Travelling to Buenos Aires opened up a whole new headache of which restaurant to start with. You see there’s so many good places in this city all themed around Spanish, Italian and traditional barbecue. Top of the pile in most people’s reviews was a small place in the Villa Crespo area, just outside Palermo. iLatina.
iLatina was a product of the Argentine craze known as ‘Puerta Cerrado’ or ‘Closed Door’ restaurants. As a result of the economic crash back in 2002 many people couldn’t afford to open a restaurant in a retail space therefore they took to opening restaurants out of their own homes. The only way you could bag a space at the table was by reservation and this practice still continues today.
The beauty of this is that you could book all over town and try some of the best and most varied cuisine across South America and beyond. At iLatina they specialise in a mix of Colombian and Caribbean flavours which is a mix that we had never tried before. Many however seemed to adore it. iLatina now have their own space in a grand building which resembles more of a restaurant but still appears to be a house.
Walking through Buenos Aires streets at night isn’t for the faint hearted. Although we never felt threatened the amount of dog poo littering the pavement presents a minefield when you’re wearing decent shoes on the way out to eat. The route from our hotel in Palermo was pretty straightforward until we hit a flyover with no through route. We headed across the railway tracks and down a dimly lit street, my hand never left my wallet the entire time.
Villa Crespo, however, is a beautiful area with very nice properties. Palermo is known as the film district due to the headquarters of Argentine TV and various films being shot there. Villa Crespo is more your Beverly Hills to the Hollywood of Palermo. We approached the restaurant and rang the buzzer. A polite man who spoke very good English let us in and seated us in their beautiful dining room with a full view of the open kitchen.
The menu here is a set one for a set price. Wine can be added on top and we obliged with a bottle of local Malbec. The set menu is priced at 1600 ARS (£68.62) per person and for that you can look forward to seven courses plus coffee. If you’re feeling flash you can also take advantage of the wine pairing at an additional 900 ARS (£38.60). Once we had sat down the staff brought over a plate of different breads, the cocoa bread in particular was an an absolute revelation. Slightly bitter but with a sweet, rich flavour. Just amazing.
After a quite amuse bouche or ‘snacks’ as it’s listed on the menu we got our first course. A Lamb Caraminola with Coconut and Coriander Sauce. Caraminola is a common fritter usually stuffed with meat from Colombia. This was artistically presented topped with shredded lamb and a very delicate sauce, very good flavour and a promising start to the meal.
Next up we had prawns dusted in a spiced coconut crumb and served with fennel and pickled, caramelised pineapple. If this is the kind of food they eat in the Caribbean then take me there this instant! This was heaven, sweet and sour pineapple with the aniseed kick of fresh fennel worked perfectly with the seafood but the coconut dusting both added texture and the most amazing flavour. I have honestly never tasted anything like this before.
A nod to Peru came with course number three by way of ceviche – a raw fish, in this case sole, marinated in lime juice and served with mango, coconut and lychee. In similarity to the previous dish this was fresh, zingy and a pleasure to eat. The fish almost loses that ‘raw’ texture and semi-cooks in the lime juice. It was great to finally be introduced to Peru’s signature dish.
Staying in Peru for the next dish, this is what’s known as ‘Chupe’’. Along the same lines of the French Bouillabaisse from Marseille, this is a fish soup served with one of my absolute favourites – grilled octopus. The soup was slightly more spicy than a traditional Bouillabaisse but with the same depth of flavour. The octopus though, wow, grilled to perfection until almost sticky with a deep charred appearance on the tentacles offering an intense smoky flavour. It doesn’t get much better than this.
Inside my head the restaurant was moving up a place with each course in my all time best restaurants ranking. To think that this just started out as a place in someone’s home to churning out plates of this standard is quite something. Our next course took us back into Colombia and would become quite possibly my all time favourite dish in a restaurant….
The dish read as ‘Braised Pork in Colombian Coffee and Sugarcane Reduction’ which sounded a little different. Coffee has an association with desserts and for drinking post-meal, how was this going to work? When the dish arrived garnished with a beetroot puree, palm heart puree and salad leaves it looked inviting for sure, even more so when the waiter informed me that the pork had been cooked slowly for 8-10 hours.
The first bite of this was absolute heaven. I got all the elements together on my fork and immediately hit the jackpot, this dish is insanely good. The pork is so soft, even a spoon would be adequate to break it. The puree’s both compliment each other and everything together just works beyond belief. What about the coffee? Well it’s very clever. The Coffee adds a richness and mellow flavour with the sugar balancing out the bitterness. I loved every last bite.
Desserts were the only thing left between now and the bill so we dived into a funny looking arrangement of Ecuadorian chocolate truffle with a large sugar tuile,sea salt and olive oil. The chocolate truffle was rich and bitter with the tuile providing much appreciated sweetness. For me the salt was a welcome inclusion but the jury’s still out on the olive oil. Either way, I enjoyed it.
It genuinely felt sad to receive the last course of what was an eye opening meal. This course again combined unusual elements this time with sweet potato together with goats cheese, candied lemon, sesame tuile and hibiscus meringue. It’s the kind of thing a South American Heston Blumenthal would probably come up with. For me, it was actually quite pleasant with all sorts of textures and sweet/sharp elements.
They really do spoil you here. To round off the experience I was treated to a cup of Colombian Coffee, served black, from a volcanic region of Colombia which supposedly gives the beans a unique taste. I don’t normally take my coffee black but this stuff was superb, rich in flavour and went down a treat.
After all the experiences of London’s finest French restaurants with their Michelin stars, the brasserie’s of Paris and the tapas bar’s of Spain I can honestly say I have never eaten food as good as I had here at iLatina. The staff are very friendly, the kitchen is exciting to watch and the food coming out of it is worth a plane ticket alone. Take my advice, reserve that table online and get yourself down here. It’s a stunning experience.
Opening times: Tuesday- Saturday 2000-2300
Nearest Subte: Malabia