Having spent most of this year in Asia where finding a seriously good steak is tricky and expensive, I jumped at the chance to review Charango Barbacoa in Bree Street. If the name sounds familiar, it’s because it’s been around for a while but has recently become part of the Harbour House group that includes La Parada and Tiger’s Milk so it’s gotten a name tweak (it used to be ‘Barbecoa’) and been given a slight menu and decor makeover.
Stylish-looking yet relaxed, Charango’s is more focused on being a restaurant than a La Parada-style hot spot, but they do get a DJ in from 6pm on first Thursdays. Also, their drinks menu is pretty extensive and yep, it includes cocktails. While they don’t have any happy hour specials just yet, I’m told these are in the works.
So, did it manage to quell my mad craving for seriously good meat? Hell’s yeah! I’m a big fillet fan and the absolute gem Charango served up was the foodie equivalent of finally getting to take a bath after months of showering with a bucket. But let’s start at the beginning…
Starter-wise, I was tempted by the ceviche but had seen images online and it looked a bit more like a prettily-plated smoked salmon dish. Thus, Andrew (my fellow rabid carnivore friend) and I, decided to split a signature meat taco (R85) and flame-grilled prawns with chunky avo (R135).
The taco was good and while it’s served with a coriander pistou (kind of like a pesto without pinenuts, know that this doesn’t overpower the dish at all. It just tasted like a nice, meaty taco although, it could’ve done with a bit more zing. Fortunately, this was nothing a few shakes of Tabasco couldn’t fix.
The prawns definitely won round one, but I kind of expected that. The Cape Town foodie sphere is small and my friends who’d already paid a visit had fingered it as a gem. In fact, they were almost more like langoustines flame-grilled to perfection in that they were firm but still ‘juicy’, if that makes sense. At R135 for two, it’s not exactly amazing value, but if you’re not on a budget, they definitely won’t disappoint.
Now let’s talk meat! The manager told me that Charango’s is fabulously finicky about the suppliers they use and everything has to be top quality so the meat menu sometimes changes due to which of the very good stuff happens to be available.
Naturally, you’ll often find picanha on the menu (a popular Brasilian cut also known as sirloin cap) but the day I visited it wasn’t available. Still, Andrew and I are set in our ways. I like fillet. He’s all about rib eye. We could then get all fancy pants and pick from add ons that included seven wet rubs (R20 to R35), six flavoured butters (R18 for most, R35 for truffle) and three sauces (R25), namely brandy cream, truffle mushroom and Madagascan green peppercorn.
I opted for a Chimichurri wet rub and chipotle butter but was also tempted by the espresso variant. In the end, I didn’t regret my ‘mix’ as the result was a flavour fiesta. I am glad, however, that I didn’t order a sauce because the meat had such a great flavour of its own you wouldn’t want to smother it with something else. The rubs and butters, however, are wonderful ‘enhancers’ though. I’d definitely recommend you do a mix of both (as in both a rub and a butter) and ask for the rub on the meat, not served on the side, which is an option.
Anyway, like I said, my fillet couldn’t be faulted and Andrew, after sending his rib eye back to be cooked just a little tetch more (he ordered his on the bone and this means the meat takes a little longer to cook), declared it ‘fucking fantastic’. He’d dolled it up with a salsa verde rub and bone marrow butter that made him happy as a clam.
For the record, rib eye is a fattier cut of meat and, as I can’t stand the taste of fat, I can’t serve up valid thoughts. But, if like Andrew, you live for a succulent, fatty braai chop and think anyone ordering up a fillet is ‘boring and basic’, then you’ll be in for a real treat.
Sides-wise, we ordered a few of them and thought the melt-in-your-mouth zucchini fries (R35) served with a zippy tomato aioli (it’s kind of like a spicy tomato mayo) were great but the chargrilled corn on the cob (R42) with chipotle butter was beyond. In fact, you don’t know how often I’ve thought about this corn since eating it. If you ever visit, be sure to order it or you’ll be missing out.
At this point we were full to bursting but had our arms twisted into trying a dessert. Word on the street is that the Dulce (R60) is the clear favourite. While it sounds overbearingly sweet – ‘dulce de leche ice cream with crushed candied almonds and Pisco-infused (brandy) dulce de leche sauce – it wasn’t. I expected to try just a few spoonfuls, I inhaled the entire bowl. (Sorry Andrew!)
If you’re looking for amazing steaks served up with an array of South American-inspired flavours, be sure to make a date at Charango. Be ‘extra’ and indulge in a wet rub (on the meat) and a butter because they’re awesome. Definitely order the corn and, if you’ve got a sweet tooth, leave space for the Dulce which is big enough to share, but only if you’re nice and kind (which I am not.)