Monday, 19 November 2012

24 Hours in Buenos Aires

Depending on the day, work wavers between being a complete bitch, a tolerable means to an end, or at best, an investment into what bankrolls the other aspects of your life. But occasionally it can deliver the goods. In my case, the opportunity to visit Argentina for a meeting and to spend a day and night in Buenos Aires,

What always drew me in was the crumbling fading colonial and the post-colonial nationalist grandeur and scale of the place; all beautifully weathered mansions and outrageous Soviet-style monuments. Traditions, etiquette and State co-exist with mayhem, anarchy and not a small dose of frontier wildness. And foremost among its appeals are the red meat and the wine.

I deliberately avoided seeing too much of the city, and much to my chagrin I was actually working a fair amount too, so my time was limited to the Palermo Soho area. This area was (lazily) described as a Soho of Buenos Aires, but I found it quite different. It does have many bars and restaurants, but it’s also very heavy on the high-end fashion and design retail which was fun to explore. However it didn’t have the critical mass or workaday feel that Soho’s studios, agencies and offices add to the mix, so it felt a little quiet during the day,

The retail itself was impressive; plenty of imaginatively kitted out stores which seemed to be free of the shackles of planning restrictions and plenty of outdoor dining options. And vertical gardens everywhere. There weren’t many global chains actually, which I imagine could be due to the currency and entry barriers involved (boring) – but this meant the fashion was a little bit more unique than visiting a European or US city, albeit mimicking global trends all the same. 

My epic meal was at La Cabrera, a famous asado place in the neighbourhood. It was absolutely fantastic. Bottle after bottle of red wine slushed down (big thumbs up for Argentine working lunches!) to accompany the most vast range of meat I’ve ever encountered.

The chorizo sausage was outstanding. It is different to Spanish chorizo, closer to a conventional sausage, with less piquancy. The picture is ridiculously phallic, of course. 

This was the only dish served with chimichurri which was a surprise as I thought it was a traditional accompaniment to steak primarily.

We shared it between three, as the sweetbreads, fillet and sirloin (there is another of the same size underneath) came out in a never-ending onslaught of meat. 

I was absolutely debilitated afterwards, but in the best possible way. They also provide countless sides of pickled vegetables, chimichurri fries, tomatoes and salad. We could only face a Chupa Chups for dessert, as we rolled out. Superb meal, and I look forward to returning to try the many other traditional and not so traditional temples to grilled meat one day.

My hotel was the Ultra Boutique Hotel. I’m often suspicious of anywhere which describes itself as a boutique hotel, as any old shithole does these days, but this was very close to the market. The room was huge, with a massive, incredibly comfortable bed and beautiful, stained parquet floors. Bathroom was a metro-tiled New York style, with house-made products. 

The communal areas served as a meeting space and bar for the local area too – although I managed to get a picture of it deserted. Breakfast was a stylish display of bell jars containing fruit, cured meats, cheeses and treats such as brownies. For less than £100 a night, this place was an absolute gem. There is a rooftop pool and courtyard bar also, but the weather wasn’t quite on my side for those.

I forced myself to have dinner although I could barely walk, even six hours later, and another (much smaller) steak at Minga did the job. Plenty more Malbec among the snogging couples (Buenos Aires’ displays of affection are not subtle) and a good steak confirmed all my preconceptions. 24 hours was enough for my tick list of steak and wine, but also to see a whole lot more. 

Design conscious retail, bold street art, independent businesses, lovely service, lush greenery, clear high skies and strange stars, Buenos Aires was a fantastic place to visit, however briefly. I can’t wait to return to explore the rest of the city outside the calm of Palermo, the wine country and the wilderness of Patagonia, itself an outpost of Monterey-style Pinot Noirs.

BA is beside the Rio de la Plata - an endless sea of sludge


  1. How wonderful to be able to add a little time in BA, with travel and hotel paid by work. It's nice when such things work out well and make up for the usual drudgery, no?

    We spent 3 nights in BA a couple of years ago, though didn't see as much as we might have done. We were exhausted after a fantastic Antarctic holiday, and the heat of BA in December was debilitating too.

    But we loved it, we stayed in Palermo Soho too and would do so again.

    Only reason we've not been back is cost and length of that flight...

  2. Thanks for the comment. It was certainly a big added bonus. The weather wasn't too warm, but very pleasant - and I was coming from Sao Paulo (real reason for the business trip) so the journeying was broken up!