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!