Occupying the southern half of South America, Argentina is about as far away from Hong Kong as you can get on this planet, but you wouldn’t know that from surveying our local dining scene. Indeed, it’s quite surprising how many Argentinian restaurants can be found in our beloved SAR. Hong Kong’s never-ending search for the finest cuts of meat could be one explanation — after all, Argentina’s beef has long been considered among the best in the world, with its grass-fed cattle and nary a hormone in sight. However, there’s more to this South American cuisine than just steak alone. 

In the Francis Mallmann episode of Chef’s Table on Netflix, the acknowledged master of Argentine cuisine looks back at the turning point of his career: the moment he decided to ditch his French Michelin-starred training for a prize-winning yet controversial feast of Andean-inspired potatoes — nine whole courses of them, in fact. His success spurred him to re-imagine the soulful, visceral, gaucho-style cooking of his childhood in Patagonia, informed by the fine-dining techniques he mastered in Europe.

“I was through with the fancy sauces and the elaborately arranged ingredients,” said Mallmann. “I wanted to create a cuisine based on my Andean heritage. I was 40 and I had been doing French food for 20 years… I realised that I didn’t have a voice of my own. One day I realised that all those fires from my childhood were very deep inside of me.”

Passion, fire and the promise of ingredients from the sprawling wildernesses of the eighth-largest country in the world: Combine those with the cooking traditions of Italian mamas and rustic Spanish kitchens brought by fourth-generation immigrants that make up most of Argentina’s population — not to mention the glorious wine — and you have what’s undoubtedly one of the most robust cuisines in the world. Ready to dive in? Here’s where to head for a taste of authentic Argentinian fare right here in Hong Kong. 

Tango: A hip hangout for Argentines

Ask any Hong Kong-based porteño (“people of the port”, or natives of Buenos Aires) for an authentic Argentinian restaurant in Hong Kong and they’ll point you in the direction of Tango. Overlooking buzzy Wyndham Street, Tango sits comfortably at the crossroads of authentic, casual and trendy. The restaurant’s other al fresco location on the Elements mall terrace also hits the sweet spot in terms of ambience and cuisine. We tried the experience at the Central branch, where Nicolas, a native of Córdoba, took us through the comprehensive wine list from Mendozan Malbec to impressive, full-bodied whites from Salta.  

We suggest beginning with crisp octopus tostadas (HK$158) and quintessential canasta de empanadas (HK$178). We doused everything in the piquant sauces that worked their magic not just on the meats, but on the rest of the dishes: chimichurri, criolla, spicy tomato and roasted tomatillo were amongst our favourites. The meat a la parrilla (cooked on the grill) was divine as expected, having been wet-aged and delivered chilled from the homeland. Vegetarians are equally pampered here, with a hefty serving of Chef’s Ravioli (HK$198) to match the meat-lovers’ portions. Even desserts are stellar here: a good-sized flan de leche (HK$78) and the best alfajores (sandwich cookies) we’ve tried in Hong Kong, oozing with decadent dulce de leche.

Tango Central,  1/F, Carfield Building, 77 Wyndham Street, Central, Hong Kong, +852 2525 5808

Gaucho: Urban gastronomy elevates the asado

Fine dining meets Argentinian asado (barbecue) at this sleek take on an upmarket South American steakhouse with a penchant for fusion touches. After becoming wildly successful in the UK — with 16 branches operating all over the country — Gaucho made its Hong Kong debut in 2014. The restaurant has become a firm Central favourite, starting with the revitalised free-flow brunch menu (HK$350) on the weekends. We love their quirky recipes, from humita empanadas with creamed corn and chives to the braised beef ribs topped with hoisin and chilli-orange sauce with sesame seeds, fresh orange and pickled jalapeños for an extra kick.

In the mirror-lined dining room with black designer furnishings and cowhide fabrics, beef is king, but it graciously shares the stage with other Latin American specialties. Ceviches come in tuna (HK$158), Ecuadorian shrimp (HK$138), and sea bass (HK$158) varieties. Salads are also well thought out, and the non-steak mains are stellar in their own right (try the pan-roasted cod, which flakes at the touch). And don’t even think about leaving without ordering the dulce de leche cheesecake (HK$108); paired with toasted marshmallow, it’s an absolute creamy and decadent treat. We left dying to know if the other nine desserts (white chocolate yoghurt mousse, banana and coconut mess and more) are just as divine.

Gaucho, 5/F, LHT Tower, 31 Queen’s Road Central, Central, Hong Kong, +852 2386 8090

La Pampa and Pampas: Countryside ranch stop

La Pampa, Quechuan for “the plain”, refers to the fertile South American lowlands — home to Argentina’s famed cows. In addition to serving a traditional menu, La Pampa has the credentials of being Hong Kong’s first Argentinian steakhouse and restaurant, opened in 1999. The Staunton Street stalwart actually played a huge role in defining SoHo as a dining hub, being one of its F&B pioneers, along with Nepal and 1911 from the same owners. As the story goes, La Pampa was getting so busy that in 2013, the team decided to open its sister restaurant, Pampas, just up the road on Elgin Street. 

The never-frozen Angus 35 tenderloin (lomo), shipped straight from the grazing pasture, is the must-order here. Your best bets come from the parrilla (a special Argentinian grill): the bife de lomo (250–350g, HK$338–$448) or the brochette de lomo (on the skewer with bacon, pepper and onion, HK$448). La Pampa also has beef tenderloin in milanesa form: thinly sliced, breaded and and deep-fried (HK$298–$328).

Empanadas are made in-house with an excellent pastry that’s more crispy-chewy than any other we’ve tried in Hong Kong. The dulce de leche flan (HK$72) does not fail to comfort, a perfect Argentinian mama’s recipe fresh from the kitchen. Meanwhile, the star behind the grill is the experienced asador, Gusttavo Diaz, who recently joined the team to bring the ranch-style cooking of the Pampas to our own backyard.

Pampas, 36 Elgin Street, Central, Hong Kong, +852 2868 4077

La Pampa, 32 B&C Staunton Street, Central, Hong Kong, +852 2868 6959

Buenos Aires Polo Club: A gentleman’s hideaway

Plush leather furnishings, dark wood and equestrian antiques greet guests at this 1900s–themed dining room, which recently celebrated its two-year anniversary. The first room finds you at the bar, with inventive cocktails starring vermouth — Argentina’s most beloved aperitivo. The González (HK$168) even features mate, that quintessential South American caffeine-rich infusion. Some are happy to spend the entire evening at the bar, but if you’re in the mood to splurge on an abundant dinner, move into the main dining room.

Expect a more formal experience at Buenos Aires Polo Club compared to the rest of the establishments on this list, with proper and somewhat ceremonious service. The heavy morcilla (blood sausage, HK$78) is an Argentinian specialty you might want to try here, or the unctuous grilled bone marrow (HK$198) with oxtail-Malbec jam. If you’re not hot on the meat, go for the fully loaded baked sweet potato (HK$98) with sour cream and Manchego cheese. The eggplant escabeche (HK$98) is another winner, heartily seasoned with jalapeño, tomato and shallots.

Pure Black Angus is the meat of choice here, from 10-ounce tenderloins (HK$388) to 30-ounce T-bone steaks (HK$808). Seafood mains also get the smoky treatment: Choose from charcoal-grilled squid (HK$228) or grilled King Salmon (HK$348) paired with salsa verde. Traditional Argentine techniques — emphasising butchery and grilling — are attuned to suit the more refined tastes of an international audience. Come for the brunch on Saturdays and Sundays ($398 per person) for an all-you-can-eat feast that won’t break the bank. 

Buenos Aires Polo Club, 7/F, LKF Tower, 33 Wyndham Street, Central, Hong Kong, +852 2321 8681

El Nudo Private Kitchen by Roberto C.: Mi casa es su casa

Atop an al fresco rooftop in Happy Valley, twinkling lights and fine food await your party at the private kitchen of Roberto C., an Argentinian tennis player and athlete who lovingly proffers home-cooked meals from his own kitchen on selected Fridays and Saturdays. His Parrillada Argentina Set Menu (HK$700 per person, excluding drinks) is a 5-course degustation inspired by his grandmother’s recipes. (El nudo in Spanish means “the knot”, in memory of his abuela who loved to knit.)

“Her passion and dedication for family and food is the essence of El Nudo and a natural extension of who I am and what I love,” says Roberto, who also produces his own El Nudo-branded wine as well. Roberto and his cousin, a winemaker, closely work with local vineyards near their hometown to source grapes for their full-bodied Malbec. Their 2015 vintage won a few awards recently, including Best Wine of Argentina at the China Wine & Spirits Awards, Best Boutique Wine from WineMaker SUB40, and a 91 point grading from Master of Wine Tim Atkin.

For an intimate evening rounded out with thoughtful tableware, romantic lighting and traditional Argentine music, a night on Roberto’s rooftop can’t be beat for an unconventional yet refined meal.  

El Nudo Private Kitchen, call or WhatsApp +852 6339 7954 or email elnudoprivatekitchen@gmail.com (available for groups of 7–18 people)

El Gaucho Macau: A slice of Palermo in Taipa

If you ever find yourself hungry in the lamplit Old Taipa Village in our sister SAR, a visit to Macau’s only Argentinian restaurant will transport you to Buenos Aires’ Palermo neighbourhood in a heartbeat. With perfectly cooked steaks said to rival those of Copa or Morton’s, owner Jesus has a lot to be proud of at his well-loved establishment (P.S.: The man can not only cook, but can dance a mean tango as well).

The walls here are adorned with wine bottles and pictures of Argentinian music legends, and of course, the triband national flag. Aside from the meats, high praises have been given for El Gaucho Macau’s garlic shrimp, delicious salads, pasta (particularly the fettuccine in cream and truffle oil) and unforgettable white sangria (just get the pitcher already!).

Bonafide good vibes await in this warm, family-style establishment. As a happy guest once said, “Forget the resorts, forget the fake places — this is real food!”

El Gaucho, 26 Rua Direita Carlos Eugenio Taipa, Macau, +853 2882 7015

DIY Option: Argentinian Asado in your own backyard

If standing behind the grill is more your style, you can step up your BBQ game in your own backyard/rooftop/terrace with meats and produce from Hong Kong’s main Argentinian food importer, Argentina Premium by GSI Limited. If you’re a creative cook, you can definitely manage an impressive feast built on GSI’s excellent ingredients. GSI also provides a chef service from an Argentine chef, should you wish to take it to the next level.

Pick up ingredients from premium chilled cuts to chimichurri flown across the world at a convenient Central location from Monday to Saturday, or have it delivered to your doorstep for HK$200. GSI even has dulce de leche and yerba mate (a stimulating, antioxidant-rich tea), as well as wine, tiger prawns, frozen potatoes, chicken, pork and lamb.

Call +852 9664 3777 to order or visit here for more info. 

Julienne Raboca
Contributor