No beef with a lunch of trout in Patagonia
Feasting on fish from the world’s shortest river
THE lake district of Argentinian Patagonia is not short of panoramic postcard views. The jagged, snowy peaks of the Andes, some days glaringly white, others forebodingly misted in cloud, back great expanses of water.
A vibrant yellow border of broom scrambles along the shoreline in early spring and is replaced later in the season by a vision in pastel as pink and purple lupins and shrubby lilac come into flower. But even by the area’s high standard for vistas, the view from our table at the Correntoso Lake and River Hotel is a beauty.
We are perched on a bluff over Lake Nahuel Huapi and today clouds and rain-squalls alternately reveal and hide the mountains as if in a grand magic show. The yellow broom lights up the rocky shoreline.
So far, so beautiful. The extra drawcard is that the hotel looks down on the spot where the Correntoso River rushes into the lake and fly fishermen try their luck for brown and rainbow trout.
The Correntoso has the honour of being the world’s shortest river. It’s a 165m rushing torrent that connects Correntoso Lake to the larger body of water that is Nahuel Huapi, and is world-famous for its fish.
It’s early November and the season has just begun; there is only one fisherman braving the melted snow waters. Judging by the number of tackle shops in the pretty little nearby village of Villa la Angostura, high season must be standing room only. With a hat pulled low over his ears and his collar up against the misty rain, the fisherman casts from the rocky shore then wades into the current, following the pull of his lure into the lake.
He’s up to his armpits in the freezing depths, j ust his head visible in the swirling waters before he backs out, unsuccessful this time, and tramps back up the river to start again. It’s mesmerising.
But we tear our gaze away to address the menu and wine list, ravenous after a wet walk through the nearby national park. Eating in Argentina is generally a carnivorous affair, and the choice is not whether to have beef but which cut of beef to choose and which sauce to eat it with. However, here there is, of course, trout. We opt for carpaccio of trout and trout-stuffed ravioli with a couple of glasses of Rutini chardonnay from a list featuring the best of Argentina’s very good wines.
The room is elegant but not stuffy and on the walls are framed posters from the hotel’s past, featuring line drawings of welldressed, pre-war couples lounging languorously in front of that famous view. At the time the only way to get to the Correntoso Lake and River Hotel was by a steamer called the Condor that was carried into Argentina in pieces over a mountain track from Chile. Days earlier, we had walked part of the same track.
Our waitress Flavia and her colleague Flavio are a serene and helpful presence and no one seems to mind that we are dressed not at all like those chic couples in the posters but in damp walking gear. The food is elegant, too: the trout carpaccio a pretty peach colour, served with warm confit tomatoes and tiny fresh microgreens; and the pasta silkysmooth over a delicately flavoured stuffing.
On our second glass of wine, there’s a buzz in the room — the lone fisherman has been successful. The fish darts through the shallows and leaps to escape but he lifts it to his face and kisses it before releasing it to the river and walking back to do it all over again. We order more food — what else but pan-fried trout — and settle in for more of the show.
When the chill gets too much for him, the fisherman’s place is taken by another, whose border collie eagerly tracks him from the bank while madly attempting to catch the tiny birds buzzing over the surface of the water. The dog is such great entertainment, we decide to linger and have dessert — chocolate mousse in a sea of creme anglaise, and a parfait of dried summer fruit.
When we finally leave there is just enough light left to look for the fish. From a little wooden bridge that spans the middle of the world’s smallest river, we spot a brown trout holding its own against the current, and distinguishable from the rocks under the wind-blown water only when it twists and catches the light in a flash of silver.
A fly fisherman gets lucky