There's no getting away from it, Gaucho in DIFC has plenty of attitude. Upon arrival, guests can decide whether they descend into the large, sleek restaurant via a square glass lift or glide down an imposing marble staircase. Once there, everything is shiny black and white. The lights are dimmed, the feel is grown-up and there's more cowhide on show than initially seems wise. It's not subtle, but it does work.
Service was excellent from the moment we stepped through the door: assured, intelligent and consistent, with the added bonus of having a bit of personality thrown in for good measure. If the food had also been all of those things, this place would be a real winner.
The owners have taken pains to stress that Gaucho is not a steak restaurant, but one specialising in Argentinian cuisine. Either way, meat is still the major draw, a fact that was consolidated when our waiter arrived at the table bearing a board laden with different cuts of raw beef. All of it was of the grass-fed, Argentine-certified Angus variety, which is the only type it sells. The waiter then offered an explanation of each cut and advised on the degree to which it should be cooked.
Since the restaurant also boasts a ceviche bar, it seemed only right to order the salmon version to start. The generously portioned strips of fish were reassuringly fresh, avocado pieces ripe and soft and the roasted pepper sauce smooth and creamy, but the combination was a very rich one. The clean, fresh, citrusy flavour that is so characteristic of ceviche had been lost somewhere along the way and it really was needed.
My friend opted for the (beef) chorizo with roasted red peppers and found the cylinder of dense, meaty sausage to be pleasant enough, particularly when paired with a piece of soft, slightly sweet pepper. The chorizo lacked the salty, smoky, spiced flavour that really pleases the taste buds, though, and we found it odd that the chefs hadn't removed the skin from the peppers - something that many a home cook would do when roasting a pepper.
We both opted for steaks as our main course. These are presented with startling simplicity - just the piece of meat in the middle of the plate - without adornment or garnish. My 300g rump (bife de cuadril) was the cheapest steak on the menu. It was plump and juicy, with a crisp, salty charred exterior and a soft centre. The béarnaise sauce was fine, if a little too thick and cloying.
The churrasco lomo - a beef fillet that has been bathed in a mixture of olive oil, parsley and garlic for 48 hours - was lovely and tender, with the marinade lending the meat an extra bit of flavour oomph. However, we asked for it to be served medium-rare and it arrived at the table very rare indeed - borderline bloody in the centre. While we still enjoyed it, the steak wasn't cooked the way we'd requested.
Side dishes proved to be a bit of a mixed bag. The humitas - cute little packages of mild creamed corn, wrapped in corn husks - were excellent, but the chips were disappointingly soggy and the boiled broccoli simply boring.
Dessert saw us sharing the sampler plate, which was advertised as semifreddo, rum-and-raisin bread pudding and chocolate and hazelnut truffles. What arrived were truffles accompanied by a slice each of ricotta and lemon cake and dulce de leche tart. This isn't a major sticking point, but it would have been nice if these alterations had been flagged up when we placed the order.
The food that we ate at Gaucho was just a touch too mediocre to really make an impact; if the standard could be raised to match that of the service from the front-of-house staff, the appeal of the restaurant would certainly increase.
A meal for two at Gaucho in DIFC, Dubai, costs Dh745, not including service. For reservations call 04 422 7898. Reviewed meals are paid for by The National and reviews are conducted incognito
Follow us on Twitter and keep up to date with the latest in arts and lifestyle news at twitter.com/LifeNationalUAE