Every good restaurant in Joburg started with a good story, and Che Argentine Grill in Maboneng is one of those. You could say that the planets aligned and two strangers – both from South America – would have a chance meeting that changed their lives… and ours. Oscar Farraldo (from Uruguay) and Bernado Corti (from Argentina) met while Oscar was working at the Argentine Consulate General’s office in Sandton, a place Bernado frequented just so that he could speak his mother tongue for a change. The two started chatting and Oscar invited Bernado to join him at Market On Main where Oscar sold his home made empanadas. The two teamed up and soon the empanada business snowballed to the extent that it turned into a restaurant.
The menu is inspired by Bernado’s grandmother who taught him how to cook and Oscar’s love for South American food. Tapas items such as albondigas en sal (pork and beef meatballs bathed in a sofrito) and the octopus completed with potato and pimenton oil are firm examples of what Argentinian comfort food is. The starters (or entradas in Spanish) are simple and familiar. The empanadas are made in-house and stuffed with only the best quality ingredients. There are six options in total when it comes to these home made pies and some of the fillings tell the story of life in Argentina, such as the Humita Salteña (originating from Salta, north of Buenos Aires) which is stuffed with sweetcorn, spring onion, and feta cheese. Other starter items include Argentine pulled-curd Provolone cheese and braised oxtail with red wine sauce.
The real star of the show at Che Argentine Grill is the asado and the parrilla – the fire and the grill. The reason, in my opinion, why Che Argentine Grill works so well in South Africa – or Joburg for that matter – is the fact that both countries are obsessed with red meat over an open flame. To keep a consistent flavour of meat, Oscar and Bernado source their beef from the Natal Midlands. The only seasoning the meat receives before it goes over the fire is a salt rub. This is purely to bring out the juices and for the maillard reaction to leave the meat crispy, caramalised, and tasty on the outside yet tender and juicy on the inside… also, the Argentinians don’t believe in marinading meat or rubbing it with fancy spices. No, there’s no need for it. This minimalist approach to the age old tradition of stuffing your face with steak is what makes Che Argentine Grill so unique. Above and beyond the red meat, patrons will find de-boned half chickens, marinated pork bellies, and grilled tuna.
The bar menu sings the usual songs of creatively created cocktails, sangria, and local craft beer on tap. Where things become a tad more interesting is when you open the wine menu. It’s here that you realise that there is a big divide between Che Argentine Grill and that steakhouse we seem to find around every corner – you know which one I’m referring to. I recommend that you pair the Alma Mora malbec with your preferred cut of beef. This choice of wine is made in San Juan, a stone’s throw east of the central Argentine Andes. It is by far one of the most beautiful bottles of red wine I have ever had… expect songs and sonnets to be written about it soon. Besides that bottle of vino, the rest of the menu consists of wines from the Cape winelands and Mendoza in Argentina.
This leaves us at the bottom of the menu – the dessert. Diners familiar with South American sweet stuff won’t be surprised to see pancakes stuffed with dulce de leche, churros (which has grown in popularity in Johannesburg) served with ice cream, and flan. But what these diners may find surprising, is that Oscar and Bernado’s sophisticated palates have gone a step further and paired each dessert on offer with a malt whiskey. If you do make it this far, I suggest the flan paired with a 12 year old Elijah Craig – which in itself is an amazing bourbon.
So, in closing, ¡Buen Provecho! Book your table today and mention that Shawn from Joburg.co.za sent you. They might not remember me but I will feel important for a split-second for once. Check out their website for more details. I’m sure you will enjoy Che Argentine Grill.
By Shawn Greyling