Entering La Patagonia, on that grubby lower stretch of Camden High Street, we were hit by the heat from the open kitchen, the smell of the smoking charcoal grill, and the rowdy chatter of the clientele. A truly vibrant place, like a locals-only barrio, it was still compromised initially by the manager’s frostiness. And, as we saw from the dozens of comments under last week’s Pane Vino review, friendly service in a neighbourhood eatery is as vital as good food.
Perhaps he was stressed, as every seat was taken in the chic yet functional interior – all exposed brick, wood floors, industrial lighting – and they were turning customers away, even at 7.30pm.
Anyway. The rustic menu is meat-heavy: an Argentinian speciality is sweetbreads, but being one of the few things I avoid (after extreme food poisoning), we tried the home made chorizo with a smoky tomato sauce, far superior to a starter of goats cheese and anchovy toast (pictured). From the briefish wine list, we naturally plumped for a Mendoza.
The mains were large, so go easy on the bread. Rare fillet steak – Desperate Dan-sized – was meltingly tender. Skinny chips were seasoned with parsley and garlic. Slow-cooked pork neck fillet with port plum sauce, cooked in a clay oven, was slightly tough but rich like a tagine – fatty, sweet, unctuous. We finished with a ‘flan casero’, an unsophisticated tart, fun but retro. And amazing expresso.
La Patagonia succeeds because it feels authentic without being themey. All around us were Latin Americans (and possibly Argentinians). A London-born Argentinian girl next to us filled us in on traditions such as how families only eat meat at the weekend – and so they really go for it. And how this was now her favourite Argentinian in London. (Her other tip? A little place in Borough Market).
And towards the end, as service levelled out, even the manager warmed up. He had invited us, after all, and explained how he had only been in the UK six months, and how evenings were crazy but he’d like it to be busier at lunch.
So maybe that’s your cue if you want a table, although we’d advise an evening booking – the buzz and smoke and heat seem to be as much a part of La Patagonia as the food.
Words & Pictures: Stephen Emms