Salmonella on a Stick

With lots of other foodies out there doing an admirable job of reviewing BA’s burgeoning restaurant scene my original intention was only to write reviews about restaurants I really like, as an aide memoir prompting me where to direct my guests. And indeed I went to a new one, a puerta cerrada in Palermo called Ocho Once, on Thursday night and frankly it may rank as the best closed door restaurant in Buenos Aires. Possibly, taking into account its reasonable price point for 5 courses ( 200 pesos and the fact that it provided us with a stunning Catalpa 2011 Pinot Noir for 120 pesos) it may shortly be declared the best restaurant in Buenos Aires. But I didn’t take my camera and I know foodies love pictures and the food was pretty, as well as strong flavoured and complex with sauces clearly made from lovingly constructed stocks, so I wouldn’t be doing it justice to review it now. Anyway I need an excuse to go back next week, for the sake of professionalism you understand.

And then last night I ate, no that’s an exaggeration, I tasted, rejected, changed dishes, tasted again and buried my head in my hands in despair, the worst food that BA has to offer, subtly combined with the most obtuse and annoying service that people can only perfect when they know that they are selling you something of embarrassingly low quality but wish to retain a certain pride in their valueless existences.

To be honest we didn’t go to Bangalore (imitation Brit pub and alleged Curry House – there, I’ve named and shamed it) for the food. We went for the Gin, which they do in jugs with homemade tonic and which is actually quite good, especially when you swap out the Beefeater for Tanquerey and go for the cucumber infused version. But then my girlfriend mentioned being peckish and despite misgivings, I didn’t want her to pass out through lack of sustenance so we went for the simple, hard to get wrong, minced chicken kebab.

Wrong as in I was. You can get a minced chicken sausage on a stick wrong. Horribly so! Dangerously so!! Now Veronica is a pleasant person, so I am not saying that this was a deliberate attempt to assassinate her. After all they had only known her for a few minutes. But she’s not stupid, she made sure I took the first bite. It was in a word unusual. Flavoured with spices that I certainly didn’t recognise and I am certain no Indian would. Possibly with something that might be familiar to a pet shop owner that trades in small rodents? Chargrilled on the outside and entertainingly stone cold within. Mushy. Totally disgusting. I mentioned the amusing lack of heat to the guy behind the bar.

“We always serve it cold in the middle”, he replied with no hint of a nervous twitch.

“But this is chicken,” I ventured, “a well known carrier of salmonella”.

“Ah but we cook it before we make the kebabs”. Maybe a flicker in the peripheral muscles around his right eye.

“So how do you achieve the desired mushy, raw chicken texture that you are clearly aspiring to?”

“Ah, that will be the egg we bind it with.”

“Raw, of course?”

And obviously we should have left then but we had just ordered another jug of gin so we asked nicely if he might change said plate for something that had had a more intimate relationship with a source of heat. And he kindly said of course he would but we still had to pay for it. And of course I asked whether he was F•••••g joking to which he replied he wasn’t so I thought it best to talk about the dangers of Salmonella poisoning and the very nasty after effects in a very loud voice that would be adequate to cause concern to all the happy diners who were likely to spend the next day getting acquainted with God’s telephone. Until the owner arrived and kindly agreed to change this abomination of a raw chicken and egg bacteria bomb for his recommended 3 curry taster special.

Now I don’t look much like Marilyn Monroe. Even if I call myself Marilyn and persuade all my friends to call me Marilyn, even if I shave my legs, stuff my chest, wear flouncy dresses and spend a lot of time posing over an air vent, I am never going to resemble that unique confection of womanliness that drove punters and presidents crazy. No matter how much I want to be Marilyn you will still see me as a middle aged English guy with a little belly and skinny legs. And this was the problem with the curry. Just calling it curry doesn’t make it so. Yes the meat one was vaguely curry coloured but so is goulash. And the chicken and pumpkin ones could have been in a creamy curried sauce but were in fact just in cream and strangely cheesy tasting cream at that. Other than being served with something that resembled naan bread this food had no more connection with India than I have with life on Mars. Not one spice, bulb of garlic or stick of ginger had been even vaguely waved in its direction. So let’s cut a long story short. Even though I’m a timid guy, I suspect the closest the owners have ever got to Bangalore is Quilmes so I’m going to risk a Fatwa here. If you want a jug of (not bad) gin (they also have decent draft beer) and beef goulash and stuff in cheesy cream sauces then Bangalore is perfect for you. The “curry” dishes are cooked through so probably won’t kill you. Anything else probably will.

If however you didn’t come to Buenos Aires in search of the famous Delhi Belly, avoid Bangalore like the plague.

What I love about BA 2 : Beer in a bucket

Yes, I can already hear the English getting excited. Beer in a bucket? You mean there is something bigger than a pint, a stein, a yard of ale? We can get it by the bucket? No, what I am referring to is the unexpected custom of your bow-tied waiter courteously placing the litre bottle of beer that you (plural) are consuming on a hot summer evening in an ice bucket at your table, as though it were fine champagne. Its something normally only seen on the terraces of old style cafes, establishments that have survived the ups and downs of the economic cycles, that realize intuitively that a beer “entre amigos” has as much dignity (if not the same remunerative value) as a bottle of Cristal at the Hotel du Cap. It is also a relatively new ceremony, according to my Argentine friends first noticed after the last crash, maybe as a sign of respect for their regular customers who were having to downsize their offerings to Bacchus? Whatever the reason, it certainly lends a sense of occasion to that after-work beer as well as obviating the necessity to guzzle it before it warms.

You don’t find many drinking factories in Buenos Aires. While the young are imbibing more than their forefathers, a night out can last 10 hours so they pace themselves. It can be disconcerting for an Englishman, especially with ulterior motives, to go out with a girl that can make a glass of wine last 3 hours…or worse, who is content with water. You have to keep checking yourself before your visions of a good evening out diverge irreconcilably. But you are normally sitting on a warm terrace, have the benefit of laid back (or for a Brit awaiting his first beverage painfully slow) service and can still puff away on your preferred source of nicotine without drawing horrified looks from your neighbours (note: if allergic to smoke you need to get a table inside, in airconditioned comfort. The Argentines still love to smoke). And of course you don’t have to deal with that unpleasant “I know they changed the licensing laws but this pub is going to kick us out at eleven and I may still be thirsty” voice that all Englishmen have genetically programmed in the back of their minds.

Yes, there are upmarket bars here with cocktail mixologists that are too cool for school and overdressed “chetas” (the self proclaimed posh girls) that make you (me) feel painfully underdressed. But everything else is still open so you have a choice! And of course there are clubs with face (age?) checks, who strangely haven’t worked out that some of us non trendies probably have more spending power than their buff, perfectly coiffeured clientele. But get this, the government has got it all in hand. It is going to ban VIP areas in nightclubs for being discriminatory. I kid you not! They took my complaint my complaint seriously. It looks as though it will become law ( http://www.lanacion.com.ar/1529966-buscan-prohibir-los-sectores-vip-en-los-boliches-bonaerenses ).

So at 2.00 in the morning on a Thursday night you may find the mass of humanity wandering the streets a little odd at first but when you seat yourself at a neighbourhood cafe to enjoy “un pequeño ultimo” (just because you can) surrounded by infants and grandparents and everything in between, you realise you are “como la gente” (roughly just a normal person, albeit a normal Argentine). No need to be a big shot here to enjoy as much night life as you have stamina for! And the aded bonus, I have never had to check my skin colour in the morning for that orange tinge that might indicate I stood too close in an overpriced nightclub (ok it was really a sushi bar – http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/uk_news/6179074.stm) to some Ukrainian aluminium billionaire, whose competitors were trying to knock him off with a plutonium enriched bellini.

It’s true, a 40 peso bottle of beer still buys you a place at the best table!