Gypsy cuisine at a Buenos Aires supper club

(c) Helen Musselwhite

The supper club craze that has taken London and various other cities by storm also has a huge presence in BA, where they are known as puertas cerradas – closed door restaurants. A little info for the uninitiated: it’s a restaurant in somebody’s house. They sit you at their table and cook you food from their kitchen. Really great food. Inspired by interesting things or a clever theme. There are usually lots of courses and sometimes wine to match, for a (normally bargainous) set price. You share table and talk with strangers; interesting folks from all kinds of backgrounds. These dinners tend to be advertised by blog, or via social networking and word of mouth. They aren´t signposted — the only way to discover the address is to book yourself a place. But despite seeming low key, these supper clubs are no secret — in fact the BA puertas cerradas have their own boxed text in my Lonely Planet. And when I logged on, weeks in advance, to make a reservation for Casa Saltshaker, perhaps the best-known puerta cerrada in BA, there was just a single seat remaining for my chosen date.

On the night, having navigated the BA subway alone, I arrived in the well-to-do neighbourhood of Recoleta, armed with a dog-eared printout of my booking confirmation and mild apprehensions. But the initial awkwardness of sitting down to eat with complete strangers was quickly diffused by the novelty of the food, which was at once fascinating, beautiful and delicious. The five matching wines helped too!

It was the international day of the Romany, so our menu was themed around traditional gypsy dishes and hearty peasant food.1. Mussel pizette (a miniature pizza scattered with plump mussels).
2. Fall vegetable broth with chickpeas and almonds (the textures in this really made it – velvet veg, tender pulses and a crunch from the nuts.)
3. Risotto with smoked trout, caramelised shallots and chestnuts.
4. Veal in creamy mushroom sauce with peppers.
5. Apple sponge roulade.

I loved this meal for its apparent simplicity – I would never order any of the above in a restaurant, mostly because they seem too humble to feature on a menu (but we suspected that in fact a lot of prep and precision was going on behind the scenes). The use of uncommon ingredients like veal, chestnuts and smoked trout was a real treat. And though I didn’t realise at the time, it would prove to be almost the only seafood I encountered in Argentina, a country which is really quite dire at fish.

The place is run by Dan, a charming American who generally keeps himself tucked away except when it’s time for him to introduce each dish, which he does in a way that makes you eager to tuck in. His apartment is gorgeous and full of quirky bits and bobs that made me suspect he must be much more well-travelled than I am! When my bill arrived at the end of the night I was caught off-guard because the whole thing had felt like I was a guest at a friend’s house. But of course I paid up my £25 because it was worth every penny.

Ps. How beautiful is this caravan illustration!? I found it while searching for a suitable Romany picture to accompany my post. It’s by Helen Musselwhite, whose work can be bought at www.helenmusselwhite.com

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