Review: Garufin, 8b Lamb's Conduit Passage, London WC1

Argentina is on a high, but can the latest exponent of its cuisine live up to expectations?

Despite the odd setback in the south Atlantic, everywhere you look these days, Argentina is in the ascendant.

There's the new Pope, Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio, of course. Then there's Lionel Messi, who year after year is advancing his claim to be called the greatest footballer in history. And these guys – conquistadors of Catholicism and the world's favourite game, respectively – are as almost nothing compared with Sergio Martinez, the astonishing middleweight boxer who is being talked of as the best in the ring since Sugar Ray Robinson.

And if you don't worship Jesus of Nazareth, Barcelona or the kings of the ring, you can taste the winds of change another way, through the burgeoning Argentine presence on our food scene. Santa Maria del Sur in Battersea, Buen Ayre in Hackney, and De La Panza in Dalston are all terrific. Then there's the reliably good Gaucho chain, which, in the form of spin-off Cau, recently provided the most fun and delicious new restaurant in Cambridge for years.

But none have been so celebrated, so consistently talked of in urgent and gushing tones, as a place called Garufa in Highbury, north London. Naturally when I heard that it was opening a sister joint called Garufin, in Holborn, I got all excited and made a booking. So it's a shame it turned out to be such a letdown.

I'm not even talking about the décor here – though while we're on the subject, it really is a bit of a downstairs dungeon, and puts me in mind of nothing so much as the gimp's hideout in Pulp Fiction. Grey-brown wallpaper, dim lights, naked brickwork and chequered flooring I could usually live with. But the utterly unforgivable racket booming from the speakers, by turns techno, trance and acid house – in the sense of house music so bad, it sounds like acid tastes – just isn't on. Especially at this volume.

Argentine cuisine is distinguished by high-class beef, a reliance on corn, and a variety of Mediterranean and Italian influences. And all those are evident here – just not brilliantly so.

Of the small plates, the octopus with purple potato, almond and bread sauce (£7.50) is lifeless in every sense. The toasted white quinoa with pumpkin, mushroom and spring onion (£4.85), meanwhile, just doesn't work: the flavours don't co-operate. The creamed sweetcorn with sweet potato, goat's cheese and basil oil is fine, but only in the sense that teachers tell pupils their essay is "fine" when they're completely underwhelmed by it. Locro – pumpkin, white corn, pulled pork, beef and chorizo stewed together – is too cold, salted and oleaginous: George Osborne in a dish.

The sides are better. The cassava with spicy ketchup (£3.85) is particularly addictive, and a house salad (£3.50) is, well, fine again. Of the empanadas – Argentine pasties, basically – the Patagonica, with scallops, spring onions and olives is the most exciting.

The beef, presumably what most people will come for, is solid and sturdy: you can get rib-eye, sirloin and fillet. But you don't have to be Wolfgang Puck to think it's all a bit so what. One of my companions describes the rib-eye as boring. That isn't my problem: I just think it's over-salted, so that the natural flavour of the meat isn't given full expression. Charlie, my fiancée, says the fillet lacks moisture, and it certainly doesn't melt in the mouth.

But it's the sirloin I can't deal with. The little rubbery globules inside it don't taste like fat that, when melted, adds to the flavour; rather, they taste like elastin, which detracts from it. Meanwhile, my grilled monkfish with mussels and coriander (£9.95) is too charred at the edges, and too much like jellied eel in the middle.

Some of the desserts are plain bonkers. A quinoa coconut pudding with mango, passion fruit and sorbet (£4.85) tastes like it came from an overzealous Food Technology GCSE student, and the chocolate fondant with milk ice-cream and almonds (£5.50) is spoiled by an irrelevant kumquat sauce.

Wines are, as you might expect, over-priced because this is London. Malbecs range from £19.50 to £105, though the Avanti from San Juan (£25) is very good.

In time, Garufin may well introduce some of you to the delights of the New World. But they could do with the Hand of God in the kitchen.



Garufin 8b Lamb's Conduit Passage, London WC1, tel: 020 7430 9073 Lunch and dinner, Mon-Sat. £160 for four including two bottles of wine

Appetising argentines

Buenos Aires

17 Royal Parade, London SE3, tel: 020 8318 5333

Amazing steaks and lovely wines please practically all at this friendly and packed-out Argentinean café


2a St Mary's Street, Manchester, tel: 0161 833 4333

London's steakhouse boom not yet having engulfed Manchester, this glitzy outpost of the Argentinean-themed chain still offers the best steaks hereabouts; killer prices, though, fully reflect the rarity value


9 Duke Street, London W1, tel: 020 7486 9699

This secret stand-by between Selfridges and the Wallace Collection offers a range of high-quality Argentinean small plates (and wines), and willing service too

Life and Style
ebookNow available in paperback
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs Food & Drink

    Guru Careers: Events Coordinator / Junior Events Planner

    £24K + Excellent Benefits: Guru Careers: We are seeking an Events Coordinator ...

    Royal Yachting Association Cymru Wales: Chief Executive Officer

    Salary 42,000: Royal Yachting Association Cymru Wales: The CEO is responsible ...

    Guru Careers: Marketing Manager / Marketing Communications Manager

    £35-40k (DOE) + Benefits: Guru Careers: We are seeking a Marketing Communicati...

    Ashdown Group: Technical IT Manager - North London - Growing business

    £40000 - £50000 per annum: Ashdown Group: A growing business that has been ope...

    Day In a Page

    Sun, sex and an anthropological study: One British academic's summer of hell in Magaluf

    Sun, sex and an anthropological study

    One academic’s summer of hell in Magaluf
    From Shakespeare to Rising Damp... to Vicious

    Frances de la Tour's 50-year triumph

    'Rising Damp' brought De la Tour such recognition that she could be forgiven if she'd never been able to move on. But at 70, she continues to flourish - and to beguile
    'That Whitsun, I was late getting away...'

    Ian McMillan on the Whitsun Weddings

    This weekend is Whitsun, and while the festival may no longer resonate, Larkin's best-loved poem, lives on - along with the train journey at the heart of it
    Kathryn Williams explores the works and influences of Sylvia Plath in a new light

    Songs from the bell jar

    Kathryn Williams explores the works and influences of Sylvia Plath
    How one man's day in high heels showed him that Cannes must change its 'no flats' policy

    One man's day in high heels

    ...showed him that Cannes must change its 'flats' policy
    Is a quiet crusade to reform executive pay bearing fruit?

    Is a quiet crusade to reform executive pay bearing fruit?

    Dominic Rossi of Fidelity says his pressure on business to control rewards is working. But why aren’t other fund managers helping?
    The King David Hotel gives precious work to Palestinians - unless peace talks are on

    King David Hotel: Palestinians not included

    The King David is special to Jerusalem. Nick Kochan checked in and discovered it has some special arrangements, too
    More people moving from Australia to New Zealand than in the other direction for first time in 24 years

    End of the Aussie brain drain

    More people moving from Australia to New Zealand than in the other direction for first time in 24 years
    Meditation is touted as a cure for mental instability but can it actually be bad for you?

    Can meditation be bad for you?

    Researching a mass murder, Dr Miguel Farias discovered that, far from bringing inner peace, meditation can leave devotees in pieces
    Eurovision 2015: Australians will be cheering on their first-ever entrant this Saturday

    Australia's first-ever Eurovision entrant

    Australia, a nation of kitsch-worshippers, has always loved the Eurovision Song Contest. Maggie Alderson says it'll fit in fine
    Letterman's final Late Show: Laughter, but no tears, as David takes his bow after 33 years

    Laughter, but no tears, as Letterman takes his bow after 33 years

    Veteran talkshow host steps down to plaudits from four presidents
    Ivor Novello Awards 2015: Hozier wins with anti-Catholic song 'Take Me To Church' as John Whittingdale leads praise for Black Sabbath

    Hozier's 'blasphemous' song takes Novello award

    Singer joins Ed Sheeran and Clean Bandit in celebration of the best in British and Irish music
    Tequila gold rush: The spirit has gone from a cheap shot to a multi-billion pound product

    Join the tequila gold rush

    The spirit has gone from a cheap shot to a multi-billion pound product
    12 best statement wallpapers

    12 best statement wallpapers

    Make an impact and transform a room with a conversation-starting pattern
    Paul Scholes column: Does David De Gea really want to leave Manchester United to fight it out for the No 1 spot at Real Madrid?

    Paul Scholes column

    Does David De Gea really want to leave Manchester United to fight it out for the No 1 spot at Real Madrid?