Raising the steaks
On our recent visit to The Grill Pit, we discover how this Argentinean-inspired parrilla at Al Habtoor Polo Resort is fully embracing the spirit of the gaucho
As a self-confessed steak connoisseur, there is nothing more enjoyable than discovering a restaurant that promises a traditional Argentinean experience. The South American country has earned a reputation for producing some of the best beef in the world, thanks to the largely grass-fed diet of the cattle. Known for being tender and rich in flavour, it compares favourably with Scotland’s famed Aberdeen Angus and even the renowned Wagyu from Japan.
So when I arrive at The Grill Pit, I am understandably excited. The signature restaurant at the stunning Al Habtoor Polo Resort has taken inspiration from gauchos, the skilled horsemen that have roamed the Argentinean plains for centuries. In tribute to their way of life, the menu features classic dishes and the kitchen is powered by a parrilla. These traditional simple iron grills are fuelled by wood and allow meat to be cooked indirectly, as well as accrue a wonderful smoky flavour.
This means the kitchen exudes a wonderful aroma which can be fully appreciated if you are seated close to it. The dining room itself is decked out in dark woods and soft leather, with a mixture of intimate tables and large booths that are ideal for families. You’ll also discover a small, but well-stocked bar where you can enjoy an aperitif before the main event.
Once seated, our server takes us through the concise menu and we decide to start with an avocado salad and a selection of empanadas. The salad is wonderfully light, thanks to the simple lemon dressing, while the peppers and asparagus have plenty of bite and a slightly charred flavour having been cooked on the grill. The empanadas are also expertly prepared, with the pastry maintaining its flake and the filling wonderfully tender. The crab was particularly flavoursome, while the chicken was classically paired with carrot and onion.
Having purposefully selected a combination of light starters, we could fully indulge when it came to the main course. We opt for the 300-gram beef tenderloin steak with baked potato and a béarnaise sauce, and the traditional matambre a la leche, which is an Argentinean form of beef brisket. But before the main courses could arrive, our waiter asked us to “choose our weapon”. We are then presented with a selection of criollo knives, which look as though they belong in the sheath of a hunter.
These turn out to be more decorative as when the meat arrives, it is wonderfully tender and even the dullest of blades can easily pass through the beef. The tenderloin is thick yet simply melts in the mouth as it has been perfectly cooked to medium-rare. There is a hint of a smoky flavour yet it is very delicate and does not overpower the meat. The accompanying baked potatoes have clearly been cooked under the grill and have plenty of flavour thanks to a helping of melted cheese, though the serving size of two rather large potatoes proves too much for my dining companion.
For my main course, there is almost no need for a knife at all, with the beef brisket simply falling apart when coaxed with the fork. Slow cooked in milk, the colour is almost off-white but the taste is exceptional as there remains a small layer of fat that melts with every mouthful. The vegetables have also taken on huge amounts of flavour thanks to being cooked on the iron grill. Perfectly charred and well seasoned, I have no problem clearing the plate and cannot help but dip every forkful into the vibrant chimichurri sauce.
We are then coaxed into trying the desserts despite feeling suitably satisfied. We choose the panqueques, which are milk caramel crepes served with dulce de leche ice cream. Fully indulgent, this satisfies those with an extreme sweet tooth as both the crepes and ice cream are incredibly rich thanks to the caramel. We also try the budin de pan, a bread pudding that is paired with preserved figs and Chantilly cream. The lighter of the two desserts, it still packs in plenty of flavour and is a wonderful end to the meal. The Grill Pit promises to showcase the life of a gaucho and thanks to the traditional grills, fine cuts of meat and smoke-infused dishes, that is exactly what it achieves.
For more information or reservations 04 4354444