Gaucho: My favourite Steak restaurant in London

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I’m quite a fan of the Gaucho chain of steak restaurants. I really do enjoy the premium experience they strive to deliver. Their focus is on Argentinian food (steak, of course) and superb South American wines. 

There’s quite a range of steak houses nowadays arrayed across London. I’ve tried most of them. Hawksmoor, Miller & Carter, Goodman… I’ve had great experiences.

I do like returning to Gaucho, though. I think it’s the focus on service and consistency that really appeals. Most restaurants aim to try and meet your expectations, but there’s clearly a bit of work going on at Gaucho as I feel they’ve stepped up this approach way more than others.

They keep notes about you. I love this. If you’re a regular customer, they keep a record of the wines you’ve tried and the things you tend to like.

I’ve often been with one of my friends and we routinely ask the waitress to check what we had last time. Sometimes we’ll stick with that — the memory of that particular bottle still fresh — other times we’ll use that information to try something completely different.

The process at Gaucho starts like this… (and, I should point out I’m modelling this based on the 1 Bell Inn Yard “Gaucho City” restaurant supervised by Trisha, but it’s the same in the others across the city.)

First, you arrive into the restaurant. I always get there early. My favourite Gaucho is an empty one. Don’t get me wrong, there’s plenty of atmosphere, however I quite like eating earlier in the evening so I can get home at a reasonable time! 

Walking down the stairs (Bell Inn Yard is underground) you usually catch sight of someone waiting in reception. They’ll immediately welcome you and offer to help you unload your coats, bags, umbrellas and all that jazz. They’ll check your reservation. I’m usually the chap who does the booking (via Opentable) so they’ll find me and then they’ll tell me if the other people in my party have arrived. Often they have and I’ll then meet them or wait for them by the bar.

I’m usually served at the bar within 15-30 seconds which is absolutely ideal. 

Then, when we’re ready to eat — often we’ll go and sit down at a table right-away rather than hanging around — a simple nod and a word to the barman or any passing staff and folk start talking into invisible microphones and within seconds you are ushered to a table. 

I then like the fact that the waitress/waiter then introduces themselves almost immediately. We’re old hats at the experience so if the waitress is new (they have surprisingly low turnover at Gaucho from my experience) we’ll head straight to the meat board.

This is an old tradition and a key part of the Gaucho experience. Other steak restaurants — particularly the larger more mainstream chains do their best at this section, but routinely screw it all up. Here’s how Gaucho does it: The waitress will have greeted you, sorted you out with any immediate drinks and then will soon return to the table with a massive wooden board containing about 6 different raw steaks. 

With your leave the waitress will introduce each steak in some detail, answering questions and making recommendations based on the interaction from the table. They know their stuff. I usually have a Fillet but now and again I’ll change it up so it’s useful to get this regular briefing. 

The next stage is usually the bread bowl. Sometimes that comes before the meat, because it’s delivered by the support waitress staff. That’s right: At Gaucho you’re assigned a key account manager in the form of the waitress and they are supported by a team of glass wranglers, plate removers and so on. 

My friends tend to really like the little cheesy mini rolls they bring along with some normal and some flat bread. If it’s the usual waitress who has read our file, then we get a bread bowl full of these cheesy rolls. If it’s a new waitress then we usually request for the bread bowl to be returned chock full of the cheesy rolls. They are excellent.

Swiftly the waitress will be back to take the main order and then it’s time for the wine. I do like that stage because they are usually exceptionally well briefed. I’m not looking for people to have spent holidays with the owner of the vineyard. I just like it when they can accurately describe a particular bottle or help us hunt for a general type of (red, always) wine. 

As you might imagine, Gaucho, with it’s huge South American pedigree, is a super place to get a really nice Malbec. 

We often ask if they’ve got any bottles open so we can do a small taster to help make a buying decision. I like that they do this. I’m sure it’s an unofficial policy but it really, really helps, especially when we’re looking to spend a good amount of money on a bottle. 

The environment is lit in a very soothing manner. If anything, it’s actually rather dark in almost every Gaucho I’ve visited. There are usually South American cow hides on the chairs and the decor is infused with a smart, current Argentinian vibe. The quality is clear, though. They’ve invested in nice things. The restrooms are typically well managed. The other clientele varies from couples to friends to business meetings.

Most nights you’ll usually get a visit from one of the managers or senior staff. Sometimes they announce themselves but usually they pick a moment to politely ask if you’re enjoying your meal.

That’s the key: Picking your moment.

It’s a flipping arse if you can’t get the attention of the wait staff and at Gaucho they tend to have a good ratio of wait staff to diners. They also tend to hire experienced individuals who are capable of ‘reading’ the table to work out when to interrupt. Sometimes the customer needs to be interrupted — when you’re bringing their meal — but there’s a technique to observing the most opportune time to engage. 

I really appreciate a fine balance between assertive service level management and being left to get on with talking with my friend(s). They’re good at this at Gaucho… which is why I like the place so much.

I’d welcome your recommendations for good steak places in London! 

Chocolate Gifts

Montezuma’s Grand Collection: An ideal gift

Until my good friend presented us with some Montezuma chocolates when he and his girlfriend popped over a few weeks ago, I’d never heard of the brand before.

My wife knows it well though — and, after consulting the website, it seems it’s me who’s rather out of date: They’ve got quite a few stores across the South of England.

I’m pretty particular about my chocolate (especially truffles). Either I want some overtly commercial Galaxy or Cadbury’s, or I want some proper chocolate. I can’t stand the stuff that pretends it’s good but is actually utter tripe. I remember buying some Champagne Truffles from a reasonably well known high street brand and not bothering finishing them as they were so rubbish.

Montezumas is fantastic. I found them fresh, stimulating and thoroughly wholesome. They’re big, you see — and that’s what you want in a truffle — a good big size with excellent flavours. The Grand Collection that my friend selected contained a brilliant array of different types. I even enjoyed the dark chocolate and coffee ones (I am, by default, a milk chocolate only chap). And that, dear reader, is saying something. Normally I avoid those ones like the plague because they’re usually rather poorly done — but the Montezuma ones were excellent.

So, if you find yourself looking for a decent gift that will work for any occasion, head over to Montezumas and take a special look at their Grand Collection.

(You can, of course, order online from their site.)


Donald Russell’s Artisan Sausage Rolls: Are these the best sausage rolls in the world?

I have to say that Hetty (wife) — barometer in all things quality — did raise her eyebrows briefly when I explained that I was planning on examining sausage rolls for The Pursuit of Quality.

I’ve always liked sausage rolls. I particularly like the home cooked ones that arrive frozen. You typically buy a pack of 50 at Tesco and then stick them in the oven. They used to be deployed at parties all the time when I was 10.

As a teenager and student I would occasionally pop to Tesco and buy a bag of 50 mini frozen sausage rolls.

Now and again if you’re lucky, you’ll find a high street vendor with decent sausage rolls. Greggs, for example, seems to do a decent line.

Most of the high street shops carry ready-to-eat sausage rolls, but they are all shit. I haven’t ever come across a ready made sausage roll from a high street brand. They’re all unequivocally shit. Poor pastry, poor sizing and highly disappointing sausage meat. Indeed I’m sure the leading brands we all know seem to use the same supplier who delights in over-spicing the already limited sausage meat.

Yet I have a soft spot for sausage rolls. Most people I know have a small place in their heart reserved for the humble, decent, sausage roll. You have to be quite a cold hearted soul (or a vegetarian) to not subscribe to this sausage roll policy.

I’ve always been on the look out for a decent sausage roll.

It’s for this reason that my attention was captured a few weeks ago by the team at Donald Russell butchers. They were unknown to me. My wife, however, received their catalogue. I haven’t quite managed to find out where she got their name, but they’re known. My mother, for instance, knows lots of people who use Donald Russell. They’re quite a big direct-sales butcher.

They’ve got a website, but I suspect the majority of their business is probably still catalogue-based.

The current edition of the Donald Russell catalogue introduces Mini Artisan Sausage Rolls.

“You what?” I thought, when I saw that. I stopped everything and turned to page 36.

The visual feast that greeted me was palpable. Finally, a sausage roll worth looking at. I’m slightly embarrassed to admit that I was ridiculously impressed by the bullet point that explains these rolls have…

The highest possible ratio of sausage stuffing to pastry – over 60%

The fact that someone at Donald Russell has bothered to even measure the stuffing to pastry ratio and then comment upon it spoke volumes for me.

“I have to try these,” I remarked to myself as I examined the catalogue entry. Have a read:

We’ve taken a traditional British favourite, the sausage roll, and given it the Donald Russell ‘Wow’ treatment.

Their rustic appearance easily lets you pass them off as your own and the filling is as generous and natural as you would expect from something homemade – it’s just lightly seasoned pork shoulder sausage-meat flecked with onion. We make it ourselves so we know there is nothing in it to stop the butter enriched puff pastry being crispy throughout.

Yes please. I ordered a load of them same day. I ordered a pack of 32 for a special introductory price of £15 (normally you’ll get 32 for £18).

My delivery from Donald Russell arrived yesterday. We deployed the first 8-pack last night and goodness me the results were fantastic.

Hetty did the honours whilst I put the wee man (Archie) to sleep. She stuck them all on a baking tray, turned the oven on and brushed each roll with a bit of beaten egg yolk.

They took 25 minutes to cook — coincidentally about the same amount of time it took me to put Archie to sleep. So when I came down into the kitchen I was astonished to see just how good the finished article looked.

Firstly, I should point out that if you’re having any parties where sausage rolls (artisan, no less) would be appropriate, you should definitely think about using these ones from Donald Russell. They looked absolutely amazing. Each was perfectly formed, beautifully browned (thanks to the egg yolk) and crucially, each looked unique. The pastry thickness was amazingly uniform on every roll.

I grabbed the camera. Are you ready? Here are the rolls waiting to cook:

Right, and now are you ready for the gorgeous results? Here we go:

Don’t they look amazing?

Eating them was even better.

We let them cool for about 15 minutes so that they were warm, but not crazy hot. I think this is a good strategy for these kind of quality sausage rolls.

Eating them was divine. The pastry was perfectly balanced between crumbly and solid. You don’t want the stuff to fall apart in your hand. The sausage meat — by fat the largest ‘stuffing’ I’ve ever seen in a sasuage roll — was absolutely fantastic. This is what makes the experience, I think. The stuffing was juicy and flavoursome. I could detect the ‘light seasoning’ described in the blurb above along with the hint of onion. Each roll took about 3-4 bites to complete making it an absolutely ideal size for parties. They’ll go in a flash though so consider buying a few more packs to have in reserve.

Hetty was thoroughly impressed. So much so that we actually cooked a few more tonight.

I’m delighted at the simple cooking experience. Literally all you need to do is:

  • Remove sausage rolls from packing and put on baking tray
  • Pre-heat oven for 5 minutes
  • Dust each roll with a bit of beaten egg so they brown nicely
  • Stick sausage rolls in for 25 minutes
  • Let’em cool down for at least 5 minutes before commencing munching

And for £4.50 for 8? Fabulous. Absolutely fabulous.

I am now ready to declare that Donald Russell’s Mini Artisan Sausage Rolls as the best I’ve ever tasted. I took quite a few pictures to illustrate the experience as best I could. The gallery is below.

If you know of some other sausage rolls I should check out, please let me know in the comments below or by email (

A quick word on fulfilment: I placed the order last week and asked for the rolls to arrive on Friday. They did. They were perfectly packed along with some dry ice to keep them frozen/cold in transit.

I submitted a brief 5-star review of them on the Donald Russell site and used this description:

I saw these advertised in the catalogue and was immediately taken with them. I ordered some right-away and goodness me I’m delighted: They were gorgeous. Super-easy to prepare, perfectly formed, an utter delight to eat. Thank you Donald Russell.

Great for parties, by the way, as they seriously look like you spent the whole afternoon making them!

Update: Thanks to the team at Donald Russell for picking up my post and tweeting/Facebooking and blogging it!