Casa Malevo is only two minutes walk from Paddington, so when I was invited there for dinner on my way home by a good friend of mine, it was a no-brainer. Casa Malevo is a true Argentinian restaurant, serving food in the raw Argentinian style. This may be considered ‘home cooking’ by Argentinians, but is a good reflection of how you can focus on taste and substance rather than style and flair. As a wine writer I can appreciate the difference.
The restaurant is long, going back a good way but not too open and wide, setting a nice intimate feeling to the tables that are well spaced apart. There is a public upstairs area, and a private area below which can be booked for no cost if you have a large party or simply want to run an off-site work do.
We were greeted by the manager, Roberto Tavoloni, who showed us to our table, and explained the philosophy behind Casa Malevo. He was proud of his Argentinian family roots (even his card had ‘made in Argentina’ on it) and of how he wanted the food being served to reflect closely the style and presentation of the food served in his home country. He was not aiming to compete with the more fancy city restaurants, but to give an honest representation of Argentinian home food. All the food was made freshly on the premises, from the bread to the chocolate puddings, the horseradish sauce to the sweetbreads.
The name Casa Malevo means ‘house of the nasty man’. Nothing nasty about it here, it is simply the name of a popular tango!
Before we had ordered from the menu, a traditional family box of home baked bread arrived, along with hand whipped butter. Whilst the butter was a bit too creamy for my liking, the bread was doughy with hints of garlic, more like a tare-n-share, and very enjoyable.
Wanting to get into the Argentinian mood, I ordered the house aperitif – a “sweet fernando” containing Fernet Branca, honey, lime and egg white. Fernet Branca is one of the most popular Argentinian drinks, and is taken at lunchtime and evening. It is not common in the UK, it has an unusual taste. To me it was more like a watery crème de menthe, with a very citrus bitterness. It was however very refreshing, and I would take it again, especially if the weather was hotter.
Wanting to sample the finest Argentina could offer, we asked Roberto for his recommendations. Whilst he wanted to rave about all of them, he identified a few, and we went with his selections.
For starters I chose the Sweetbreads. They were well presented, in a little trio on a slate bed. Melt in the mouth and all about flavour, they were complimented by diced baby spring onion on top of a slice of lemon that just added the necessary tartness. Roberto said that back home in Argentina, people take measure of a families cooking skills on how well they make sweetbreads. It is clearly an acquired skill, but one that Casa Malevo does well.
My friend chose the Garlic Prawns, which were simply served on a plate exactly as they should be. This is a typical local dish, and demonstrates the good use of the grill to cook with. they are served complete, so you maybe get a little messy eating them, but you will be rewarded with the taste.
The wine menu is varied but all at reasonable prices with most wines between £20 and £40, and most of these wines are from true Argentinian vineyards. I chose a bottle of the Argentinian Malbec Decero 2010, as this is a good showcase wine for £36.95, but this is just one of over twenty good Argentinian Malbecs on offer. It is available by the glass too, as are many others here, so if you wanted to match wine to the food you could easily do so.
For mains I ordered the Rib Eye steak, medium rare, and my friend order the Fillet, rare. As we both like steaks, and know the cut, this is always a good baseline to see how a restaurant performs. Neither of us were disappointed with the delivery.
The steaks were grilled to perfection, and on cutting revealed the quality of the cooking and of the meat.
All the food is freshly prepared and cooked on the premises, so you do need to allow a bit of time between courses for your food to arrive. This is not a place to come to if you are in a hurry, and frankly the high quality would be wasted on you if you were. For me the time between courses allows for more wine to be taken and conversation to be had.
Along with the mains, we chose a selection of side dishes.
- The chips were real chips – how easy to forget that they can taste of potato and not have fat filled outers. Hand cut and cooked on the premises, these chips would put many English restaurants to shame.
- The mushrooms were large and meaty, yet had absorbed enough of the onion and vinegar sauce to stay sharp and firm.
- The Creamed Spinach was just that, but really crisp leaves in a smooth cream sauce that is the ideal compliment to a steak. This dish and steak always works for me.
- I also chose a small bowl of the home made Casa Malevo Horseradish sauce, as I like the peppery nature of the sauce with steaks on occasions where a good Colemans mustard would be to much. It was very creamy, letting the horseradish flavour follow behind, but if you took a bit too much then, wham, the heat kicked in. Definitely not the coarse English way of doing it, but a very worthy continental effort.
After a suitable delay, un-hurried by waiters, we ordered dessert. I chose the Crème brûlée (well I would wouldn’t I – if you know me at all)
It was much more of a caramel brûlée, darker and heady with the taste of sweet caramel. The chocolate and caramel sauce ice cream on top of the sugar glaze only helped reinforce this. It tasted fine, the ice cream working well with the brûlée, but sadly no crème, just caramel.
My friend ordered the Chocolate Fondant, with hazelnuts and a raspberry sorbet. Full of colour and the aroma of chocolate and fruit, I barely had a chance to picture it before it was gone. I guess it was that good!
To finish the meal off I had a Susana Balbo Late Harvest Malbec 2009 dessert wine. Although slightly unusual, I am starting to appreciate the red dessert wines as a compliment to the normal sweet whites. More full bodied and less honeyed than the traditional European dessert wines, I found this a good ending to a meal.
Casa Malevo is definitely a place to go if you want to experience real Argentinian food, and wines, at reasonable prices that reflect the quality.
23 Connaught Street
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