It would be fair to say England hasn’t always had a love affair with all things Argentinian
First there was the invasion of the Falklands, the last outpost of the British Empire.
Then Maradona’s infamous ‘Hand of God’ which broke not only the rules, but millions of hearts.
Thankfully, though, there was always music and dancing.
But more importantly, there was steak.
And no one does beef better than the Argentinians.
Which is why committed carnivores make tracks to this little slice of Argentina in The Calls.
The River Plate – named either after the Río de la Plata estuary or the Buenos Aires football club, or, more probably, both – sits appropriately overlooking the River Aire.
Crafted from an old redbrick mill, the River Plate welcomes you with its double-height glass door and French-style windows which let in a surprising amount of light to what must once have been a gloomy building.
Once inside it’s straight up the stairs to the first floor which makes the most of the riverside views.
The restaurant itself is light and airy and resembles, in parts, a sort of upmarket canteen.
There is a small bar area and an open stainless steel kitchen. The tables are stripped-down pine and the chairs are a wicker/iron combination.
There’s also some South American art on the walls and a smattering of River Plate football club memorabilia.
On the Friday evening we arrived, we were greeted just at the top of the stairs. We were led to a window table and quickly furnished with menus, albeit rather tatty ones, held together in places with sticky tape.
No matter, the food at least looks delicious.
The cuisine on offer, is, as you might expect, very much of the traditional grill variety, with a few spicy notes of chilli thrown in.
Starters include Argentine empanadas which look a bit like Cornish pasties but are filled with a combination of beef, olives and egg, cheese ham and onion or chicken and chorizo. They come in at £5.95 for 3 or £10 for 6.
There’s also alas de pollo al chimichurri (chicken wings marinated in herbs, paprika and garlic) at £5.95 and chorizo criollo (imported Argentine sausage seasoned with paprika), also at £5.95.
I opted, however, for the costillas del cerdo – a half-rack of pork ribs with a barbecue glaze, at £.6.95, while my partner chose the camerones con salsa de ajo – prawns in cream, garlic, white wine and chilli, also at £6.95.
My ribs came simply served, with a small pot of the barbecue glaze and without the ubiquitous salad garnish. While it made the plate look rather bare, it was actually a rather refreshing approach. Who really wants a few lettuce leaves when there is a half rack of ribs to tuck into?
And very nice ribs they were too – meaty yet surprisingly lean. They were charred on the outside but juicy and melt-in-the-mouth on the inside.
The barbeuce sauce was nice, albeit a bit thin and hard to make stick to the ribs.
My partner’s prawns – four large ones – came in a boat of creamy sauce.
They were plump and well-cooked and the sauce had just the right amount of chilli bite.
They came served with a side of soft tomato bread which was really neither here nor there, but did at least help to soak up the last of the tasty sauce.
Main choices included seabass, mejilones (mussels), swordfish, a traditional Argentine beef and potato pie, lamb chops, pork chops and the rather curious-sounding carne trezada, or ‘braided beef’. The menu describes it as a ‘dazzling’ dish of rump beef that is braided by hand with anchiovies, olives and black pepper.
It does sound interesting, but it was the steaks we came for and the steaks we would have.
As you would expect, there is every cut imaginable – in a variety of sizes to suit every appetite.
Prices range from £15.95 for a 8oz sirlon or ribeye to a whopping £35.95 for a 1kg rump or a 700g T-bone.
However, as we were to discover, even if you select one of the more modest steaks, the bill can still quickly accumulate.
The steaks come without any sort of side dish or garnish so adding your own extras like mushrooms and chips, and even sauce, soon mounts up.
I went for a 300g fillet (£22.95), cooked medium, which could only be described as sublime.
It was charred on the outside but beautifully soft in the centre. The accompanying peppercorn sauce (£1.50) added the perfect touch of creamy heat.
It was a pretty large steak but it was so good I could happily have polished it off again ... and again.
The side salad of rocket and parmesan was OK but became rather overlooked.
In total, with just one side dish and sauce, my main dish alone came to a not inconsiderable £28.15.
My partner’s 300g ribeye was also to die for. Cooked perfectly, again it was charred on the outside but melting in the middle.
He opted to accompany it with a dose of £1.50 barbecue sauce (which as it turned out to be the same thin offering from the pork ribs went pretty much untouched). He also plumped for a portion of mushrooms and homemade fries.
The chips (£2.30) were great – still in their skins – and tasted like they had been cooked twice. Greasy, crispy and fluffy at the same time, they were simply sensational.
The mushrooms were ok but nothing to write home about and I’m not sure whether they were worth the extra £3 we shelled out on them.
All in all we were really pleased with the quality of the food. Especially the steaks.
But I have to admit being surprised at the final bill.
We’d been too full for desserts so had only ended up having two courses each.
We’d also shared a bottle of chardonnay at £20.95 and a bottle of sparkling water.
But the eventual bill came to a sizeable £92.75.
Which, thinking about it shouldn’t have come as a shock what with having to pay separately for those side dishes – and sauce.
That did not include service, which with the requisite 10 per cent pushed the bill over £100.
In our book, it also planted River Plate firmly in the ‘special occasion’ category.
At those prices, it’s not somewhere most of us could afford to go often.
Which is a shame, because those steaks really are good.
And still the best thing to come out of Argentina.
River Plate, 36-38 The Calls, Leeds, LS2 7EW.
Opening hours: Mon - Sat 12noon to 11pm
Tel. 0113 391 2792
***** EXCELLENT **** VERY GOOD *** GOOD ** AVERAGE * POOR