My friend Whitney and I had not met for dinner for a while, after a very busy summer season, and chose the newish ‘Argentinian’ restaurant Don Armando. It belongs to Il Leone Chef and owner Daniel Toledo, who named the new steak restaurant after his Argentinian father. It opened in December, and is a ‘boutique restaurant’ seating about 50 patrons..
We had never heard of Cobern Street in Green Point, and had to call the restaurant for some landmarks to find it, as a Google Map let us down. It is two buildings up a side road on which Il Leone is on the corner, the building once having been a night club.
We were shown to the small terrace right on top of the two storey building, with
space only for 2 small tables and a six seater, and we enjoyed the privacy and fresh air, despite hearing and smelling the extractor fan throughout the evening, and smelling burning fat at one stage. Lighting is very low key, making it hard to photograph the dishes and interior, Whitney using her Torch App to light up the dishes for me. I went back the following day to photograph the decor, and found the daylight streaming into the rooms very bright.
The deck is clad in wooden slats, so that one cannot see the less glamorous rear end of the buildings surrounding it. Cactus plants in Consol jars are attached to the ‘fence’ slats, there are fairy lights, and red ceramic candle holders on the wooden tables. Cutlery is by Eetrite, and the steak knives by Arcos. Gauze-type paper serviettes are Don Armando-branded. We were seated by Manager Grant, who made some suggestions for what to eat, but it was hard to read the menu printed on brown board in the low light, having to use the Torch App to read it.
Our waitress Zimasa was friendly, but it soon became evident that she was not very knowledgeable, especially when we got to the desserts. When she didn’t know something, she said she would check with Grant. She brought water regularly, and topped up Whitney’s BYO wine, which attracted a corkage fee of R50, we were told. She brought sundried tomato and origanum bread, and butter for it when we requested it. Waitrons wear denim aprons with Don Armando branding.
For a starter Whitney and I shared a most unmemorable and disappointing Brocheta de cordero, a grilled lamb skewer with baby marrow and peppers, very expensive at R70. We asked where the baby marrow was, and we were told that it became too soft when grilled relative to the other ingredients, so had been left out, but we were not told this when we ordered it. We were told that Chef Daniel had printed 5000 menus, and that they could not correct the menu as they still have so many left. Other starter are prawns on a skewer (R90), grilled sweetbread (R55), chorizo (R50), grilled Blood Sausage (R50), grilled Provolone cheese (R65), empanadas (R45), and quinoa and grilled vegetables (R60). Salads are expensive, ranging from R65 for a basic mixed salad, to R80 for a grilled chicken and anchovy dressing salad.
When Grant seated us, we asked him what he recommends as being signature dishes, and he recommended a special 800 gram rump Picanha steak with fat on top, served in one piece, and then sliced by Grant at the table, served with very pap unimpressive over-salted chips, a salad, and chimichurri sauce. On Wikipedia Picanha steak is described as being a Brazilian, not an Argentinian, meat cut. I don’t know what we were thinking in ordering such a large piece of meat, each of us being able to eat only one slice in the restaurant, and the bulk going home with us. We paid R390 for the steak, and it was the best piece of meat I have ever eaten, perfectly prepared as medium rare. The thrust of the menu is the Grillados, and each meat cut is offered in two sizes. For example, a 200 g sirloin steak costs R110, 400g R165. Short rib, pork chops, rib steak, beef fillet, T-bone steak, baby chicken (in one size of 500g only, at R125), and lamb chops are offered. Fish of the day can be requested, no price appearing on the menu. Sauces can be ordered at R25 – R30, and sides range from R25 – R35, including (Banting) cauliflower mash, baby marrow, beetroot, three different bean salads, and more.
Things fell apart when we tried to order dessert, there not being a menu for desserts. Our waitress became mixed up with the prices, mistakenly quoting everything at R50. Sorbets (lemon, mango, and mixed berry cost R15 each), an Argentinian flan (R50), chocolate fondant (R50), pancake with créme caramel (R50), and ice creams cost R15 per scoop.
The evening ended off on an interesting note when Manager Grant shared that he had been the Manager of 95 Keerom Street (and Rhodes House for a while) for seven years, to which I commiserated. While being discreet, he clearly left Giorgio Nava’s establishment on a sour note, and loved the story about our discovery that Nava was conning his sister restaurant Carne clients about the origin of the beef, lamb, and game he serves at the restaurant! We also laughed at the story Nava would spin his 95 Keerom Street patrons about having gone out on his boat from Gordon’s Bay each morning to catch the fish for the restaurant! After the Nava niggardliness he joined Il Leone as manager, for the past six years, until he moved across to head up Don Armando. Our Nava story must have impressed Grant, and he generously offered to remove the corkage fee from the bill! When I returned the following day to take the photographs, Chef Daniel had just come to pick up a staff member who had cut herself badly, and whom he was about to take to see a doctor. He jumped out of the car quickly so that I could photograph him outside the restaurant before they rushed off.
While the meat offering is Argentinian, the dessert offering is not, nor is the music! There are no Argentinian decor touches. Don Armando is a bit thin on the genuine Argentinian touch, but Manager Grant was attentive, and the steak prices are excellent value.
Don Armando, 20 Cobern Street, Green Point, Cape Town. Tel (021) 418-1462. www.donarmando.co.za (website address is on the menu, but does not appear to exist). No Social Media. Tuesday – Saturday Lunch and Dinner.