Finally, after five long months, I find myself reviewing an actual live restaurant with actual people, actual food and actual wine. The restaurant in question is Gaucho, an Argentinian grill off Manchester’s Deansgate, located in a beautifully converted church with the organ still intact but not functioning.

While I empathised with said organ, the rest of the interior is dark and intimate, decorated in black and white Friesian cowhide which put me in mind of Desperate Dans bachelor pad, if he had one. As a child, I often pondered the circumstances of Dans life outside the pages of The Dandy as well as wondering if my head was full of Numbskulls. I looked to see if cow pie was on the menu.

My companion for lunch was the eponymous Brunette substituting for Helen, Northern Souls Editor, called to attend to affairs of state as she often is. I was glad to see that my old joke to the maitred that I dont look like a Helen still worked as we were directed to our cosy corner table. Our ministering companion is Sarah. She guides our way through the COVID-19 protocols which I suspect will become as ubiquitous as the safety instructions on a plane in this new normal. As a gentleman of a certain age with underlying health conditions, it soothed my virus paranoia (compounded by my neighbour who is self-isolating after being traced coming into contact with a positive person in a local restaurant). So, it was hand sanitizers (and contact information) all round.

Gaucho, image by David Griffen PhotographyThe menu at Gaucho is predominately Argentine beef which is unfortunate for the pescatarian Brunette. In an age when meat consumption is on the decline, Gaucho has a selection of fish and vegetarian options from which she chooses a starter of sea bass ceviche. It reminds me of Buenos Aires,” she says. The Brunette is nothing if not well travelled and regales me with funny stories of her time on the pampas. I suspect it might be one of the places she buried her dead ex-husband whose remains have never been found.

Gaucho image by Robert HamiltonSarah is positively clairvoyant. She suggests that the Brunette might enjoy the Hake with chanterelles and a butter sauce, which she does. For me, she points to a Tira de Ancho steak. It is a popular Argentine spiral cut and slow grilled with chimichurri, a South American condiment made from parsley, wine vinegar, oregano, garlic and pepper. Much better than cow pie. I ask for mash on the side but Sarah also brings a portion of chips. She would make Derren Brown blush as I nibble at the mash but demolish the finest chips Ive tasted in sometime. The steak is a thing of pure beauty. Charred on the outside and dark pink in the middle, it is tender and succulent with a heavy hint of the hot chimichurri to enhance its meaty goodness. Now on a mind-reading roll, Sarah suggests a smooth, light and fruity bottle of Laueano Gomez Pinot Noir to go with the delightful food. We are impressed.

Gaucho image by Robert HamiltonWe finish with Salted Dulce de Leche cheesecake. It is made from a type of condensed milk and is gloriously sweet and thick. I love a dessert wine and a Sémillon from Mendoza confirms my devotion. By way of comparison, Sarah brings an Hungarian tokaji as if we needed any other proof of her foresight. It was a wonderful end to a great meal.

Two quick entertaining hours had passed in social distanced safety and I would happily return if we dont hit another spike. Saying farewell to the Brunette, I stroll down Deansgate, crossing the road at the restaurant where my neighbour was so unexpectedly locked down.

By Robert Hamilton

Chef's KnifeChef's KnifeChef's KnifeChef's KnifeChef's Knife (with an extra point for Sarah)

Main image by David Griffin Photography.