Gaucho Piccadilly Circus – The Realm of the Steak – words Chris Zacharia
For so long the gold standard of steak in London, Gaucho has elevated itself into the category of legend. It’s beyond criticism, beyond the usual constraints, existing in the plane of fully-certified classics. Gaucho takes the tropes of steak restaurants – boisterous ranch decor, limited choice of cut – and gives them a slick makeover.
From its sleek website to its intelligent, composed menus, Gaucho is a triumph of branding. Its model has been exported around the world, with branches in Dubai, Hong Kong and its spiritual home, Buenos Aires. In a crowded steak space, Gaucho stands tall.
Before my first visit to Gaucho, it’s all I can do to remind myself that I’m going to a restaurant, not a tech startup. Their Piccadilly branch was always going to be impressive, but it’s the attentiveness of the staff that really stands out. They’re smiley, they’re knowledgeable, they’re tactful, and above all they’re patient – an important quality, considering how picky steak aficionados can be.
The most notable aspect of Gaucho – other than the quality of the meat – is the sense of expertise. Gaucho are steak experts. They know where it comes from, how to handle it, what to pair it with, and of course how to cook it. More importantly, they share this passion with customers. Both the wine and the food menu are unusually informative, correctly presuming that customers happy to pay upwards of £30 a steak are actually interested in what they’re eating.
Beyond the menu, the waiting staff are very well-informed, expertly showcasing the raw steaks when you take your seat and happy to provide guidance thereafter. For all its glittering success, Gaucho is not a snobby restaurant. Their enthusiasm is refreshing, doing much to promote Gaucho from the level of ‘steak restaurant’ to ‘meat cathedral’.
All this would merely be a footnote if the food were poor. Of course, it isn’t. Gaucho’s range of steaks are simply excellent. We go for the tira de ancho, a spiral cut across two separate muscles with layered helix patterns of muscle and fat. Adorning the glistening salty sear of the steak is a colourful streak of chimichurri dressing, a blend of finely-chopped parsley, oregano, garlic, and white vinegar. Peer within and it’s the colour of a rich strawberry jam. It’s an odyssey of steak, from the pureness of the leaner regions to the deep rivers of succulent fat and the tart volley of the dressing. Each mouthful is recognisably different. Steak lovers will find much to obsess them.
Quality extends far beyond the steaks. An introductory meat platter is a great example of how to do it, punchy slices of paprika salami rubbing shoulders with mouthwatering salt beef and chunky ham hock. Tuna tartare, resting on a fluffy cloud of guacamole laced with flecks of onion, chili and parsley, is a revitalizing, attention-grabbing dish. When you’ve got a big steak coming, there’s no need for a heavy starter. Refreshing and zingy, it’s an ideal appetite-baiter, the guacamole’s piquancy bringing the tender tuna to life.
Scallops, another featherweight starter intelligently suggested by the menu as a counterbalance to the steak, fare less well. Stained amber by a garam masala rub, their delicate flavour simply overpowered by the spice. An assembly of cauliflower, spinach and a naughty nugget of black pudding lift the dish, but it pales in comparison to the tuna. Go for that instead.
Given that the restaurant is very busy, we don’t mind having to wait twenty minutes or so for our steak. And it’s not a bad place in which to pass the time. Here on the first floor, checkerboard tiling gives the place a classic, chic feel. Enticingly dim lighting adds an aura of espionage to Gaucho, but given that we spot a neighbouring diner using the torch on his phone to decipher the menu, it’s probably a bit too dim. Then again, we spot another diner spending the entire meal with a toy giraffe on her lap, so maybe the restaurant shouldn’t take too many cues from its customers.
Dessert is better than you might think. Much, much better. An apple and blackberry crumble (£9.95) with an uneven, buttery topping, flirts between creamy and sweet without ever being too much of either, with the chunks of apple beneath still recognisably bits of fruit rather than the green mush you often find. Meanwhile the trio of desserts in the sampler (£14.95) provide a tasty glimpse into the rest of the treats. There’s a perfectly good chocolate tart, leaning towards gooey. There’s a sharp lemon curd mousse with deconstructed meringue. And there’s an intriguing dulce de leche cheesecake, whose milkiness promotes it above many incarnations of the dessert.
Gaucho Piccadilly Circus is an assured, slick operation with obvious confidence in itself, and, at its best, seriously good food. It deserves its mantle as the home of steak.
For more information on Gaucho Piccadilly Circus visit the website