Francis Mallmann is the closest thing Argentina has to a celebrity chef. The author of “Mallmann on Fire”, he has made his name by roasting, charring and grilling anything that moves, and quite a lot that doesn’t. Mallmann has a quartet of restaurants in Argentina and Uruguay, but the one he’s generally associated with is 1884, the most expensive restaurant in Mendoza.
Housed in the front part of a winery, 1884 is a stylish, artfully lit restaurant that attracts as many tourists as locals. “Dollars not allowed”, proclaims the menu, but Americans certainly are.
Mallmann is as proud of his wine list as he is of his Patagonian-influenced food. This 68-page document is zealously guarded by the waiting staff, for fear of plagiarism. It doesn’t feature on the website and getting hold of a copy involved an e-mail exchange with the man himself.
He’s right to be wary, for this is an excellent selection of almost exclusively Argentine wines, assembled—with knowledge and no little detail—by grape variety, style and altitude. Every entry tells you the region the wine came from, the amount of time it spent in oak (or not) and the name of the person who made it. If you asked, I’m sure the restaurant has their mobile-phone numbers, too.
Most people who come to 1884 eat the substantial steaks for which it is famous. But after two weeks in Argentina, my digestive system needed a break, and I felt the same way about heavy, high-alcohol reds—what Mallmann calls “ripe juices of boredom”. I craved a lightness of touch. So to go with the starter, grilled, herb-sprinkled provolone cheese, I chose the 2014 Zorzal Eggo Blanc de Cal, Gualtallary (A$380—£29), part of a new wave of Mendozan wines. This cool-climate Sauvignon Blanc from the upper Uco Valley is made by the Michelini brothers, who specialise in fresh whites and reds fermented in concrete “eggs”. Elegant, stony and refined, with notes of lemongrass and grapefruit, it was a perfect foil for the provolone.
With the fish course, “sole in the iron box” (it sounds better in Spanish) and grilled vegetables, I chose another lighter-bodied, high-altitude style: the delicate, floral, red-berry-scented 2013 Salentein Pinot Noir, Tunuyán (A$260). In a restaurant that’s all about heat, it was good to drink a chilled red.
1884restaurante.com.ar; around A$750 per person for three courses
Where else to go and what to drink
Creative, flavoursome cooking featuring dishes from seven Argentine regions. Around A$300 per person
Best white: 2013 Doña Paula Estate Riesling, Mendoza A dry, medium-bodied style with notes of lime and citrus zest, and a crisp, tangy finish. Proof that Riesling has a future in Mendoza. A$160
Best red: 2013 Altos Las Hormigas Colonia Las Liebres Bonarda, Mendoza One of the finest examples of the Bonarda grape, this unoaked red is deliciously bright and fruity, with no oak to obstruct its strawberry and red-cherry flavours. A$130
A relaxed, wine-focused restaurant with its own walk-in cellar and wine shop. Around A$500 per person
Best white: 2011 Bressia Lágrima Canela, Mendoza A blend of mostly Chardonnay with 30% Semillon, this is one of the most complex whites in the country, showing subtle oak, notes of pear, baked apple and aromatic vanilla spice. A$385
Best red: 2011 Pulenta Estate Gran Cabernet Franc, Mendoza A superb example of a grape variety that is gaining in importance in Argentina. Subtle graphite and grassy notes with deftly integrated oak. A$400