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Drink!
December 28th, 2011 at 5:08 am

My wife and I went here for Christmas Eve dinner. My first impression upon entering the upstairs dining room was of the large number of tables occupied by groups of gentlemen attacking mammoth chunks of beef whilst discussing the four Fs (football, females, fishing, firearms - not necessarily in that order). This is definitely a good place for blokes to catch up and talk bloke talk, but could also be a nice family venue. It was a tad noisy, so maybe not ideal for a romantic date.

So, onto the food. For starters, we ordered the beef soup, salsichia and carpaccio. The salsichia (not sure if I've got the spelling correct), is a spicy sausage. I'm assuming it's a Spanish variation of the Italian salsiccia, but there's not much similarity between the two, other than that they're both quite spicy. The Spanish version is meatier, thinner, uncured and not as fragrant as its Italian counterpart. Tasty enough, though. The carpaccio was wonderfully soft and tender, however I think they overdid the parmesan cheese topping, which got in the way of the delicate flavour of the meat somewhat. The beef soup was more like a light stew - simple but hearty and would be very welcome indeed if you'd just come in from the cold. A bowl of that with some crusty bread would make a fine lunch.

And onto the highlight of the meal; the steak. This is ordered by weight (from 200g up to 1kg for some), cut (tenderloin, NY strip sirlon etc) and quality (choice, Angus, up to wagyu). I'm not sure, but I think the beef they serve is Australian. Which is a little disappointing if so - surely an Argentinian steakhouse should serve Argentinian beef, no? However, I may be wrong on this point. Steak here isn't cheap - the smallest piece of the cheapest cut will set you back half a mil plus VAT. We ordered a queen cut of what's described as the El Gaucho Rib, weighing in at 450g, to share. The steak was tender, but the flesh was not quite as tasty as the steak I had at Jackson's steakhouse. Still very good, though, and seasoned well.

In my experience, steak in Hanoi is cooked one notch under what it should be. So, if you'd normally order rare, you need to ask for medium rare. If you normally order blue, ask for rare. And so on. However, this isn't the case at El Gaucho. I prefer my steaks blue and so I ask for rare when in Hanoi, but She Who Must Be Obeyed likes hers cooked a little more, so we ordered medium rare because we wanted it rare. However, at El Gaucho, when you ask for medium rare, you get medium rare. Which meant our steak was slightly overdone for our tastes. But that's hardly the fault of the restaurant - they cooked it as requested. Next time I go there I'll know not to adjust my steak preferences for Hanoi conditions. The two guys next to us ordered two (hugely thick) steaks - one was medium-rare, the other rare - I knew because of the little flags affixed. I could see that both were cooked precisely to order.

Another thing I should mention is that even though our steak was supposed to weigh 450g, it actually looked substantially heavier than that. And all around our table I saw people tucking into huge pieces of beef. No one had a steak that looked like it weighed anything close to 200g. Now perhaps they all ordered big steaks. However I think this unlikely. More likely is that El Gaucho's steaks are generously proportioned - significantly moreso than listed on the menu. Which, if true, is definitely a notch in favour of the restaurant!

We ordered a Chimichurra (again, spelling?) side sauce to go with the steak, but this was underwhelming. I'm not sure if that sauce is supposed to be capsicum-flavoured oil, but that's pretty much what it was. You're supposed to, what? Pour the oil over the steak? No thanks. I left it. It was expensive, too, for what you got - 60,000+VAT.

Sides were fairly comprehensive but nothing special. We ordered chips and sauteed onions. Nothing to write home about - or complain about, either.

I wasn't particularly interested in anything on the winelist - not enough from the Antipodes for my tastes - but seeing as though it was Christmas Eve, I wanted to splash out a bit. I nicked next door to Red Apron and bought an (excellent) bottle of pricey Australian shiraz. Corkage at El Gaucho was VND400,000 a bottle. This was the most I've ever paid for corkage in Hanoi, however I guess this is not unreasonable. They want you to order from their winelist, not bring your own. However, I will say that their winelist is rather overpriced. The cheapest bottle of wine available is VND600,000 plus 10% VAT. I've seen this same bottle retailing for VND220,000. That's verging on an overly hefty markup.

Even though this place is new and kinks in service could be expected, I found it to be efficient and friendly, despite the fact it was a full house.

Going on my first experience of the place, El Gaucho is a worthy addition to Hanoi's dining scene. It's not a cheap meal out, but definitely should be on your shortlist when you want to pamper your inner carnivore.