The superior barbecue set-up is turning heads at new Argentinian restaurant La Boca
You can keep your high-tech, digital-display kitchen gadgets that whir and buzz and ping. My dream piece of cooking gear is something far more primeval. It would look, in fact, like the fireplace just inside the door at La Boca, the Argentinian bar and grill that’s just opened in the Stamford Plaza hotel, replacing the unlamented and awfully named Swish.
This “asador”, to give it the correct name, is a waist-high clay brick platform kitted up with a series of heavy metal grills that can be raised or lowered by chains, and larger racks that hold a small beast angled above the coals. Think of a medieval torture chamber and you’re on the right track.
There’s nothing else like it in Adelaide and, along with the vibrant wall murals, partitions formed from stacked logs, cow hide bar stools and vintage movies shown on large TVs, gives La Boca the confident personality that seems hard to conjure in most hotel dining rooms. If only it had been a few degrees warmer, especially when the dining room on this night is less than half-full and the metal seats are reminiscent of winter at Footy Park.
Madeleine, the young girl waiting our table, brightens things considerably with her unforced enthusiasm and service smarts that would get her a job in most places. Her recommendation of a mixed “entrada” brings a generous collection in four separate dishes: crumbed fritters of potato and smoked cod; excellent corn bread; a mixed grill of chorizo and morcilla; and beef empanadas in a decent flaky pastry.
All fine. In the end, however, La Boca’s reputation will be won or lost on the quality of its meat.
Let’s deal with the negative first, a problem with logistics that hopefully can be ironed out.
When we arrive just before 8pm, the cooking on the asador is mostly finished, with only a few steaks being grilled to order. As well as missing out on some of the theatre, it means we are eating meat that has been cooked earlier, then kept warm. Except, served on stone-cold plates, it is tepid at best by the time it reaches the table.
If most of our “asador mixta” hadn’t been so damn good, it would have felt like leftovers. But the lamb, especially the darker shreds that I’m pretty sure come from the shoulder, is mildly smoky, juicy and delicious, while the pork is pale and sweet, with just enough fat and a nice piece of crackled skin. Slices of flank steak, while traditional for a South American barbecue, don’t have much flavour and at least need an accompaniment such as chimichurri, which isn’t provided.
A slab of pork ribs from the belly are smoked then finished on the grill. They must have been cooked long and slow because they fall apart at the smallest provocation into a decadent mess of melting flesh that is rich, creamy and (thank goodness) hot.
With an equally wicked serve of fried slices of sweet potato in a light batter, and a comparatively puritanical quinoa and zucchini salad, it’s a massive meal. Certainly too big to contemplate dessert, even if the choice had been more compelling than pancakes, strawberries or pumpkin cake.
The following day when I call by, two splayed beasts are cooking on the asador for the night ahead and the dining room is pumping with a happy crowd enjoying the lunchtime deals. It’s a good place to be. The Stamford people are on a winner with La Boca, I reckon. If not, I’ve got first dibs on their barbecue. MUST TRY Home smoked pork ribs grilled on the parilla ALSO CONSIDER Sosta, city; Fire on Unley, Unley
CLARIFICATION Chaffey Bros 2104 Dufte Punkt ($23) is a blend of gewürztraminer, riesling and the little known weisser herold (aka kerner) all from one vineyard, which is reportedly one of only two in Australia that grows the last of those.
It’s an aromatic masterwork, with rose, musk, Turkish delight, a distinctive fennel seed note and spiced apple, all given a neat edge from the riesling’s natural minerally acid. The weisser herold, we’re told, adds a certain texture to the wine. The blend would be delicious with any kind of pork roast.
Another version comes from the Coonawarra. Rymill 2013 gt ($21.95) shows much of the same fragrance spectrum, then moves into a slightly fuller, unctuous body shape, with a sweet apricot fruit note as well that’s tempered with a light grapefruit smatter of acidity. The richer palate will work a treat with chilli-touched Asian dishes.