First thing I should say is I’ve never been to Argentina and am no expert on authentic Argentinean food. From the few travel programs I’ve seen and the single restaurant I’ve visited in Adelaide it seems to be largely about the BBQ meats. To describe these as generous is like saying the Eiffel Tower is tall or the moon is a long way away. It doesn’t seem to be a case of ordering a particular cut of a steak, more like choosing between the left and right hand side of the cow.
The dishes at San Telmo come as smaller serves, sides and larger grilled dishes and are designed for sharing. It’s fair to say that the emphasis is on the meat – it’s probably not a great choice for vegetarian diners – but also includes ceviche which as I understand it is more Peruvian in origin.
Ms Counting Her Calories failure to book for a Saturday Night dinner was a bit of an oversight, but because we were early diners we still managed to score a table even if in the darkest corner of the room. This meant that photos had to be taken using a flash, something I generally find a bit rude when others do it and which I avoid whenever possible.
To start we decided on a variety of smaller (entree) dishes and some options from the grill. First up were the empanadas. These are similar to pasties but can come baked or fried. The empanadas at San Telmo were of the fried variety and came with either beef, egg and olive, or alternatively provolone, mozzarella, basil and capsicum. These were very nicely done, leaving a thin crispy outer shell around the full flavoured fillings. Of the two the beef were the more successful dish to share, as cutting the other in half caused some of the molten filling to leak onto the plate.
It was Ironman’s birthday and he was very keen to try the ceviche, a raw fish dish where the fish is effectively ‘cooked’ through the addition of an acidic fruit juice. The white fish ceviche was lemon cured, served with sweet potato and a dash of ginger and chilli. The flavour was given a real kick through the lemon but I found the ginger and chilli quite subdued. The dish on the whole though was well received, particularly by Ms L but also by MCHC, despite her earlier protestations that she ‘doesn’t do raw fish’.
From the grill came the chorizo and blood sausages. Blood sausages are dark in colour and made from, well, blood. The flavour of the sausage is dense and rich, the texture softer than your usual meat filled sausage. While good, the flavour packed chorizo was better. This was a little spicy but full of juicy goodness, demonstrating just how much a little bit of fat can magnify the flavour of a sausage.
For mains it was the beef short ribs and one of the daily specials, lamb ribs. Consensus at the table was that the lamb ribs were the better dish, extremely tender and with a rich lamb goodness. However, I found these a bit fatty and preferred the slightly bigger flavours of the beef short ribs, which were also nicely cooked with just a tinge of pink in the middle, slight charring on the outside and great beef flavours.
Accompanying sides were the roasted sweet potato, and the grilled asparagus and smoked mackerel with beetroot, both of the latter of which I think were on the specials list. The sweet potato was rich and soft and thoroughly delicious. Asparagus isn’t necessarily my favourite vegetable, and while this was still nicely firm it didn’t really rock my boat. But the smoked mackerel and beetroot was the only dish I could say that I didn’t especially like, mainly because the combination of flavours of the smoked fish and the slight sweetness of the beetroot wasn’t a good match for my tastes. Potato, Potatoe...
Of course we couldn’t leave without dessert. I'd been looking forward to churros but unfortunately these weren't on the menu. While MCHC went for the quinoa with raisins and rum syrup, Ms L and myself went with the alfajor, a biscuit with a dulche de leche filling. I must admit to not being that impressed with either of these desserts. The alfajor would likely have gone very well with coffee or a hot chocolate, but was a bit plain by itself. The quinoa with raisins and rum just remaindered me of a sweetened porridge.
The Flan though, a dulche de leche crème caramel with salted peanut praline was totally delicious. In addition to the great but not overwhelming caramel flavour of the flan the texture was just perfect, a creamy softness so that it melted away in the mouth but still held its shape when been slowly dissected by multiple spoons.
Despite being overly dark where we were sitting still a very nice setting, and the staff were very professional and helpful with suggestions around the dishes. Food came out in a timely fashion so that we were neither left waiting for the next dish or felt rushed by a swarm of plates arriving simultaneously. It’s not quite what I’d had in mind when conceiving an Argentinean restaurant but that could be me as much as San Telmo. And even if it isn’t strictly authentic, the food is very good anyway. The only caveat, some of the more expensive dishes did feel a little small for the price, making it more a special occasion than a regular haunt.
Food – 8.5
Service – 8
Ambience – 8
Price – 6.5
14 Meyers Place
Melbourne CBD 3000
Tel: (03) 9650 5525