Do the waiters at Gaucho go to Gaucho school? I ask this because when we visited the Argentinian-beef themed restaurant at the weekend, we were left almost gobsmacked by the quality of service we encountered.
From the moment you walk into swanky foyer you are made to look and feel like you belong there. Sure, the staff are immaculate - dare I say, even, statuesque - with not even a single hair out of place but they remain demure and offer smiles which are broad and genuine as you are shown to your table in what has to be one of the most interesting eating venues in Leeds.
Gaucho can be found on Park Row, opposite South Parade and a stone’s throw from The Headrow and, like the Beerkeller which is directly opposite, it is situated below street level, which lends it a dark exuberance - indeed, with the sun still blazing away as we pitched up around 6.30pm, it felt like stepping into another world.
Everything in Gaucho has been considered, from the cow-hide seats and walls to the air-con, which is set just right (and not too cold), despite the kitchen being only feet away.
But perhaps what sets Gaucho apart from so many other steak houses is the way it delivers up its meat, because you do not come here merely to pore over a menu and then wait for it to arrive. Oh no, here, there’s theatre involved, because your waiter will arrive at your table with a great wooden platter upon which will be displayed all the different cuts of raw meat. As if that wasn’t enough, they will then proceed to tell you what each one is, where it comes from on the cow, how much fat it has in it and how that affects the flavours once cooked. If you like you meat, you’ll love this theatrical appetiser - indeed, some of the steaks look good enough to eat right off the board.
Even the menus at Gaucho are a little bit special and come in neat little A5 booklets with a metal cover. Even before we dived into the menu, a selection of breads and oil was brought to our table, the warm cheese bread balls being simply delicious with the chimichurri oil and vinegar herb dip which came with them. It was a little later on in the evening, actually, as a different waiter brought our wine to the table, that we commented on how nice the oil was - not only did he reel off the recipe and how to make it right there and then but within a few moments had returned to our table with two printed recipes. Outstanding.
So, to the food, which, at the end of the day, is why we were there.
Well, Gaucho may be a cut above in terms of atmosphere and service but that is also reflected in some of the prices. You can pay over £50 for a steak here. The Chateaubriand comes in at £55 and if you fancy trying a little bit of everything (1.2kg of meat in total) and if you are feeling flush, then you can splash out on the £99 sampler.
To begin, I ordered the sea trout creviche, at £7.50 the cheapest thing on the starter menu (with some of the other options pushing £20 - the sausage platter or pan fried scallops being just two of the more expensive dishes). The dish was cold and fresh with a nice little chilli kick running through it but overall I found it a touch watery with the flavour of the fish losing out to the spice and seasoning.
My dining partner went for the empandas (one beef and egg, one cheese and onion), which are £4.95 each and proved to be a very nice starter, the pastry just the right thickness, not too greasy and the insides warm and full of flavour with a good dash of seasoning coming through.
And so to the main event, the steak.
After being guided around the various cuts of meat by Ben, I felt almost compelled to go for the Tira de Ancho, a ‘spiral cut’ slow grilled 500g cut served with chimichurri and cooked to your liking. The spiral cut means they open out the meat so that when it arrives on your plate - in this case a wooden platter - it is effectively one long strip.
A point to note here: if you order a steak at most restaurants they will usually swap the your ordinary knife for a steak knife. Not here. There’s no need, because the steak is so tender it, even an ordinary knife just slides right through it.
When my steak arrived, my first thought was ‘that’s a lot of steak’ but do you know what, it was just one of those dishes you can’t stop eating. It was so nice, I almost didn’t want to let it leave my mouth. The only slight downside was the price, which, at £36, it’s not the kind of dish you can just order willy-nilly. That said, there are cheaper cuts (and I’m sure just as nice) - you can get a bife de caudril for £15.50, for example.
My partner deviated from the steak theme and went for the rack of lamb (£24.25), which, again was cooked to perfection with a little bit of pink running through it, the flavours just dancing off the plate.
For dessert, we were stuck for choice and being we’d already spent a fair bit on the main meal, we didn’t fancy splashing out almost £10 on a passionfruit cheesecake, so we ordered the dessert sampler (£14.95), which comprised profiteroles, passion fruit cheesecake and chocolate and raspberry alfajores, a kind of soft-centred cookie. The cheesecake was, unfortunately, deconstructed (if you are going to make a cheesecake, make a cheesecake and don’t just sprinkle some biscuit crumbs on a plate and put a lump of cream next to it) and all in all desserts were nothing special.
Together with a bottle of wine (house white at £26.50) and drinks during the meal, the bill rolled in at £111.60, a not inconsiderable amount.
That said, the lunch menu offers two courses from £23 and three from £26.
Gaucho is a real asset to Leeds, its menu is thoughtful, its manners impeccable, the food - most especially the meat - is verging on sublime. It’s a stand-out restaurant where the service is as good as the food, if not better.
Address: 21-22 Park Row, Leeds LS1 5JF
Tel: 0113 246 1777
Opening times: noon-midnight seven days a week