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Thursday, 28 February 2013

Cocktails and Empanadas at Moo Grill

Words and Photography by Simeen Kadi

Moo Grill first became popular a few years ago as the best place in London for a lomito; big, delicious Argentinian sandwiches usually stuffed with meat and cheese (see earlier review here). A few years on and it is still in the lomito lead. But while the original Moo Grill continues to satisfy the lunchtime cravings of legions of City workers, the owners have recently opened a larger, more stylish restaurant just around the corner for more after work drinking and dining, Argentine-style.

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Now there are quite a few Argentinian grill restaurants in town. Some sadly, like A la Cruz, have been charred to extinction while others, like Gaucho, have become a black and white spotted rash across the posher postcodes of the city. The Argentinian beef is the main attraction, offered in a variety of cuts and cooked on the parilla while accompaniments such as chimichurri (a sublime sauce of peppers, garlic, parsley and chilli) and humitas (sweetcorn steamed in its husk) give an exotic twist.

And Moo Grill does all the above commendably, sourcing its grass fed beef from Argentina and neighbouring Uruguay. However, it was their cocktails and bar food that we were here to try. With more space in the new restaurant and a well-stocked bar, Moo Grill is as good an option for after work drinks as a meat feast. Cata, the cocktail maestro has created a cocktail list that celebrates the flavours and drinking culture of Argentina as well as giving the classic British G&T an Argie makeover, with variations involving rosemary, ginger and even grapes, all to good effect.

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To give us a taste of cocktail hour in the hottest bars of Buenos Aires, despite the claggy London drizzle outside, Cata’s list draws on national staples such as Yerba maté and dulce de leche. Maté is a social tradition in Argentina with a ceremony not unlike tea ceremonies of the East; the leaves of this bitter herb are dried and crushed before being infused, sometimes with the addition of honey or sugar. Moo Maté was a long and refreshing cocktail, blending cognac with orange juice and fresh mint leaves to balance out the bitter, herby flavour of the maté infusion. Another Argentine obsession, dulce de leche is a thick, milk toffee with a name that sounds so much better than boiled condensed milk. At Moo Grill it was married with vanilla vodka and rum with a crumble of ground coffee on the top to add depth. Skip dessert and go for one of these instead.

One of the highlights of the evening was the Bloody Moo, an Argie riff on the brunch sharpener featuring what is possibly the country’s greatest culinary triumph, chimichurri sauce. This is one of those combinations which just makes so much sense you wonder how you will ever make do with boring old Worcestershire sauce and celery salt again.

To accompany the cocktail tasting session we were served some of the best empanadas I have ever eaten (I am no empanada aficionado but I have had a few in my time). Crunchy, crusty pockets with deeply satisfying, meaty, cheesy fillings, enlivened with some zippy chimichurri. They are the perfect accompaniment to a stylish cocktail evening and, if things get a little out of hand, you’ll be glad you had the good sense to line your stomach with this scrumptious alcohol soaker.

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Other notable cocktails we tried included the Argentinian hipster’s drink of choice, Fernet Branca and Coke. Fernet is a European import, and its bitter, herby flavour gave a grown-up edge to the Coke. Cata also mixes a well-balanced rose martini, named Sandro after the country’s most famous ‘60’s popstar. Rose tinted and delicately flavoured, the rose works well to bring out the flavours of some very fine gin.

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Try at home - here’s a recipe for Chimichurri sauce to go with meat, grilled vegetables, even a toasted cheese sandwich:

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4 tablespoons lemon juice
60ml red wine vinegar
60ml red wine
2 cloves garlic, minced
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
50g chopped fresh oregano (or dried will do)
1/4 teaspoon red chili flakes
60ml extra-virgin olive oil
handful fresh flat-leaf parsley, finely chopped

Combine the lemon juice, vinegar, wine, garlic, salt, black pepper, oregano, parsley and red pepper flakes in a bowl, stirring until ingredients have combined.  Mix well as you drizzle in the oil.

Likes: an unpretentious bar and restaurant run by genuinely nice people who create a relaxed and fun atmosphere. Go for cocktails and moreish empanadas, a glass of some excellent Argentinian wine, a hunk of grilled cow or even a lunchtime lomito – it is open from 11am during the week.

Dislikes: The beef may be out of this world but it has travelled extensively around it to get to our plates. Another example of the constant tension we face of loving the multi-cultured culinary scene of London but hating the environmental impact.

Info: Moo Grill 40-42 Middlesex Street, E1 7EX 
Tel.: 020 7650 7948 

1 comment:

  1. I like the look of this restaurant. I'd actually never heard of it. I think I'll add it to my wish list :)


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