New kid on the block Don Armando in Cape Town serves excellent, meaty fare with flair, plus some exciting sides and surprises, says Jeanne Calitz.
As you would expect from an Argentinian restaurant – that country being known for its devotion to the pleasures of red meat – the new Don Armando eatery in Cape Town is a meat lovers’ dream.
Referencing the Argentinian tradition of asado (barbeque), all the meats at Don Armando are grilled on charcoal. And it has to be said that the tempting, smoky aroma of the meat wafting down the street is an excellent form of advertising – it’s hard to resist its mouthwatering appeal.
As for the menu, you can make an early, meaty start with the entrada (starter) section, which offers treats like grilled chorizo with chimichurri, Argentinian blood sausage served with salsa, or lamb skewers accompanied by grilled baby marrows and peppers. Mindful of the substantial mains to follow, we opt for some meat-free starters, indulging in a rich but delicious serving of grilled provolone cheese with sun-dried tomatoes, as well as what turns out to be a substantial portion of vegetarian empañadas.
Moving on to the mains (or, as it is labelled on the menu, grillados), almost the whole section is devoted to meat, with the exception of the fish of the day. Aside from a T-bone, rib steak, beef fillet, short rib and sirloin, you can also order grilled lamb and pork chops, as well as butterflied baby chicken. All the red meats are available in two choices of serving sizes, and are accompanied by chimichurri sauce and potato chips or salad. There are also some interesting sides on offer as extras, like cauliflower mash, sweet potato chips and a wonderful little white bean salad with rocket and pickled red onion.
I decide on the 200g portion of sirloin, and the 400g short-rib is requested for my hungry companion. In short, the meat is spectacular. In fact, the sirloin may be some of the best I’ve ordered in a restaurant: juicy, bursting with flavour and perfectly pink, despite the fact that this particular portion is thinly cut and would therefore have been easy to overcook. The short rib is also incredibly tasty, smoky and moreish. Enjoyed with hand-cut potato chips and the fresh bite of the chimichurri, it truly becomes a memorable meal.
With no stamina left for dessert, we nevertheless enquire about the selection. (It’s prudent to be properly informed on puddings at all times.) The offer includes sorbets, ice creams, chocolate fondant and – something to keep in firmly mind for future visits – pancakes with dulce de leche…
There’s a small but well-selected list with a reasonable mark-up, sourced from quality producers like Paul Cluver and Ataraxia. There are also a few Argentinian malbecs on offer, as well as one local version: Vrede en Lust, available by the glass, which is a nice touch. There’s only one beer on tap, but it being the crafty Citizen Alliance, there are no complaints at this table. You might want to order a pre-dinner drink at the nifty bar downstairs, or enjoy it outside at one of the low-seated tables on the balcony.
Very welcoming and attentive; staff are friendly, well informed and eager to assist. Glancing at the clientele, quite a few of whom seem to be on first-name basis with the staff, it looks like the eatery has already built up a happy pack of regulars.
It’s an extremely stylish and somewhat masculine space, with lots of wood, blackened steel and plush but muted furnishings. Fortunately, the owner decided not to go for a kind of transplanted Argentinian décor theme, rather allowing the food to take centre stage.
I would go back in a flash, and will be taking some meat-loving friends along for the ride. Don Armando is a fantastic addition to the local steak scene.