Colonia del Sacramento. Beachside, catch of the day with a small salad and some smiley-style potato croquettes. Wooden benches eager to release their tiny splinters into your bottom, service between sweet (him) and miserable (her). The price of lunch? A whopping 380 pesos (Uruguayan ones, that is or US$18.)
Welcome to Uruguay. Despite this exorbitant cost, a few days well spent on the other side of the river made me consider that it could possibly be the best country in the world.
If you like smoking marijuana, provided you’re a resident you can buy it freely under government supervision. Their president is one of the very few people in power to turn down a free house. Thatched cottages dotted around the green and hilly countryside. I like them. They are pretty. Uruguayans are super mellow (yes, yes, the weed). The steak is just as super as it is in Argentina — although I had a minor panic attack when I saw lomo c/ inglés at the butcher, wrongly assuming it was steak made out of a fellow countryman. Uruguay! I thought we were friends! And the coastline is gorgeous. So many things that make our neighbour so great, but it is really, really expensive, so much so that some Uruguayans I met feel priced out of their own country.
If you are visiting, this is the rule of thumb: prepare to spend all your cash and max out your credit card, because like it or not, you’ll have to spend, spend, spend; it won’t matter what you consume.
Now that has been cleared up, a call out to all seafood lovers. Bypass the Punta del Este peninsula, zip over the camel-hump bridge at La Barra and continue to Manantiales. Plenty of familiar Argentine brands pitch up for a few months, from ice-cream parlours to handbag stores, but one restaurant along the Manantiales strip that is worthy of your splurge is Sipan.
This Peruvian restaurant let me down in the last BA Food Week, but it was business as usual in Uruguay, exceeding expectations so much so that Phillipe was rendered speechless over the classic ceviche.
Located a stone’s throw from the ocean, this chic shack of a restaurant means that produce is absolutely fresh. The aforementioned ceviche (1,000 Uruguayan pesos) is made with the fish of the day, usually sole, but on Wednesday for us, perch. A winner it was, a stunning way to start, so much so Philippe wanted his own personal bucket of it.
Other starters for 10 included Pulpo Walter Alba (780 Uruguayan pesos), slivers of tender Spanish octopus dressed up in a coriander salsa and topped with bacon bits. Enhanced by these unusual textures to get the mouth juices flowing. As for the Parmesan scallops (720 Uruguayan pesos), whoever said cheese, lime juice and seafood doesn’t mix is a blundering buffoon.
Although the menu is a paired-down version of the Buenos Aires one, plenty of sushi is on offer. We barely chewed the salmon nigiri (720 Uruguayan pesos), a match made in heaven of crunchy phyllo and a passion-fruit honey, although the rice could have been a little stickier. So often, Peruvian dishes are drowning in maracuyá, but Sipan got it exactly right.
Four starters later, we were stuffed but true to form manned up to the task of tackling the Seafood Parrillada (1,300 Uruguayan pesos). Two of the fattest tentacles I’ve ever encountered appeared on the hot plate, more perfectly prepared pulpo.
Slathered in anticucho sauce, a fusion of panko pepper paste, garlic, cumin and other ingredients, the meaty salsa zipped up the grilled baby cuttlefish, octopus and prawns. We were so happily stuffed we couldn’t even touch the sweet potato side.
Pricey? Sure, we knew that. Worth it? Fish fans won’t be let down.
Sipan, Ruta 10, Km 163.5, Playa Bikini, Manantiales, Uruguay
Tel: 0598 4277 5717
Buenos Aires Herald, January 19, 2014