With the brunch culture now firmly embedded in the porteño psyche, even if the timing has been delayed by a few hours to compensate for the late night jollity (think a 2.30 start rather than midday), a profusion of places have sprung up to offer an often confusing variety of options. Varying from the basic but good quality and plentiful (Oui Oui – unfortunately you have to get there ridiculously early by BA standards to avoid the queues) to the molecular gastronomy inspired (HG restaurant in the Fierro Hotel – I can’t vouch for its quality yet because it all seems a bit much of a performance for a Sunday hangover to cope with), to the expat pseudo americano (Magdalena’s Party – acceptable if you like that kind of thing, but sorry, I lost my tolerance for unpleasant toilets somewhere in my teens), we are all out there bruncheando as long as the weather is fine. As you know, no self respecting porteño ventures anywhere if there is the threat of rain. Life as one knows it is “suspendido por lluvia”.
But last Sunday was fine, “un dia peronista”. The sun came out into the fresh blue sky, the temperature ramped up from a chilly 7 degrees to 20 in a couple of hours, my terrace was toasty by 11.00 and the air smelt like Switzerland. A perfect day to brunchear outside.
I was a founder member of Oasis Club, one of the few private members clubs here. And then I wasn’t, as they declined to renew my membership. I was never sure why. It might have been due to political incorrectness, being too opinionated, or not being adequately preppy, yanqui, or socially desirable. However La Doctora had joined shortly before they failed to appreciate my virtuosity in the story telling department and as they had finally decided to start encouraging proper Argentines to be members, they were reluctant to bar her from the premises….after all, she actually went for the interview! Whereas when they suggested this to me I simply asked if they were f**king joking. Their mistake for not insisting. If they wanted young white collar Harvard failures (after all, the successes are on Wall Street rather than lurking in BA) they should have said. I’m an exile, not an expat. I ran away from that life.
However times change. More importantly management changes, and they have actually managed to put together a club with some suitably pleasant members and a decent mix of expats and locals. I go as La Doctora’s guest more frequently than their rules allow but they can hardly ask me to reinstate my membership having summarily dismissed me. I consider myself an honorary member now, one who has witnessed the growing pains of a young enterprise, given a more than decent amount of financial support to their needy barmen, and importantly I’m still around after 5 years, whereas most expats have a short lifespan here.
So La Doctora commented they had a good looking and very reasonably priced brunch menu. And as Sebas, the head barman, has a lot of initiative and could probably fabricate a decent Bloody Mary despite the alleged restrictions on Worcestershire sauce imports, we decided to go. And the fact is that it was very satisfying. All kudos to their (relatively new) Chef. He doesn’t complicate things, they aren’t fancy, he is not a prima dona, but he does know his flavours. Proof that simple does not need to equate to bland.
We walked down in the sun marvelling that, like lizards, the porteños had already slithered out early to appreciate the weather, populating every bright corner long before their normal hour. Patios and terraces “a full” before 2pm. Oasis Club empty. Why? Perhaps because their beautiful garden whose cool is to be appreciated in Summer, gets virtually no sun at this time of year. But as you will see from the above photo, it does have a very pretty autumnal tree.
And it does have a damn good and reasonably priced brunch. For 190 pesos (or 230 for non members), you get 4 courses. A choice of granola and yogurt (too breakfasty for me) or brie and ham, as a little welcome taster. A small soup of the day (pumpkin) with a good homemade bread basket and a cheesy chive dip. Five mains of which I chose a juicy, flavoursome, kind of pastrami sandwich (more a slow marinated then slow cooked tapa de asado with pickle and dijon mustard) in a great homemade focaccia. Then a choice of well made puddings. Plus a real coffee (Illy thank god) and a proper drink (Bloody Mary for me obviously) included in the price.
You need to get yourselves down there. Why? Because if it remains empty they won’t be able to continue offering such value. They will go bust. They will have sad ingredients languishing in the fridge until expiry. Why wouldn’t you support someone offering excellent and incredibly reasonably priced food if you could wait for it with a large cocktail in hand. Lack of sun. OK, you can eat inside. You are not a member? Ring us (I’m sure they would prefer people to poverty, and potential new members at that)! Or come with us. Or if you have other places that offer better value in BA tell us!!!
Did I mention the mains are served with papas rusticas, basically baked skin on spuds, then deep fried. And they offer you a suitably spicy dip. Yes, I’m sure you are convinced now.
As regular readers of my blog will know, I spend a lot of time searching for things in BA, pretty much exclusively foodstuffs of course. Material possession wise I travel light. While some may crave the latest electronic gadget, clothing accessory or automotive experience, I ponder where to get proper bacon (Baines Best), a sausage acceptable at breakfast (Bratwurst Argentina), Norwegian Salmon (Pescaderia Mellino), smoked ribs to have on standby for a lazy feast (El Tejano), Biltong (Biltong in BA) or proper, strong flavoured cheese (I found both a spot-on English cheddar and a rocking, creamy gorgonzola at the food fair in Parque Las Heras on Saturday).
Until Sunday, Dia de La Patria, when any Argentine (including us recent immigrants) can expect the sun to come out and shed a little light into those obscure nooks that have been lacking it, I had not managed to find chocolate or indeed chocolates that ranked any higher than “acceptable”. And I hasten to add, this would not be an “acceptable” in the context of Geneva or Paris but an “acceptable” after 5 years of lowering my expectations and trying the over-sugared, adulterated, artificially flavoured rubbish, that has virtually led to my abandonment of chocolate eating but still admits to the occasional rush of faith on the back of the odd craving.
Hey, I’m not saying you can’t buy pretty chocolates here, you can. There are plenty of artists but they fall into the same trap as most of the molecular gastronomists. Technique over flavour, style over substance. They raise your expectations and then crush you with Cadbury-esque mediocrity. Think Milka with Malba on top.
However, this sunny Day of the Revolution (I prefer to think of it this way as it was the Spanish that took the brunt not the Brits), I had the good luck to be invited to a celebratory Locrofest, 6 hours of eating, wine and music (but 6 hours of eating too – it was not sequential) and an opportunity to raise a goodly amount for charity (feeding underprivileged kids of course). It was organised by the Buena Morfa Social Club. For non-Lunfardo speakers, Morfar means to Eat or Comer here. And you have all heard of the Buena Vista Social Club, who doesn’t love their music?
Anyway, the members of the former are distinctly fatter than the members of the latter, but proud of it and only slightly less likely to break into song. The hardcore founders are more obsessionally foodie than I, and not above putting in several days of hard work (while cleverly extracting prime ingredients and beverages from every supplier they know) in order to provide a feast for the 55 people that congregated (not including the waiting list), knowing their bellies would be full, as would those of the kids we eventually raised 20,000 pesos for (did I mention it was 6 hours of serious eating, there is a reason that their logo included the Argentine flag, crossed forks and the head of a pig). If you need to know something about eating here or acquiring ingredients I suggest that you subscribe to their Facebook page immediately.
So finally we got to the “mesa de dulces”. A table of desserts showing off the talents of the various members of this hard eating group. And to be fair a delicious spread. But much was made of Diego, which was perfectly reasonable as he had organised the space in the building which made the whole event possible, and his handmade chocolates.
I’d just grabbed a coffee to stimulate my cardiovascular system against extreme, food-excess induced fatigue.
“Would you like me to get you some chocolates?” said the delightful young lady beside me. Well it seemed rude not to after the speech thanking him for being one of the major facilitators of the event. But my expectations were not high! Actually I felt a little depressed. Why? Because I wanted to like this guy, admire him, he’d made a phenomenal effort. It made me uncomfortable to think I was going to have another of those “he’s not even the runner up” moments. She came back with a selection, further adding to my anxiety.
Until I tasted the first of course and was then un-remorseful that she might have nabbed more than our fair share. Let them eat cake! Or one of the other 20 delicious desserts. I’ve been living in the chocolate purgatory of the vaguely acceptable.
So Diego Armanini Chocolatier (https://www.facebook.com/diego.chocolatier?fref=ts), for my money the best in BA. Fresh taste, fresh high quality ingredients, no cloying aftertaste. Pretty enough to serve to a honeymoon bride, basic enough to satisfy a foodie. He doesn’t have a shop but you can visit him in Palermo Hollywood. He doesn’t seem to have any competition so maybe you should finance his shop! Or a small factory making this stuff? I don’t know the prices yet, but the odd good chocolate is priceless.
Disclosure: I haven’t been paid or in anyway bribed for this review, but hey, Diego, if your Facebook likes suddenly increase and lots of people with a poor grasp of Castellano but a craving for sophisticated sweetness turn up at your door, well, send me round a choccie or two!
Oh, by the way he’s a nice guy and a genuine enthusiast.
Ok, it’s not winter yet but I have lost all resistance to the cold.14 degrees C might seem surprisingly pleasant in London but I can assure you that after 5 years acclimatising to sunnier climes, 14 degrees here seems to herald the next ice age. I’m chilled to the bone and wondering what to eat. Warming comfort food is a priority.
Luckily brassicas are at their best and most robust at the moment. Time to celebrate that dish so maltreated by English dinner ladies thus despised by English school children and therefore largely ignored by the adult population. Cauliflower Cheese. And what could be simpler? A big cauli, cut into substantially sized florets (cut down the through the centre of the stalks of each floret to even up cooking times), blanch for a couple of minutes (or up to 4 if you really prefer little crunch from your cauli), whip up a bechamel (remember cold milk into hot roux or visa versa will ensure no lumps), lob in a nice sharp cheese (grated), dissolve whisking gently, pour over your drained and dried cauli and into a hot oven for 20 minutes.
BEFORE THE OVEN
Tips. I find roasting brings out the sweetness of cauliflower, so I roast in an steel pan at a very high heat (250 degrees C) for a shorter time. It doesn’t bother me that a few wisps above the sauce line blacken slightly. If you have thrown some raw tomatoes in at that point (halved cherry ones are good) it gives them a nice texture too. Full flavoured cheese is always a problem here but a mature fontina del campo does the trick. Save some lumpy slices to throw on top before roasting or some thick slivers of Parmesan or Reggianito. For something richer soft blue cheese also works. To make it a standalone dinner dish, add some crisped lardons of smoked pancetta before you bake. Finally, the cauliflower will always give up some liquid that waters down the sauce. Adding a cup of creme to the béchamel makes a sauce that will absorb / incorporate this liquid smoothly.
So forget the miseries of your youth and give it a go. A big cauli, a litre of béchamel and quarter kilo of cheese will easily feed four.
Maybe we should start doing comfort food evenings at The 5th Floor? This would certainly warm the cockles of your average Argentine! Or include Bed and Breakfast in the package for the expat crowd who want to escape back to their own culture for a night or two? What do you think?
Seafood in BA is frankly irritating! It’s not as though Argentina suffers from a lack of ocean frontage, a paucity of territorial waters. It’s just that until recently the Argentines only ate fish of religious duty and with somewhat less fervour than they follow the tradition of eating gnocchi on the 29th of the month. Why go to all the effort of pursuing slippery marine creatures when a decent and affordable dinner was happily chewing the cud not so many metres away? Why not just license out the fishing rights to the Japanese or Spanish or some other fish obsessed culture or if you really must catch it yourself be sure to export it rather than burden the local population with the chores of gutting, scaling and filleting.
The popularity of Sushi, despite its unholy pairing of fish and philadelphia (cheese) is beginning to change things, though there is still an incredible lack of quality and variety, think flabby Chilean farmed salmon or sea bass that should have indulged in a bit of physical activity during its short but greedy life. So other than the thrice weekly deliveries to China Town which provide the most acceptable supplies available, where else can one go to find decent product?
Last week we came across the Pescaderia Mellino, a fish shop in front of the venerable Mercado del Progreso in Caballito that seems to offer a very decent alternative. Here is their website http://www.pescaderiamellino.com. They are a pretty inventive business, offering various “packs” of nice fresh produce, the baseline starting at less (one peso less of course) than 500 pesos for 7 whole kilos of fishy delights. They call this the family pack but I can’t help thinking you will need a pretty big family to get through this lot in short order, so some of the benefits of its freshness will be diluted by the fact that you will have to freeze half of it. However, at around 4 of my Great British Pounds per kilo, delivered to your door anywhere in Capital and given the fact that they sell Norwegian salmon which has got to be better than the Chilean rubbish, it had to be worth giving a go. Not convinced? Well for those of you who are prepared to drag yourselves to Caballito on a Saturday morning there is another treat in store. Because on Saturday they apparently whiz the order that you placed during the week, up from Mar del Plata early in the morning and sell it to you at knock down prices. And as you will then get the opportunity to wander round the excellent Mercado del Progreso first and stock up on other hard to find produce, it has to be worth the effort.
Last Saturday, we went to see. I don’t know why it is so hard to find decent prawns here but it is. Fresh or frozen, they don’t seem to be very robust little creatures. They don’t seem to have much flavour either. So we booked Mellino’s special offer, 2 kilos of decent sized fresh ones for a mere 150 pesos. And they looked good, smelt good, we were hungry, so we rushed home to try them out. Recipe time?
Well, however good they were I knew they weren’t going to be some big robust indian ocean affair with superior musculature that could survive any serious cooking. Recipes that work here are those that heat them until they firm and colour, without any serious calorific challenge. Also, and I have no idea why this is, prawns here definitely need to be cleaned. Don’t even think about cooking them in their shells. And don’t go to a restaurant that does. These chaps have some serious intestines to deal with.
What could be easier than Gambas al Ajillo? Good olive oil, large but fine slices of garlic and chili, warm to infuse, heat up a little (halfway between poaching and frying temperature), in with the prawns and the moment they firm up and show the right colour tip the lot into a cold dish and serve with warm slices of baguette to soak up the sauce. Yes, that’s right, a cold dish. Don’t go with the lovely traditional spanish clay dishes that you cook in and then they retain the heat and keep cooking your prawns, unless you want Argentine prawn mush.
In the evening we had a couple of friends over for an impromptu dinner, and we still had plenty of prawns. Another simple and very tasty dish, which makes a great starter. Finely cube a few inches of a fairly fatty spanish style chorizo and fry until your pan is quite oily. Turn the heat up, bung in halved cherry tomatoes, then a few minutes later, turn the heat down, garlic and chili as above, a bit of white wine and then the prawns and some fine (and obviously recently cooked) pasta. A few fresh herbs and pepper and the flavours are remarkably sophisticated for such little effort.
And of course, having cleaned them, you still have the heads and shells. Fry them up with garlic and fennel and a tomato or two, cover them in some water and bubble for half an hour and you have a tasty stock (and from 2 kilos of prawns quite a lot of it), the perfect base for an asian soup or a French sauce. I used it in this Thai fish coconut noodle soup.
So the prawns, quality wise? Pretty good actually. Sweet flesh, good texture, I’d go back.
And reasonably priced fish, delivered to your door in BA. Without cream cheese? You know it makes sense!
A useful resource for our guests. Coffee toting immigrants are radically improving the quality of our favourite pick me up and educating the locals about its delights!
For a city with such a vibrant café-going culture, overall Buenos Aires certainly does serve quite a shitty cup of coffee. Burnt beans, sugar roasted, poor quality, all probably made in a machine that hasn’t been cleaned since 1998, coffee
snobs aficionados that long for a cup of the good stuff may no longer have to drown in watered down and milked out poor tasting coffee. We can now join Argentina’s cafetero revolution and stick a caffeine IV in our arms to check out some of the best spots to drink coffee in Buenos Aires.
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Should I even write about this? I mean what could be duller than a chicken breast. You know, those dry, chalky slices that leave you begging for more Cesar dressing when they turn up in your salad. Or the dehydrated lump in your curry that leads you to believe you are not the chef’s favourite person. But it’s leaner aka healthier, all chickens have them so it would be rude to throw them away, and while they will never live up to the succulence of the leg meat that can withstand lengthy cooking in a rich sauce without giving you that “eating cardboard” sensation, you have to do something with them. And as we all know they have less fat (aka less flavour) so my more health conscious brethren will continue to demand them…like a kind of penance!
Of course, any chef worth his salt will know that his entire clientele will instantly die if he doesn’t cook his chicken till the juices run clear. A hint of pink, say bye bye to your glorious career. What they don’t realise is that the juices can run clear (clients live to fight another day) while the breast meat can still retain a hint of pink. Chicken isn’t that dangerous. Let’s face it, even if you choose the worst quality chicken, it has probably taken more antibiotics over the course of its very short life than you will in your entire existence. Factory farmed chicken may have cured you of many diseases that you didn’t know you had.
While cooking the whole bird (preferably one that has lived a gloriously privileged free range life eating the finest comestibles), there are all sorts of strategies that can be applied to prevent “Sahara breast effect”. Basting, buttering, tenting with foil, or even hacking the bloody thing in half and starting the breast part later. But if you give me a pair of fillets, off the bone, what do I do? Well the only reliable advice is brining, but frankly that takes a lot of forethought, I’m not sure it’s worth the effort.
Then I came across a recipe (with its appropriate condiments) for Thai Chicken Rice. And she uses the breast (though this is not obligatory). And it provides the basic principle for cooking the perfect chicken breast. Basically get your preferred liquid up to maximum heat (I used my rich chicken stock), submerge breasts, boil for 4 minutes, slap on a tightly fitting pot lid, turn off the heat and WALK AWAY! FOR 50 MINUTES. As cooking people do, she recommends various other steps, rubbing the thing in salt, cooking on the bone, shocking it afterwards in freezing water. Well you can play with these things afterwards but as far as I can see they make little difference. It’s all about faith. Four minutes seems to be enough for the residual heat to finish the cooking process while leaving the breast as moist as you can imagine, maybe with a tinge of pink, but definitely the juices run clear. 5 minutes was too much! And don’t even think about giving it a little warm up half way through the process.
If you want to go traditional (Thai), you then cook the rice in the stock and make a range of lovely sauces as per her website. http://highheelgourmet.com/2013/07/20/thai-chicken-rice-khao-man-gai/
Once I’d mastered the technique I just bunged all the flavours I wanted into the stock, soy, sweet vinegar, ginger, garlic and mirim, and once I had extracted the perfect chicken, reduced it down to a thick dip.
So have you got this? Cooking time for a chicken breast is 4 minutes! No more, and only less if you are feeling adventurous. Use the liquid of your choice. Make a nice sauce from it afterwards. But don’t bloody touch it for 50 minutes! No longer will you inflict sawdust chook on your unsuspecting guests and as the thing is only tepid when it comes out of the water bath you can use it in salads and sauces with impunity. Just don’t cook it any more.
So simple I am embarrassed to write about it….but then why are so many restaurants still getting it wrong?
Every now and then I have a desire to cook really strong tasting food. You know the type, reduced, spiced, seasoned, a blunt instrument though hopefully in a velvet glove…the sort of food that makes an Argentine swoon and not in a good way. Yesterday was one of those days. I have decided not to make another curry until my terrace based chili farm comes to fiery fruition but was pondering other flavours that could be intense or intensified…and with inflation and import restrictions truffles were off the menu. I settled on playing with garlic.
And yesterday was stock day, a monthly event that happens when I peer into the freezer and find it empty of flavoursome frozen liquid and have to resort to a cube. The fact is that chicken carcasses are thankfully not in huge demand so if you spend as much time at home as I do, buying as many kilos as will fit into the biggest pot you own, roasting then for a bit and them throwing them into said pot with a couple of onions, some ginger (for warmth) and a bit of star anise (and lots of water of course) makes perfect sense. 20 pesos and you have the base for umpteen meals (and don’t forget to make the heavy stock from the first few of hours of bubbling and a light stock from subjecting the carcasses to another round – after all sometimes you need something more flavoursome than water but not definitively chickeny).
So the heavy, brown, creamy, roast chicken stock was the velvet glove (though in itself it would have made a Jewish mother proud), now I needed the blunt instrument. And a little trawl of the internet provided a lot of suggestions. I finally settled on a roast garlic and potato soup. Using LOTS of garlic, but roasted for an hour and something to melt and sweeten it. Easy enough, hack off the top of 4 heads of garlic, plenty of oil on some foil on a roasting tray, cut side down, tent the foil, roast and cool, and most of the succulent cloves will stick to the foil and extract themselves as you pull back on the skin (videos of this luscious event are legally available on Youtube). And as for the spuds, well it seemed a shame to leave them naked and cubed while the garlic was transforming itself from strident to mellow, so I roasted them with a load of fresh rosemary thinking that the difference in texture and crunchy bits would make stuff more interesting when blitzed in the blender.
Ingredients done, time to put it together. Cook a couple of finely chopped onions preferably in the chicken fat you skimmed off your stock (if not in olive oil). Once translucent throw in your garlic and smooch it up a bit over high heat. Sprinkle over a palm full of flour (you don’t need much as the potatoes do the thickening) but cook till nicely browned stirring all the time and then a good glug (ok, half a bottle) of white wine of dubious quality. Bubble like you hate it and are trying to do it harm. Then turn the heat down a bit and add the spuds and a couple of litres of stock, ladle by ladle, or just throw it all in if there is something good on TV, though you will need to stir in the commercial breaks which seem conveniently frequent these days. How much stock do you really need? Well that depends on how much garlic you can handle. 4 heads seem to go a long way. Keep the tasting spoon handy and be aware that once blitzed it tastes stronger.
Cool, liquidize, realise you have a lot of soup, ring more friends, make some croutons, realise that the bacon you still have in the fridge will be delicious on top once blasted with heat and crumbled on top, heat up again, understand that your best friend’s girlfriend is going to refuse to eat it fearing her breath won’t be of celebrity status in the nightclub later, tell the girl with the impending cold that her health problems are sorted (unless she send a lot of time in the bathroom “powdering” her nose), and enjoy!
Let me know if roasted garlic and potatoes has a taste reminiscent of globe artichokes? In the best possible way though??
If you want to get fancy, pair it with my beetroot, feta and roast cashew recipe and call it “Pungent Tastes from the Earth”. And it’s strong so it goes a long way!
Or just make a little fresh Oregano crouton (what, you don’t have a bush of the stuff on your terrace – shame on you, it grows like a weed), and keep the rest to eat during the week. It’s got no cream or fancy stuff so shouldn’t go off.
Like it or hate it, you won’t tell me its dull (although the photo is).
Death and Life
The wonderful Martin Miller died yesterday. A true renaissance man, I was proud to count him as one of my closest friends even though we were not the sorts of mates to conduct a long distance relationship. However he was my first call on arriving back in England and the pleasure of chewing the fat over a glass of the Gin he lovingly crafted (Millers Gin of course) had lost none of its allure. His mind, like his filing cabinet, was always brimming over with new projects, business plans or literary plots. He was the ultimate conversationalists and lavished his time generously on his friends.
Sadly, I didn’t even know he was ill; he wasn’t a guy who broadcast his problems. I hope his amazingly active brain and ready wit sustained him through to the end. What upset me more than anything is the fact that I never got to show him The 5th Floor, for which he was largely the inspiration and certainly one of the main reasons that I had confidence that a not very successful but reasonably socially adept ex-investment banker, could create a slightly strange niche within the hospitality industry.
I will always remember the first time I was invited to one of the frequent cocktail parties at Miller’s Rooming House, his Notting Hill Bed and Breakfast. Situated over an Arab restaurant, you entered through an unmarked door and climbed a narrow staircase, attempting to avoid incinerating yourself on one of the hundreds of candles that Martin always insisted gave the best light. You wondered if you had come to the right place, until you arrived in his capacious sitting room, with its eclectic mix of antiques and brocade, sculptures and knick knacks, which always gave the effect of looking sumptuous and homely at the same time. Of course Martin knew what he was doing. With his first wife he founded Millers Antique Guides, one of the world’s most successful antiques publications. I once asked him if he worried about these treasures being damaged. Not at all he replied, as antiques they are all fatally flawed, cheap. But he certainly knew how to dress a room.
And so I met the man, hosting an equally eclectic mix of people, by now squeezed somewhat tightly into his living room. He was the consummate host, but not someone who flitted from group to group. No, if he was having an interesting conversation he had the ability to draw you into his crowd, so you never felt ignored but neither was the conversation interrupted. We soon became firmest of friends and it wasn’t long before I started suggesting to my more open-minded clients that they might like to stay at a little Bed and Breakfast in Notting Hill rather than the Lanesborough or the Savoy. They loved it, especially when they ended up having breakfast with Mario Testino or Marian Faithful (regular habitués), or had spent the night drinking with Eric Clapton’s ex or some famous rock band.
So I have tried to take a leaf out of Martin’s book and create a place with the same “onda” (as we say in BA), where intelligent people will feel well looked after and hopefully feel fast-tracked into the social and cultural life of Buenos Aires, possibly the world’s greatest city. We have been open six weeks, appear to be getting busier and busier (though it is high season) and have so far exceeded our expectations. Maybe this a suitable time for a bit of reflection on our new life?
Well both Veronica and I come from backgrounds completely unconnected with the hospitality industry, so we don’t really know what we are doing. We have to make it up as we go along. And the first thing we have noticed is how incredibly supportive people have been. Not just our friends but also potential competitors, suppliers, journalists. Buenos Aires is truly a place for offering something a bit different and fresh.
And so far our clients have been charming to a fault. We were about to sign up to an electronic booking engine but at the last moment it didn’t feel right. We want to know that our clients will like our other clients. You can’t do that by allowing easy access for every random stranger. How do you know they have even read your website? That they understand what you offer and what you don’t? Yes we might be busier, but with who? So we binned that idea and now if clients want to know our rates they have to scour through our website which hopefully makes the above pretty clear. We have also been running Puerta Cerrada (closed door) restaurants about once a week. Vietnamese, Vegan, Texan BBQ, and my own Ugly Food, dinner party style. All stuff that is not easily accessible in BA. As we are in learning mode we have been doing them at cost. Obviously that leads to a big waiting list!
More importantly it has also led to a random pair of tourists who came to dinner ending up with a whole bunch of new friends in a city that they had just arrived in. They sent me a tongue in cheek email complaining that with all these people to see, they had no time left to see the sights. Hopefully they will be back and the next time staying at The 5th Floor???
Can you really pick your guests and have a successful business as well? That I still can’t answer. It certainly seems that the extra effort required to find us and book with us, is attracting people whose expectations have already been conditioned by our public information. They seem to be people who would be pretty comfortable having dinner together. Generally people substantially more intelligent and better educated than me. Which is a bloody relief…I hate being bored!
My biggest cock-up so far? I need to put more salt in my roast tomato juice (probably celery salt too – hey I listen). My Bloody Mary may be the best in BA but it can still be improved on. Mexicans know about this stuff! So not fatal unless I have some fussy Mexican capo in the house.
I’d like to finish with a huge thank you to all the guys who have supported us, including all our initial clients. This is my life now. I’m no longer some self-important financier. I’m the guy that cooks you breakfast. But you have all been so nice and such good company. If my friend Martin could come now, he’d have a great time with my guests and I think he would be proud of the fact that we have ignored most of the ABC’s of marketing, to try and ensure a more pleasant experience for our clients. Actually, I doubt he ever considered marketing in his life. He was a brand in himself.
So goodbye to a great friend but forward with the life he helped inspire.
Rest in Peace my friend.
Well we have been open four weeks and the expected things are breaking, mainly the new air conditioning units, several of which have been badly installed and are now having to run overtime due to the Christmas heatwave. But this is Argentina, it’s to be expected and so far we have avoided upsetting our guests by making sure there is a room (normally a bigger, better one) that we can move them to, if the aircon decides it prefers to be a shower unit.
In fact the guests seem to be liking our kind of personalised service and our theory that want they want is the time to sit and chat about their plans and get the relevant pointers, seems to be true. And then we had our first journalist from a large British newspaper to stay. Did she like it? See below:
or cut and paste this: http://www.independent.co.uk/travel/americas/bb-and-beyond-the-5th-floor-buenos-aires-9019960.html