough than other imported beef. The meat had been marinated for 12 hours before being lightly pan fried and served virtually raw.
There were some concerns around the table, especially from Lauren’s dad Graham, but thankfully when it arrived it was a hit. Kate described it as hitting the back of her throat and melting on the tongue, with no qualms that the thinly sliced meat was - as advertised - nearly raw. The other five diners were similarly impressed with the light texture of the meat, including our A Factor judges Alex and Lauren.
Another key aspect of this event was the wine and sommelier Loren was on hand to give us his tips on suitable tipples for each course. Gaucho’s wine list is exclusively Argentinian but as our expert pointed out, with 350 days of sunshine it is a country ideal for grapes, most of which have been imported from Europe.
More booze? Ok then.The other unique factor in a booming industry is that Argentina has the highest vineyards in the world, up in the Andes, which impacts on the sugar levels in the grapes.
His choice for the starter was a brave one - a Seleccion G Malbec Rose (2010) grown at a mid-range 1200 metres. He went for a Malbec as that is Argentina’s signature grape but murmurs from around the table indicated it might be too light for the starter. Not so, as it was a great choice with the light flavours really complimenting the raw meat.
On to the main course and Woody was back using Loren as a human guinea pig to show us where the 300g Bife de Chorizo came from. It should be noted that this Chorizo wasn’t a sausage but is actually a sirloin. Some punters at Gaucho order a kilo of this cut, which seems a bit greedy. Our table was on a third of that.
Woody recommended having it medium rare, which for Graham was a real risk as he doesn’t like ‘meat floating in a pool of blood.’ Everyone else went with the recommendation as Loren offered us a Seleccion G Malbec (2010) grown a bit further down at 990m. Graham liked it, saying it had a ’good nose’ and the more robust white was ’surprisingly light and easy to drink’ according to Kate.
MeatThe sirloin landed round the table and we waited with trepidation for Graham’s verdict. It passed muster with our sceptic who said it was just right with only a trickle of blood, which Woody pointed was the mark of quality steak. Kate shared his delight describing her huge piece of prime Argentinean sirloin steak as ‘absolutely amazing’. The A Factor team also gave it their seal of approval as being as good as authentic Pampas cooking.
The steaks were served with humitas, a tasty mess of sweet corn, onion and spices blended together served in open corn leaf. This ancient Argentinean side was the perfect foil to the strong taste and textures of the steak.
The final course was Dulice de leache and chocolate Fondue. The mix of caramel and sweet milk was as about as sweet as any dessert can get without being cloying, but once again was a hit with our panel. Loren came up trumps with a classic dessert wine, Parral De Los Ma which really cleaned the palate between the steak and the incredibly rich Fondue which resulted in empty plates all round.
Some masterclasses can be a rip off, but this was a relaxed affair as our two experts guided us through the menu without patronising a table full of food lovers. But being given a firm thumbs up from our A Factor judges shows Gaucho is certainly getting something right in offering hard pressed carnivores a place they can indulge their passion in peace.
Gaucho is at 21-22 Park Row, Leeds LS1 5JF (0113 246 1777) and detials of their masterclasses can be found at
As this was an invitation event Confidential will be back with a full paid for food review later in the year.