For some reason Camden almost feels like a different world to me. I’m always startled to discover it not far past the top of Regents Park. When did it get there, become so close? I have in my mind a sort of distant underworld populated with tourists and goths, bother boots, antique lace dresses, wacky hair dye, drugs, punks, dodgy street food. Yeah, the me of my youth I guess. Living, actually not far from where I did then, it always felt like an epic mission and somehow a different place altogether to the London I now frequent, it’s as though my brain has strategically moved, sectioned off and repositioned this curious memory from my youth.
It was a friend of the management who contacted me, inviting me to visit the restaurant and give my feedback, it was her genuine enthusiasm and friendly nature that convinced me to take her up on the offer. La Patagonia is an independant Argentinian restaurant down by Mornington Crescent tube and I find myself almost disappointed to be averted from my old stomping ground, here is just a run down high street like many others in the capital. The restaurant has been open less than a year, and although relatively empty when we arrive at 7ish on a Saturday evening, it fills up rapidly with I’m presuming locals, and reassuringly could some be Argentinians? Always a good sign, they chat away to the staff with familiarity.
The room is simple but clearly with an eye on current trends, I don’t think the bare brickwork and industrial lights are simply rustic styling, though they have set themselves up as a traditional Argentinian barrio. Penguin wine vessels are lined up, standing silently on guard, all around like little bird soldiers, I do wish my wine was decanted and poured from one but they’re sadly purely decoration. LaPatagonia immediately reminds me of my local tapas joint, El Molino near Clock House; a humble affair that I’ve been going to for roughly 12 years. It may be no Jose’s, but it is warm, friendly, the owner will stand over you till you’ve finished your dinner (really), and they have a guy that’ll play bad renditions of classics at a keyboard. Class. Also, must blog that one day…
Settled into our small and infuriatingly wobbly table, we try to absorb the menu, I don’t mind admitting it’s more than a little overwhelming, with lists and categories, and meat, LOTS of meat. A cheap looking baguette is brought over, but it’s better than it looks and comes to life when spread with an accompanying tangy relish, I always want butter with my bread too, though this is probably my defect. Not sure what to order for a starter we opt for the sharing dish and an empanada to try. Out is brought an eminently retro tray of nibbles; little terracotta bowls of pistachios, mortadella, gorgonzola, marinated cheese and salami, it’s ok, but really just bar snacks, glancing around, we really should have gone for a couple of the cooked starters. The minced beef empanada is good but lacks punch.
The menu’s so vast with much sounding very similar to my unknowledgeable eye, we once again plump for a sharing dish of various meats. We congratulate ourselves as a small grill is brought to our table draped with different meat, a token spring onion and half a tomato make me chuckle, clearly I don’t intend to touch either, needing ALL stomach space available for the important stuff. Beef skirt is cooked well and is abundant, but some pork suffers from dryness. Two gigantic meaty sausages are excellent and I believe made in house; chorizo is moist and less dense than I’m used to, morcilla is vibrantly fruity and sweet. I’m seriously struggling by the time I get to the beef ribs, but it seems I’ve saved the best till last and so plough on, coated in a chimichurri seasoning the meat is beautifully charred on the outside but remains perfectly cooked within, tender and glistening with fat, the flavour excellent. Our side of garlic and parsley fries, that when brought over seems like such a small bowl suddenly becomes a mountain we can’t overcome, we do try to stuff them in, seasoning is lovely but they could be a little crisper and in the end we simply have to admit defeat. I never thought I’d say it, but. Too. Much. Meat. Oooof. Our waiter sweetly offers to put it in a doggy bag for us.
Admittedly none of the desserts look remotely light but I can’t resist dulce de leche and so we both go for the Patagonian take on Tiramisu. It’s immense, this place clearly doesn’t do small, and served in the height of naff, a gigantic kilner jar. I tentatively dip a spoon in to the vast vessel, agog at it’s size, but the texture is light, and once I’m through the molten chocolate middle, I hit that jackpot of caramel, and then a sponge base. It does start to collapse as I dig deeper, and the bottom is a little wet by the time I get to it, but to it’s merit, get to it I do.
The room is really buzzing by the time we waddle off into the night, with small groups beginning to queue for tables. I’m really not surprised when you can eat good Argentinian food in bust gutting quantities, relaxed and friendly surroundings, for such good value. It seems La Patagonia are onto something here, tucked away, in not as far away as I thought, Camden.