San Telmo

Posted on March 1, 2012

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In the past couple of years, Latin America has become extremely fashionable in Melbourne. What with the onslaught of Latino foodie favourites (hello Mamasita, Los Latinos, Taco Truck et al.), the popularity of salsa dance classes and Machu Picchu becoming the ultimate travel destination for every trendy young Melbournian; how could you think otherwise? It’s as if the collective psyche of Melbourne has gotten over Asia, decided Europe was overdone only to succumb to the allure of Latin America.

In the past 2 weeks alone, I’ve had two people rave to me about their travels to Argentina, the spectacular Iguazu Falls and the mouth watering steaks. And it just so happened that San Telmo (14 Meyers Place, Melbourne VIC) has caught my eye as of late last year when they were still fitting out the place for business. Serendipity or is the world telling me I need get more acquainted with this part of the world?

So it was with a sense of mission that I arrived at my dining destination. If I can’t actually be in Latin America, I must at least continue my education on their food culture.

If you didn’t know what type of food San Telmo specialises in, you’ll know when you walk in. The decor of the place suitably screams ‘steakhouse’. There’s a lot of dark wooden paneling, leather and cow hide – it kinda feels like a dressed up barn. The front counter houses their big ticket item: a massive chargrill, in the middle there’s a giant wine rack to define the dining space and a long bar runs down the side for pre/post dinner drinks. Usually I wouldn’t bother to go into any description on the venue’s toilet facilities, but in this case, they’re worth a mention. Firstly, the location is strange; there are situated right opposite the side bar and secondly, they’re quite futuristic in that you have to press a little green button to activate the sliding panel. A bit 1970’s spy cool if you ask me. Suffices to say that I found accessing them a little disconcerting.

Now that you know how to find and access the toilets, you won’t have to worry about overindulging on meat and wine :P. Of the wine list, San Telmo boasts an all Argentine selection, Argentine beers and a small range of cocktails. Upon the waitstaff’s recommendation the 2 of us settled for a glass of malbec and a malbec blend.

For the food, yours truly may be one of the few oddities in the universe who can visit a steakhouse and not order a steak for her meal. Which, on that note, for a steakhouse the menu doesn’t give much detail about the beef’s origin (ie. location and whether it’s grass/grain fed). And before you berate me, I did order beef dishes, just not steak. As much as I love a good steak, the grilled tongue and braised cheek (lengua y mejillas $19) and beef ribs (tira de asado $28) offers proved all too enticing for me to pass up that night.

The tongue and cheek were sublime. It was melt in your mouth tender. The cheek has been braised long enough to render the fatty tissue completely gelatinous, to a delicious effect. I don’t think they really did much to the meat other than to season it, and what more do you need if it’s perfectly cooked anyway? For extra flavour you could always give it a slick of the little condiments (mixed herb and a tomato salsa) they provided at the start of the meal. If you’re a bit squeamish about offal, remember tongue and cheek are both muscles and will thus resemble quite closely to regular meat.

The beef ribs had a good flavour, but were a tad on the tough side of things. Though to make up for this, the serving size was pretty generous.

I just couldn’t stomach a steak after all the cow already consumed, the calamares ($18) and grilled zucchini and eggplants (zapallitos y berejenas $10). Hey at least we managed to keep our entire dinner order from the grill, which admittedly wasn’t all that hard to do. Both the calamari and grilled veggies were delicious. Tender, sweet and full of flavour.

To finish up, we went with a classic dessert and a more modern one as well. Alfajores ($5) is practically their national sweet, I remember seeing about a dozen versions of these on a friend’s Argentine holiday album. It’s 2 caramalised cookies sandwiched with a layer of dulce de leche (aka caramel of milk and sugar) and had tasty written all over it.

The helado ($14) was a citrus sorbet served with melon pieces and finished with vanilla olive oil. The combination sounds unusual, but worked very well together. Strangely enough the vanilla olive oil  didn’t taste oily and its smoothness was a very nice accompaniment to the sharp citrus tang.

Overall the experience was a good one. Flavours were really good and the cooking was nearly faultless (I deducted points for the jaw workout I inadvertently got from the ribs). San Telmo also hosts a small but intriguing list of breakfast items. I wouldn’t mind going back to sample it, and perhaps again for dinner to try their steak and 8 hour slow cooked animal.

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