De La Panza

by Tom Leahy - Sunday April 8, 2012 2:08 pm

Southgate Road, N1 3JS delapanza.co.uk

It was with a degree of trepidation that I stepped out of Haggerston station on my way to Argentine restaurant De La Panza, a relatively recent opening in De Beauvoir town - apparently the posh part of Hackney. Not because I was a long way from that part of London I call home, but actually for geopolitical reasons.

It was the 30th anniversary of the invasion of the Falkland Islands, the Argentine Prime Minister was indulging in what the press like to call ‘sabre-rattling’ and the Navy’s newest battleship was heading off to patrol the stormy South Atlantic. So who knew what kind of welcome I had in store? Would the kitchen stage a coup and hold us hostage while demanding the return of Las Malvinas? A bit far fetched? Possibly, but it is better to go prepared. In actual fact I need not have worried and the welcome was the very model of Argentine hospitality (whatever that is – I’ve never been).

De La Panza is apparently modelled on the bodegóns of Buenos Aires. This, a small amount of sleuthing informs me, is a neighbourhood restaurant serving simple, homemade food at a decent price, which seems a laudable ambition for any restaurant, neighbourhood or not. So not only do they serve the ubiquitous hunks of pampas reared steak, you can also eat from a tapas menu featuring most of the usual suspects; chorizo, meatballs, tortilla etc, as well as some specialities like empandas and choripan – an Argentine sausage sandwich.

Our evening visit coincided with a preview of a photographic exhibition they will be staging from the 3rd – 16th April. This was in aid of PH 15, a charity based in Buenos Aires who provides photographic workshops for underprivileged children and young adults. So after a sobering look at what life is like for the children living in Buenos Aires’s villas or slums, we had to quickly forget what life is like for the other half in order to enjoy a guilt-free steak dinner. Because a good hunk of steak and a decent bottle of red wine are what most of us are really after from a place like De La Panza.

However, to try and do the kitchen justice we kicked things off with some starters: the spicy beef empanda was decent enough, as were the piquillo peppers stuffed with cod and béchamel. The real winner here though was the morcilla (aka Spanish black pudding), which was savoury, rich and just the right texture to be spread over a piece of bread and scoffed down in one.

And so to the steaks. De La Panza offer three cuts to choose from: fillet, sirloin and rib-eye, of which we chose the sirloin and the rib-eye. I tend not to eat at steakhouses that often, considering them overpriced and doing something to a piece of meat that I can happily achieve at home with a gas hob and a cast iron griddle.

However, I will say that the steak here impressed me: the sirloin was at least as thick as the last Harry Potter book (all 600 plus pages), while the sizeable rib-eye covered most of my plate.

Both arrived well seasoned, nicely caramelised, and medium rare as requested. The chimichurri sauce was fresh with parsley and oregano and pungent with garlic, although I’m not sold on the idea that it is the ideal accompaniment to steak, preferring a swipe of Dijon mustard or bearnaise instead. At £22 each, the steaks weren’t cheap, but certainly no more that you’d spend elsewhere for similar quality, and much less than the likes of Goodman and Hawksmoor.

A word here too on the wine, we were recommended a bottle of Qaramy Alto 2005, a malbec / cabernet sauvingnon / shiraz blend from Mendoza in Argentina. This was a serious, inky dark, 14.5%, full bodied, blockbuster of a wine, but there was enough acidity and finesse to ensure the fruit and alcohol weren’t overpowering. Unsurprisingly, it was a very fine match with the steaks. 

By the time our desserts, a flan de café and a marquis de chocolate, arrived, the restaurant seemed to have transformed itself into that Buenos Aires bodegón. Surrounded by Spanish speakers, with a classical guitarist playing Albeniz’s Asturias, couples dancing the tango and a sultry Colombian singer, meant I’ve never felt quite so Anglo-Saxon before, and I got the feeling the party might have still been going for quite a while after we left.

What to make of De La Panza then? There are certainly more things to like than not: the starters and desserts were fine, but the main event was the steak and with that they hit the nail on the head, and the service was attentive and friendly. I also like the fact that they are drumming up diners through exhibitions, live music and Saturday parrillada master-classes, showing a management who care about what they are doing. I’m not a De Beauvoir local, but if I was I’m sure I’d be back at De La Panza, which seems recommendation enough for a neighbourhood bodegón.

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