Sink your teeth into tasty Mediterranean cuisine at this laid-back restaurant
Beso is a Mediterranean restaurant set in the heart of theatreland on iconic Shaftesbury Avenue. The open-plan kitchen is headed up by Khalid Dahbi, previously of establishments such as Claridges and Bibendum, however, this is a much more down-to-earth affair.
Exposed brick, dark walls and suspended industrial lighting makes for an intimate dining area, with turmeric leather booths and mosaic tiling really driving home the Moorish feel. And for those history and music buffs, it might interest you to know that the Beatles spent hours eating, drinking and song-writing in the basement of this restaurant in the 60s, which is now a private dining room.
Serving up Moorish food with modern flair is the focus here. Refreshingly, the menu isn’t gargantuan, it’s just enough for them to peddle their wares while emanating confidence and ensuring freshness.
To kick off with the boldest of flavours, the spiced beef and lamb Merguez sausages with harissa mayo grilled to juicy perfection are a must (£7.50) and the crispy Southcoast squid with a citrus crème fraiche has the perfect crunch and is the ultimate sharing food (£8).
The grilled Welsh lamb cutlets are also grilled to perfection; blushingly pink with savoury char and nestled into a smoked aubergine puree (£17), benefitting from a side of cumin roasted carrots with yoghurt, though these needed punchier seasoning to stand out (£4).
And then came possibly the most unctuous and luxurious vegetarian dish of all time - gnocchi with forest mushrooms, Dolcelatte and tarragon – which ticked all the boxes in terms of flavour and balance (£12.50). Its Spanish/Moroccan twist is evident with Ras El Hanout, pistachios, cumin and prunes peppering the menu but a slow cooked Tanjia burger and hake in wild sorrel cream serve as a reminder that this restaurant is European and its influences are broad.
Of the desserts that are freshly made in-house, the white chocolate panacotta has the obligatory ‘wobble’ as well as a delicate sweetness offset by tart stewed rhubarb and the Dulce de Leche cheesecake with flaked almonds and praline is beautifully textured and suitably rich (both £7).
The wine offerings span in origin from Turkey and Romania to South Africa and Argentina, and even the spritzy Txakoli, which I immediately associate with endless nights in San Sebastian’s pintxos bars, makes an appearance. But on this occasion the house wine, a Sicilian Catarratto, is smooth and slightly off dry and works rather nicely (£23). The neighbouring table saw away a variety of eye-catching cocktails. I’ll definitely be indulging in the Marrakech Martinis during my next visit!
Staff are attentive, knowledgeable and seem so at ease in their roles. The manager, Kamil, is a character and his infectious positivity only adds to the charm and appeal of this restaurant.
Gaucho, Edinburgh is an Argentine restaurant centrally located in the buzzing, cosmopolitan, St Andrews Square. It is the ideal spot for lunch after a morning of battering the credit cards in the fabulous shops that Edinburgh has to offer.
This is Gaucho’s flagship restaurant and bar in Scotland, and hopefully will be the first of many. Located over two levels, it is easy to forget what time of day it is, as the windowless restaurant is situated in the basement.
We arrived after a wonderful morning of hitting the shops and were there to celebrate a milestone birthday. On the ground level entry there is an elegant cocktail bar with an extensive drinks menu. We were shown downstairs to the main dining area and it really is like going into a zone, where time is of no consequence. We emerged quite merrily, full to the brim more than a few hours later, to find it was completely pitch dark outside.
The definition of Gaucho is “a cowboy from the South American pampas”, which explains the décor. Cowhide fabrics adorn the furnishings, and there is a large tree as the centrepiece. There is also a glass walled private dining space, which is perfect for special occasions or entertaining clients.
Gaucho is a meat lover’s paradise. The menu consists of the best free-to-roam, grass-fed Aberdeen Angus beef cooked with big Latin flavours. There were two of us dining, me, (a pescetarian) and my girlfriend who would eat steak for breakfast, lunch and dinner given a chance. I was interested to see what this meat-centric restaurant had to offer for a non-meat eater and I have to say, it didn't disappoint.
Of course all great steaks need an an amazing wine and you're certain to find one here as the extensive wine list includes more than 200 exclusive Argentinian wines, some of which are produced in the restaurant’s own vineyard in Mendoza.
For starters I opted for the Cured Patagonian red prawn Tiradito, served with pickled cucumber salsa verde and whipped crème fraiche. Tiradito is a typically Peruvian dish of raw fish cut in the shape of sashimi, which reflects the influence of Japanese immigrants on Peruvian cuisine - a real fusion of both cuisines. It is often referred to as ceviche’s lesser-known sibling, and it also tastes delicious.
My girlfriend selected the sausage board, which consists of a generous amount of pinchos, chorizo and morcilla served with romensco sauce.
For the mains, surprise, surprise the birthday girl opted for a steak. The raw steaks arrive on a wooden board, and the waiter talks you through each cut, size and weight, which gives you a real visual of what to expect - no surprises in store. The steaks come from premium Black Angus cattle, bred in Argentina farms, where they graze on 17 different types of grass from the Pampas provinces of Argentina. The cows enjoy a lush, free-range lifestyle in an area famed for its fertile soil.
The Cuadril, which is the rump steak, is the leanest cut and has a pure, distinctive flavour and was cooked in a peppercorn sauce and was served with a side of thyme salted chips. I continued the fish theme and settled for the Grilled Swordfish, which comes with a side of mixed bean cassoulet, palourde clams and grilled lemon to garnish. Despite being pretty stuffed, it wouldn’t be a proper birthday without cake. The lemon tart and the affogato all but finished us off!
The atmosphere in the restaurant is relaxed and warm. The staff are friendly and attentive, not pushy or overbearing. and overall the service was outstanding. This fresh, modern, sophisticated addition to the Edinburgh dining scene is certainly welcome, and we are already looking forward to our next visit.
Top tip: Arrive early and sample the legendary cocktails at the lovely bar.
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