Argentinian cuisine has found a new home in Battersea. HDYTI contributor Debbie Williams, gives us insight into why Santa Maria del Sur has a heartbeat worth paying attention to!
A few years ago when visiting Argentina, a South American friend joked that the slogan for the country should be, ‘Argentina…We are happy to MEAT you!’. Truer words were never spoken about the food that represents the culinary centre of Argentinian cuisine.
My food memories from that trip are full of juicy steaks, spicy chorizo, blood sausage, and savoury meat filled empanadas that were cooked on open flamed grills, and consumed in vast quantities. And oh the provoleta – don’t get me started on that delicious grilled piece of cheese. Those are good memories…
When invited to visit Santa Maria del Sur in Battersea, my mind and taste buds went immediately back to that earlier time and place, and I was curious to see if a small slice of Argentina could be found in London.
When walking up Queenstown Road, my first inclination that I was in the right area was the smell of wood smoke in the air. It permeates the block surrounding the restaurant and invites you to think about relaxed summer afternoon barbeques surrounded by family and friends. The red painted building on the corner includes a large window that allows passers-by to view the chefs in action at their massive wood burning grill.
As I stood and watched head chef José preparing several large steaks, he looked up, broke into a large smile and motioned me inside. This Argentinian hospitality continued upon meeting Alberto, and Juan, the owner and manager, who welcomed me into what seemed more like a homely dining room rather than their good sized restaurant.
Juan, a chef from Mendoza, moved out of the kitchen and into the front of house when he realised that his passion for food extended beyond simply the preparation. Food and wine are his everything and he likes nothing more than interacting with the customers and explaining Argentinian cuisine.
When making recommendations, he invites the guest to share a bit about themselves in order to create the best match of both food and wine (to the personality of the customer that is…). His goal is to create a specialised symbiosis of flavours where as he says, ‘the voice of the meat’ is in line with the desires of the customer.
On this visit, his recommendation for me was spot on. For starters, I tried the chicken empanada which was the perfect combination of flaky pastry and spicy meat. The provoleta was just how it is supposed to be – in all its salty, gooey glory. It is quite a generous portion, so be sure to order it to share.
In accordance with Juan’s recommendation, I chose the grilled prime rib-eye steak, and cooked to medium, was absolute perfection. If you are not a fan of red meat there are grilled chicken dishes that I’ve put on my list to try next time, and they even offer vegetarian options that were heartily approved by another guest.
There is a respectable wine list, with most of the choices coming from the Mendoza region of Argentina. Juan recommended a Malbec that was the perfect pairing with my steak. Bold with a bit of spice and slightly dry, it really worked to balance the rich flavour and texture of the meat.
When it comes to restaurant desserts, I am a hard one to impress, but the crème brûlée was everything you want it to be – creamy, rich, with a hint of a crackly crust. The torta de banana con dulce de leche (Banana and milk toffee cake), and coolant de chocolate (chocolate cake with a liquid chocolate core) were also pretty fantastic. Be sure to top it all off with an espresso or small brandy.
Owner Alberto moved from Argentina to London as a website designer almost twenty years ago. Shortly thereafter, he and his friends realised that what they missed the most about home was the kind of restaurant that served what mama used to make – especially the meat!
He opened his first restaurant in East London, and moved to Queenstown Road a few years later. When asked to describe what he felt was the most important aspect of Santa Maria del Sur, he immediately said ‘community’ – a notion that is not only applied to his customers, but serves as his vision for the restaurant as a whole.
His staff are amiable and easy, and it is obvious that the ‘family vibe’ that prompted the opening of his first restaurant, also exits in this one. As Juan said, ‘José and I went to cooking school together many years ago – we are like brothers with the same vision about food’.
Add Alberto’s mission to the mix and you’ve got one special place. One that I look forward to MEATing again very soon.
For reservations, visit their website.
Disclaimer: I was invited as a guest of Santa Maria del Sur, however, all opinions and views remain my own.
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