Today, I visited Garufa, an Argentinian café that has sprung up in Highbury since I’ve been away. It actually opened around two years ago and is brought to us by the same people that launched the very successful Buen Ayre in Hackney.
It was oddly exciting to discover it, sitting directly opposite the house where I once lived.
It’s clearly a little corner of Argentina, but I was pleased to find it had taken a subtle approach. Instead of plastering the walls with pictures of Maradona and Gardel, the sophisticated, bare-brick décor includes a few blown-up photos of yesteryear Buenos Aires and a sign in traditional filete design. On late summer’s day, the best part was the huge, wooden picture-window which opens wide on to the road to give you that street-café feel. (Although the Number 19 pulling up outside soon shatters any illusions.)
The menu features all the typical Argentinian favourites. There are tostado sandwiches (£3) and choripan (£5) for lunch, plus steak dinners and an extensive wine list. Coffee is served in a chunky, little glass, as is customary, and breakfast is available until 5pm, which is ideal if you’ve enjoyed an Argentina-style late night.
However, the differences from Buenos Aires became apparent from the moment I sat down, when the porteña waitress put down the menu, along with the salt and pepper.
Pepper! I could hardly believe it. You never get a pepper on the table in Argentina. Just one, sole salt shaker, which makes up for its loneliness by being hyper-active. (Argentinians put such dangerously high amounts of salt on their food that the government recently agreed to a law banning them from being put on the table.) But pepper? Never any pepper.
This was one of a few clear concessions made to an English market, which I found quite interesting.
There were also plenty of green “vegetarian” signs on the menu (unheard of in Argentina); the salad wasn’t just lettuce, tomato and onion; and there was a “babyccino” on the menu too, lest we forget we are in Islington.
Perhaps the biggest move towards Anglicisation, however, was the “full Argentinian breakfast”, which features eggs, steak and “Argentinian-style sausages”. Argentinians – as I’ve noted before – simply don’t do breakfast. When I cook a cheese-and-onion omelette for brunch in Buenos Aires, my Argentinian housemate is astounded. (“Wow, you must have a strong stomach!” etc.) And they certainly wouldn’t combine it with a Bloody Mary, which Garufa also offers as part of the deal.
But Brits… get a load of this… a place that offers a hearty breakfast until 5pm with a hair-of-the-dog cocktail!
And there are options – yes, options – for veggies too.
With strong Argentinian character and style, I wouldn’t say Garufa is inauthentic; it just knows how to play to its local audience.
I need to go back again to be sure, but, on first impressions, Garufa could be the perfect marriage of my two favourite cultures.