After January’s German formality, we faced the tricky task of finding an authentic Uruguayan restaurant in London. Google provided no leads, and even relaxing our no-chains rule only led us to Las Iguanas, who couldn’t find anything Uruguayan on their menu.
We had perhaps overestimated Uruguay’s worldwide appeal. While Luis Suárez continues to make friends here, there are less than 1,000 of his countrymen living in the UK. Beef from the Uruguayan portion of the fertile lowlands (thanks Wikipedia) of the Pampas seems to be in less demand than the Argentinian variety, which we’ll have no problems with. Emails to the King’s College Hispanic Society and the British-Uruguayan Society went unanswered, as did attempts to contact Carlos Contiglia – the BNP’s candidate for the mayoral elections. Definitely not voting for him now.
There was only one thing for it – we had to revert to our stated Plan B and actually buy, prepare and cook the food ourselves. It didn’t take long to establish that the hearty street food of Uruguay is a little on the unsophisticated side, so we fancied our chances of recreating it in the kitchen.
Having secured a kitchen belonging to someone else for us to make an almighty bombsite of, we settled on the national dish, Chivito, and chicken Milanesa. To temper your expectations right now, these translate as “steak sandwich” and “chicken escalope” – we would not be troubling the MasterChef contestants with our efforts.
The recipes for both are so straightforward, we won’t bother detailing the step-by-step process. The chivitos required bread rolls, steak (we opted for rump), cheese, bacon, tomato and lettuce. After cooking (and resting) the steak a little more than we’d liked, it was sliced into strips and placed in the middle of the sandwich with the other ingredients, before pressing it all together with absolutely no skill whatsoever.
Despite the steak being cooked slightly the wrong side of medium, the chivitos gave in to the bite with little resistance, and held together reasonably well. And that’s pretty much all you can say about a steak roll, Uruguayan or otherwise. Satisfied thumbs-up came from our fellow diners and willing hosts, and it was on to the Milanesa.
Once again, not much of a culinary challenge. Chicken breasts were butterflied (in barbaric fashion) and dipped into beaten egg, garlic and breadcrumbs. A quick spell in the hot pan to
incinerate brown up the breadcrumbs was followed by 10 minutes in the oven to cook the chicken through. Unlike the steak in the chivitos, we managed to get the chicken just right, and it was served sufficiently succulent.
Whitechapel Sainsbury’s, for all its wonder, failed to deliver a Uruguayan tipple. Peruvian beer was considered, before we did the best we could with an Argentinian Malbec – a somewhat fruity red and an excellent accompaniment to the chivitos.
A fevered debate than raged over the non-restaurant scoring system (service and atmosphere ratings slightly redundant here), but the scores were finally agreed as follows:
Value For Money: 63.5
Ease of Preparation: 81
Diners’ Review: 70
Surprisingly for us, Uruguay scored highly, mainly due to the easy recipes. A positive reception from our dining companions meant that it gave World No.1 Spain a scare, slotting into second place in our rankings, comfortably in front of the rather less spectacular Netherlands and Germany.
Having finally removed the Uruguayan monkey from our back, we move on to some more sophisticated (and hopefully more accessible) cuisines in the coming months.