by Nick Harman - Monday February 12, 2018 11:02 am
South of the border, the Thames border that is, there’s a place where the menu is as wide open as the pampas.
Hard core meat eaters talk in dreamy terms of South America, in particular of Argentina. Superb beef cooked over fierce charcoal and served simply with chimichurri sauce.
New restaurant Chimmis in Borough does that, oh yes it does that alright. Walk into the modern space, a short stroll from Borough tube station and chef and co-owner Nico is right up in your grill as he mans the grill by the front door.
It’s actually called a ‘parilla’. A grill raised or lowered over the charcoal on suspension chains. Nico Modad, originally from Argentina and ex Head Chef at Brindisa, is a cheerful presence his head gleaming in the heat being thrown off by this simple and traditional device. He greets people coming in with infectious good humour. They do more than grill here, though. Co-owner Federico
Fugazza is from Italy and the menu reflects it with things you’d perhaps not expect to see in an ‘Argentinian’.
All too often pastry heavily outweighs the filling with these things but here the balance is right. The pastry is flaky and buttery, the beef moist, juicy and subtly spicy. The spinach and feta are perfect pals. We nod at each other happily as we share the pies and splash on spicy sauce.
Provolone is that plain white cheese you see in Italian delis, the one that most people, including me, tend to ignore. Not everyone knows, well I certainly didn’t anyway, that it’s also made in Brazil, Argentina, Bolivia and Uruguay. There it’s grilled and used as a starter.
Which is how we have it here, served with olive oil and dried oregano in a red-hot griddle pan with lots of toasted bread to scoop up the chewy, twirly, deliciousness. You have to be quick, rather like mozzarella it loses its charm as it cools.
No problem with that, we’re dragging strings of cheese across the table in a kind of frenzy, creating a cat’s cradle of melted goo.
Meat is back on our menu with a dish Matrimonio - it’s a whole chorizo and a whole black pudding each staked like betrothed vampires to slices of toasted bread. Some people are repelled by black pudding, especially the moist sort favoured outside the UK, I like it and this is a great example with a snappy skin and slightly peppery filling.
In Argentina ‘chorizo’ is actually the name for any coarse meat sausage, and what we usually call chorizo here the Argentinians call “chorizo español". This chorizo is neither hot nor spicy, just excellently light textured and porky. Both bangers have been cooked on the parilla for a smoky flavour.
So much on the menu here is appealing, I see sweetbreads, I see grilled cod with mashed potato and spinach with a caper sauce, but I want steak. I rarely eat steak outside of home, but this opportunity is too good to miss. Ojo de bife with guarnición, a rib eye with sauces.
It comes all alone on the plate, which is kind of a surprise. Some green leaf would have been nice, if only for aesthetic purposes. Still, the steak is the star after all and won’t share the limelight, and this certainly is a bit of special.
Cooked rare to medium, perfect as far as I am concerned, it really is a prime example of Argentinian beef, as well as the classic cooking method used. The knife slides through it with ease, the outside is well-caramelised. It doesn’t melt in the mouth like boring fillet, it needs light chewing to release the flavours. I love the small grains of rock salt adhering to it here and there.
P has something very different indeed; grilled octopus with stuffed polenta, served with smoked paprika and salsa criolla. It really is a proper in your face octopus too, no attempt to hide its tentacly nature for the more squeamish among us. It’s come from Galicia apparently, where octopus is of course one of the signature dishes.
I try some and it’s just excellent, the flesh is butter soft and the grill has created little pockets of smokiness and charring. Polenta, never my favourite food, actually tastes better than usual thanks to the juices and the salsa criolla. P happily slices away at tentacles like something out of a Harry Harryhausen movie.
Argentinian apple crumble style with vanilla ice cream is actually an empanada filled with apple, with the crumble on the side. I don’t think it works as a concept, the empanada and cream are fine the way they are. The whole point of a crumble is that it slightly absorbs the apple underneath not that it sits separate.
Walnut pudding with dulce de leche foam is more fun, dulce de leche is a bit heavy usually but this is pleasantly light and the walnuts give it a healthy feel in theory, if not in actual practice.
Staff are willing and cheerful, wearing the restaurant’s own T-Shirts. It’s all nicely informal without any grating mateyness and chef Nico seems in his element and calmly in control.
If you want more than just meat at your Argentinian, a side order of creativity and surprise delivered in a way that melds South America, Spain and Italy all together.All images sourced from restaurant.