(disclaimer: there are no photos of the meal reviewed below. I’m not that sort of blogger.)
When walking through the door of a restaurant, your first impression is usually of the décor. It sets expectations for the experience awaiting you. Gaucho’s was fairly representative. It’s all quite nice in a very sleek, corporate sort of a way; lots of dark wood, very low lighting, white napkins and oversized wine glasses, with the occasional outburst of hide-print on the walls, just in case you forgot the reason you were there; to eat cow.
We arrived and were escorted to the small, rather tucked out of the way holding pen bar for a cocktail while we waited for the rest of our party. The drinks waiter appeared quickly and just as quickly convinced us that their cocktail of the day was the way to go. With a frivolous name like Villi Manilli or something along those lines, it was an equally frivolous drink; vanilla vodka, fresh raspberries, Chambord and other yummy things in a martini glass and pleased us all immensely.
Everyone safely arrived, we were shown to our rather good table; tucked nicely into a corner but still right beside the floor to ceiling windows with a perfect view of the Tower Bridge.
So, happily plied with booze and some wonderful fresh-baked cheesy breads to nibble on, on to the main event; meat.
The steak menu consists of five different cuts, available in three different sizes and then their special “spiral cuts” which can be any of the above, scored (in spirals one can only assume) then marinated in a choice of three marinates. On recommendation from several people, I went with the chorizo spiral cut rump. Medium rare (of course).
The steak was good.
One person in the group mentioned previously having had a disappointingly tough steak at another branch but no one was complaining on this occasion; there were no steak knives in sight but as you would hope, this was no problem whatsoever, although one of us did hit a reasonable sized piece of gristle.
My piece of meat was very well cooked, although I’m not convinced how much I could really taste the chorizo marinade but that might just be my unsophisticated palette…
So, that’s all good news about Gaucho; the venue is elegant in a rustic sort of a way (if that isn’t too much of a contradiction), the cocktails are delish and they know what they’re doing with a slab of Angus.
Oh, and the service was very smooth.
Our waiter was charming, helpful and efficient. He confidently answered questions about the different cuts of steak and didn’t flinch at having to repeat himself several times for those who’d not been paying attention. Everyone’s orders were correct and the serving staff knew which dish to place in front of which diner (a small detail that was a mandatory part of service when I used to wait tables at university but one that you encounter less and less often now) and we weren’t constantly bothered with being asked if everything was right with our meals at every course (a pet hate of mine).
You could almost say that the whole experience was spot on.
Except it wasn’t.
While one expects to order sides as extras at a steak house, being charged £3 for a small ramekin of peppercorn sauce felt like a bit of a piss take.
The cheesy wedges seriously lacked cheese and the Humitas, which had been raved about, turned out to be just creamed sweet corn. Beautifully presented creamed sweetcorn, but tasting no different to the canned stuff that I used to put in my toasted sandwiches as a child (luckily I love it but it was a bit of an anticlimax after my companions had built it up so much).
The alcohol was shockingly expensive. I have no objection to the £8 – 9 price tag on the cocktails – this is about what you’d expect and the ones we had really were quite delightful – but the fact that the cheapest bottle of wine on the menu costs £30 is absolutely ridiculous. I’m all for having an strong wine list (Gaucho are, predictably, big into Malbec) and am not suggesting they start stocking £10 pub wines, but I do think they are doing themselves disservice with such exclusive pricing. As a group of 5, we would normally have ordered at least two £20ish bottles but as it was, we rather grudgingly bought one £34 bottle between us and had to make it last the distance.
There was one particular thing off about Gaucho that, while in some ways a small detail, went a long way towards souring the evening for me. I felt like we were constantly being up-sold.
Yes, it’s normal to be asked if you want entrees or sides and one is used to be being presented with a dessert menu un-bidden, however our waiter also tried to convince us we’d need more than one side dish apiece and, despite my saying we were definitely looking at the cheaper end of the wine list, his first suggestion was for a bottle that cost £47, then only slightly revised down to a £40 bottle upon seeing me with my “you’ve got to be kidding” face on. Later, when we were just tucking into dessert, he appeared with a sample of dessert wine to try and sell us, despite the fact we had all ordered coffees or teas and had previously declined to order any dessert wine. I found this really quite annoying.
I don’t blame our waiter as I’m sure he was just following his training, but the constant push to get us to spend more money, on what was already pretty expensive night out, combined with the prohibitively priced wine list, really hit home that Gaucho’s main concern was how much money they could get out of us. I suppose this is to be expected when eating at chain restaurant, however high-end it positions itself to be but it did mar my pleasure of what would otherwise have been a solidly good (but not exceptional) evening.
Luckily I was there with good friends to celebrate a birthday and the company, conversation and large amount of silliness more than made the evening a success.
2 courses and a cocktail each.
One bottle of wine to share between 5 people
£250 before service.
Gaucho Tower Bridge: 7/10 stars.
Friends: 70/10 stars.