308-310 Liverpool St Darlinghurst, NSW 201002 9332 3373
|Opening hours||Dinner, Tues-Sat|
'It's all about the meat," says the woman who greets me. Let's see. I'm either in a porn movie or an Argentine restaurant. Judging by the pink rumps, short skirts and naked ribs in front of me, I'm guessing the latter, because there are also lamb, sweetbreads, intestines, spicy chorizo and blood sausages piled on the grill.
Eating Argentinian is really all about the meat. Don't come to Boca craving kingfish crudo or fashionable gels, airs and soils.
The only fancy equipment is the specially commissioned parilla, or charcoal grill, and the only art is in the slow dance of the asado chef in front of it, as he controls the timing, heat, drafts and smoke.
Boca is the newest project from Argentine-born Marcelo Berezowski and his business partner, Santiago Correa, the team behind the Kika tapas bar just across Liverpool Street. It feels very Buenos Aires, with its bright daubs of colour, upstairs/downstairs dining rooms and delicious full-length portrait of Diego Maradona.
The decor leaves few corners of Argentinian cultural life undisturbed, from Eva Peron and the bright, decorative fileteado artwork to the colourful ponchos. There are gaucho-inspired whips, oil lamps and boleadoras - those terrifying throwing tools of rock- hard wooden balls attached to thin leather strips - and the house wines and water come in retro-cute penguin-shaped jugs.
I engage one of half-a-dozen stools at the marble-topped bar, where I can keep an eye on my dinner. The head chef, Alejandro Saraceni, has recently returned from a recce in Buenos Aires and looks completely at home on the grill, albeit with all-Australian meat.
So what to have - meat or meat? There are 10 numbered parilladas to choose from; big platters of meat to be shared by two people. Five involve offal and sausages and are designed to be served first, the other five being the meatier cuts of steak, ribs, lamb or chicken.
But first a little empanada criolla ($4.50 for two), a kind of South American curry puff - without the curry - of minced meat, onions, capsicum, olives and boiled egg. It's homely and satisfying, in a school lunchbox sort of way.
Parillada No.3 ($29) is a mix of sweetbreads, morcilla blood sausage, chorizo and chinchulines (small intestines) that comes with two sauces - chimichurri (a spicy mix of red chilli, garlic and olive oil) and salsa criolla, a softer, milder onion and capsicum sauce. The sausages, sourced from Rodriguez Bros in Yagoona, are big, fat, well-made and smoothly textured, while the sweetbreads are insanely, cholesterolly rich, both crusty and creamy in a single bite. The intestines have the requisite gutsy, almost carnal flavour but are tough, tight and chewy.
Chewing, in Argentina, is a mark of appreciation. It, not the tango, is the national pastime. You chew because the meat is cooked through and because it's real meat, with real muscles, from a real animal. Don't talk to an Argentinian about that pansy-assed grain-fed wagyu unless you want to lose your boleadoras. Oh, and take your teeth. There will be long moments of chewing when you won't be able to talk. You will, however, be able to drink. Drinking is encouraged. It's almost necessary, I suggest.
As in Argentina, the wine list is divided not by varietals but by wine-making families. From the Bodega Luigi Bosca in Mendoza, the Arizu family's 2007 La Linda Tempranillo ($40) is a velvety, lightly oaky, red meat-loving wine. It's just as well. Parillada No.9 ($61 for two) is an even larger board covered with beef ribs, thin slices of matambre (skirt steak) and plump slashes of rump. In true asado style, the meat has been salted (as opposed to the Brazilian use of marinades) and cooked light years beyond rare or medium. But put those teeth to work and you'll find good beefy flavour. The ribs deliver the most fun by the metre, but the rump is done to death and the matambre is a challenge. The watercress salad is salty and over-dressed, and a dessert of flan (creme caramel, $13) is firm, cold and characterless, complete with old-school garnish of spun sugar and fanned strawberry.
It will be interesting to see the bullfight over coming months as the rising number of Brazilian churrascarias and Argentinian asados locks horns with the local wagyu-led steak and burger revival. It's grass versus grain, marinade versus salt, all-you-can eat versus a la carte. I'm hoping the Bodega boys' forthcoming Argentinian Porteno will be the one to bridge the gap between contemporary relevance and tradition. Boca is fun because it's warm, good-spirited and all about the meat but I'm now hanging out for where we go from here.