At Argentine restaurant Zoilo, chef-patron Diego Jacquet is showcasing a wide variety of dishes from his homeland as well as the much-lauded beef. Janie Manzoori-Stamford went to visit
Mention Argentine cooking in conversation and there is a good chance your companion has a very clear picture in their mind: huge hunks of beef on the bone, barbecued slowly for tenderness and a flavoursome, caramelised crust. The odds are they are probably thinking of a rich and robust Malbec to wash it down with, too.
That these are Argentina's biggest gastronomic exports is not in dispute. But at Zoilo in London, chef-patron Diego Jacquet is determined to showcase a budding spectrum of culinary calibre that is yet to truly resonate internationally.
"It's great to have such high-quality beef," says Jacquet. "But at the same time, it's kind of a curse because people don't get the chance to know about the other produce that our vast country has to offer."
‘Vast' is right. Covering 2.8 million sq km, with terrain that encompasses the Andes, glacial lakes and Pampas grassland, as well as almost 5,000km of coastline, the natural larder that this South American country has to offer is diverse and abundant.
Jacquet was born in Buenos Aires, where he did his apprenticeship at the restaurants of renowned Argentine chef Francis Mallman following a youth spent in Patagonia. But the majority of his professional cooking career has been resolutely fine dining, with spells at Michelin luminaries elBulli and Aquavit, and London hotels the Trafalgar and the Zetter.
o it is little wonder that he describes his mission to expand impressions of Argentine cooking as a learning curve for all involved, including him.
"The truth is, I didn't really know anything about Argentine cuisine apart from what I liked personally. As a professional, I was very detached from Argentina. I left when I was 22 years old," he admits.
s diversity of Argentine produce is undoubtedly reflected in Jacquet's menu, which sees seafood, shellfish, pork, vegetables and, of course, beef take starring roles in the dishes.
Braised cuttlefish empanadas with fennel and chorizo (£4.25) sit alongside a more traditional version containing hand-cut beef, potatoes, spring onions and olives (£3.95). During game season, Zoilo serves pheasant empanadas.
"We try to be as sustainable as possible. Apart from the beef and dulce de leche, all our ingredients are sourced from the UK or Europe. We play around with different fillings and use what is available. Why wouldn't we?" asks Jacquet. "An empanada is a flaky pastry with a moist filling and combination of flavours. It's taking that [format] and doing it with different ingredients."
Of course, no Argentine menu would be complete without the beef. Jacquet serves a dish dubbed ‘asado', taking its name from the South American cooking method of, put simply, grilling meat on fire. Comprising Argentine flank served with celeriac, Roscoff onions and nasturtium, this chef's approach is more refined.
"In Argentina, most people eat their beef well done or medium well," he explains. "At Zoilo, we marinade flank for several hours with garlic, thyme, rosemary and olive oil. Then we cook it sous vide with bone marrow at 54°C for around six hours, which tenderises it and packs it with flavour.
"We then grill it to order to give it the crust and flavour on the outside while keeping it medium rare, or medium, on the inside. People love it."
Similar to beef on the menu, the wine list of an Argentine restaurant would be severely remiss were it to eschew the archetypal Malbec. And at Zoilo, Malbec absolutely stands front and centre, with seven varieties served by the glass and another nine by the bottle. But Malbec certainly does not stand alone.
A growing interest in different grapes among Argentine winemakers in recent years ensures the inclusion of Pinot Noir, Petit Verdot and Torrontes in the all-Argentine list, demonstrating once again that there is much more to the food and drink of this great nation than popular opinion might suggest.
From the menu
To start Morcilla | Black pudding croquettes, grilled squid, lemon and apples £7.95
Classic empanadas Sepia | Braised cuttlefish, fennel, chorizo £4.25
Garden, sea, land Camarones | Grilled prawns, bisque, rainbow chard "buñuelos" and anchovy mayo £10.95
Ojo de bife | Classic Argentine ribeye steak (400g), chimichurri sauce, and chips ‘provenzal' or seasonal leaves £34.95
Desserts Chocolate mousse, honeycomb, blood orange sorbet and olive oil £8.45
Tres leches | Milk cake, coffee foam, yogurt meringue and passion fruit £7.95
9 Duke Street, London W1U 3EG