Once in a while, I get what I like to refer to as a 'Golden Ticket' invite. When a good friend of mine invited me to A La Cruz restaurant in Clerkenwell, with the promise of a whole 'Asador' BBQ'd lamb, my inner carnivore simply couldn't resist. 'Asador' comes from the Spanish word 'Asada' meaning to roast or grill and so an Asador is what you would use to grill your meat and the one at A La Cruz is the only one of it's kind in the UK.A La Cruz is a short walk from Farringdon tube station and the restaurant itself is elegant yet unpretentious and for the purpose of our evening meal, we were fortunate enough to be seated in the 'Gala' private dining room (named after the boutique brand of one of Argentina's most prestigious winemakers, Bodega Luigi Bosca). Meat is the main feature on the menu and with the average Argentinian consuming 66kg of meat each year (compared to European 25kg) I knew dinner was going to be meat-heavy. Our generous hosts Marcelo Porcu (General Manager) and John Rattigan (Menu & Kitchens Director) joined us for what will go down in my mind as one of the most memorable meat-feasts of my life.I was surprised when starters were served as with all the meat I had seen lined up to be cooked for us, I really didn't think starters would be part of the menu but being the greedy girl I am, I'm sure glad they were. A trio of Argentinian delights with a classic Empanada pastry filled with minced beef, onions, chopped egg, parsley and a little hint of chilli, were unlike any of other I'd ever tasted. The moisture and juice captured within that pastry was inexplicable and made for a delicate and moreish Empanada that was inhaled leaving little trace of its existence. A little earthenware dish containing baked Provolone cheese, perfect for baking and grilling as it retains its firmness without melting, was sprinkled with herbs and utterly delicious accompanied by a toasted bread croute. Lastly, something I am always a tad wary of... sweetbreads. Not SWEET BREAD but sweetbreads or 'Mollejas' are the thymus neck glands and whilst they don't sound very nice, I DEFY YOU to think that the classic Argentine way of cooking them is anything other than incredible. I am a total convert. They were beautifully charred on the outside, perfectly cooked and full of flavour.The next course came sizzling through the door. Literally. As the door swung open, I could hear the hissing and sizzling of two rather large fillet cuts of beef on a hot plate. This kind of noise is pure, unadultered seduction to ears like mine. As I turned my head, everything seemed to move in slow motion as the smell of charred meat wafted across my nose. The Chef then ably sliced the enormous fillet into quivveringly thick and juicy steaks and we were each served two enormous hunks, one drizzle with Bearnaise and the other with the classic Argentine Chimichurri sauce. At first bite, there were gasps and sighs around the table and then SILENCE as the meat-led ecstasy kicked in. Top quality, juicy, rare meat... the like of which I can honestly say I have not ever had the fortune of eating in the UK before. This was something truly magnificent and unless I come back to A La Cruz, there is little doubt that beef like this would ever be experienced again outside of Argentina.Despite my ever-expanding waistline, I managed to push-on through to the next course for the main attraction... Drumroll please as the doors are held open and a huge board is carried in by 2 men with the whole lamb splayed out on it along with possibly the largest knife I have ever seen in my life. The room bursts into rapturous applause and all eyes are trasnfixed on the beast that will end our feast. We all gathered round as the Chef skillfull hacked into the lamb, pulling limb from limb and making it look easy with his years of expertise. Some got leg, some got shoulder but being the spoilt brat that I am, I had my own ideas and wanted ribs, fat and loin and of course I wasn't disappointed.My plate of lamb was genuinely so stunning that it took me a while to stop admiring it and want to tuck in. Served with a simple accompaniment of just a few Padron peppers, I proceeded to tear meat from bone, wrap each morsel in a sliver of crispy, fatty skin and take my first bite. The feeling is unlike any other; the combination of the flavour and charring of slow coooked meat with crispy lamb fat was out of this world. Plain and simple. There is really not much else to say. I was rendered utterly speechless.Dessert was a crazy suggestion at this point but before we knew it, out came huge plates of pancakes filled with the classic Argentine 'Dulce de Leche' accompanied by a milk ice cream was beyond excellent but I must confess that after such a magnificent feast, I was barely able to muster the willpower to lift fork to mouth, let alone polish off a whole plate of food again. Alas, this may just have been the straw that broke the camel's back (me being the camel) but it was so very worth it and I still cannot believe my luck for receiving such an invitation. Now do you know why I called it a 'Golden Ticket' invitation?Hands down, A La Cruz is not only the best Argentinian restaurant I have ever been to but will probably be one of my top recommendations in London for serious food lovers. Where else will you be able to eat meat roasted in a proper Asador? And where else will you be able to eat such amazing quality meat prepared with such love and expertise that it will leave you wanting more? Very rarely do I implore people to try anywhere but A La Cruz MUST be experienced. So don't rest on your laurels folks, because until you've experienced A La Cruz, you really haven't experienced amazing meat. Make sure you say hello to the very lovely John and Marcelo if you ever go and tell them Sabrina sent you!
A La Cruz - 42 Northampton Road, Clerkenwell, London EC1R 0HU
Tel: 020 837 1999