Argentine restaurants in London tend to be simple in their menus: steak, side salad and a bottle of Malbec. It's the same whether you're dining at a decent independent restaurant (Buen Ayre in Broadway Market, for example) or enduring the stiff-shirted corporate experience that is Gaucho.
Holborn newcomer Garufin is different. An offshoot of Highbury's popular Garufa, the restaurant, in a cosy underground space on Theobald's Road, draws on Argentina's regional cuisine and serves them as platitos, or tapas-style small plates.
Things began unusually, with a full-bodied Malbec sourced not from the typical region of Mendoza but Salta, in the country's north. The meal quickly turned into a gastronomic tour of the country. We began with empanadas patagonicas, a southern speciality of scallops and spring onion wrapped in flaky pastry. Next was locro, a hearty stew popular in the country's Andean north that combined pulled pork, corn, chorizo and pumpkin to good effect. Turning to the grill, the ribeye was well-presented with a piquant peppercorn sauce and a sprinkling of black pudding, while the rump steak was served with cream corn and a pair of ravioli. The latter dish was enjoyable if under-seasoned, a matter not helped by the absence of a salt shaker (though pepper was in plentiful supply).
Those hankering for traditionally served pampa-pampered carcass will find cuts of bife de chorizo (fillet) and bife de lomo (sirloin) available by weight. But it's rare to see some of the dishes mentioned above in this country, and an opportunity to try them shouldn't be missed.
Dessert was, according to one of our party, the best thing served all night: dulce de leche in a glass, with apple buñuelos (dough balls covered in sugar) to dip in it.
We visited on a Friday evening and, perhaps surprisingly, only a handful of tables were busy. Yet the atmosphere was relaxed and pleasant and the low ceilings meant that the restaurant didn't feel empty. The enjoyable vibe was aided by attentive yet not intrusive staff, and the presence of a buoyant French family celebrating the 70th birthday of the paterfamilias. You may not luck out with such agreeable fellow diners, but you can expect a good meal.
Dinner for two cost £78 with a bottle of wine (food alone was £50)
Garufin, 25-27 Theobalds Road, London WC1X 8SP