Recoleta shakedown

Sivela 465’s brie tempura on endives, with a raspberry vinagrette.
Sivela 465’s brie tempura on endives, with a raspberry vinagrette.
One of the more recent times I went to swanky Recoleta, I thought to myself “I’m going to spend, spend, spend on whatever fancy meal I want.”

That was the night I was reviewing a hotel, and therefore had a bed better than my own to pass out in, as well as a butler better than my own poor excuse of a manservant. So I decided that to balance matters out, I’d splash some cash on my rumbling tum.

Wandering down Quintana, I stumbled across La Biela. One of those landmark cafés, notable if you please, that you hear about but perhaps never venture into, I seized the moment. Then realized there was no way in hell I would remain there for the duration of a meal. Given that their bog-standard ham-and-cheese toasted sandwich cost upward of 60 pesos, I decided to make my excuses and leave. I left the bread basket where it was. And out I walked.

Let’s be reasonable. The average toasted sarnie in a café may set you back 25 pesos – in the Herald canteen, it’s nine pesos. So in the world of reason, it seemed unreasonable to expect a customer to pay almost 200 percent more than the average toastie on the basis that the place that’s serving it has been going for 150 years, plus it has a view of some of the most famous mausoleums in the world. (In fact, the one next door to a certain E. Duarte is currently for sale, for interested parties, although it could do with a facelift.)

In a huff, I headed to Fervor, the surf ‘n turf joint but rather more upper crust than I’m making it sound, on Posadas. Of course, a whole fish of my own set me back way more than La Biela’s sandwich would ever have done, but the service, top-quality napkins and a rather more diverse menu didn’t make me leap for the nearest exit.

So it comes as a most welcome surprise to find a cutting-edge restaurant in posh Recoleta that won’t send the piggy bank stampeding into the nearest sty to take cover, and is still within spitting distance of the cemetery’s cobwebbed tombs.

Pass through the never-ending doors, recycled from wine barrels, and step across the rather sparse threshold that is the MIO hotel’s lobby.

The thick curtains might be drawn but behind them awaits Sivela 465, the hotel’s recently opened restaurant that replaces Frapanese eaterie Tô, and some stunning metal sculptures of dragonflies complete with water feature on the back patio.

With no big names as such to write home about – there’s no celebrity chef in their midst – the menu is elaborate regardless, and freshly thought out.

Take the bread basket. No tatty whicker that has seen better days. No, the various rolls and sticks are artfully laid out across an original piece of slate.

The menu itself comprises a dozen main courses, but no official starters list, given that a few of the mains such as the king prawn panko and rabbit risotto can be prepared proportionally.

Then there’s the wine list. MIO hotel is owned by relatives from the Catena clan, a surname murmured breathlessly by those who appreciate Argentine wine, therefore much of the 12-strong Malbec selection obviously hails from that winery. Interestingly, there’s a 60 peso corkage fee, should Catena’s bottles, for some reason, not meet your expectations. I’ve never heard of a hotel’s restaurant offering BYOB, but there you go.

The meal began with a brie tempura on a bed of endives, shoots, fig and a raspberry vinagrette. Like the rolls, the dressing was treated like an artistic tool, drizzled around the plate’s edge, completing a full circle. Fresh leaves tasted super fresh, and the tempura was interesting, although the vinagrette was a little jammy, according to Mr Links.

My king prawn panko was succulent, tasty and had a little kick to it thanks to the panko, coconut and lime batter. A Thai salsa and a crisp watercress salad kept up the punch levels.

Add in a most attentive and knowledgeable waiter, Sebastián from Colombia, who was keeping several tables happy on his own, and it was a great way to start off.

For mains, I was tempted into a king crab tart, which came with a most perky looking salad, perfectly dressed (85 pesos). And a lovely crumby yet crunchy pastry kept the all the goodies inside the tart in good shape, and there was no skimping on the crab.

Mr Links, meanwhile went for lomo, medium rare (80 pesos). A man who often opts for pork or chicken on a menu, I raised my eyebrows, but in the informal competition we always have about “who chose best,” I have to tip him the wink.

Perfectly seared, it was a fabulous “meating.” Kept simple, with roasted potatoes and a Malbec salsa, this fillet was really flavoursome, succulent and the stuff that every tourist dreams about. So much so, Mr Links said it was the best steak he’d ever had in Argentina. I stuck in my fork as well, and it was a darned tender and tasty slice.

Sivela 465 gets most of its ingredients from San Telmo market, and whether the beef comes from there remains to be seen. But it’s certainly fresh and innovative, and should give the Recoleta dinosaurs a run for their money.

Wining on verdict: A hot new spot to blow out the Recoleta cobwebs. If prices remain stable, this is surely the best value hotel-dinner in town. Tip-top service. BYOB.

Sivela 465
Quintana 465, Recoleta
Tel: 5295-8500

Published in the Buenos Aires Herald on January 27, 2013

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