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Gaucho: Dark & Delicious

Our first time at Gaucho and, to be fair, they’re no cowboys.
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Gaucho on The Hayes, and I quote, “boasts an ambience that combines industrial design and cultural artistry, adding a touch of dark glamour and making it the ideal setting for working lunches, afternoon drinks, and evening dining”.

It’s the site of the old All Saints shop so has inherited, I suspect by smart design, the dark, industrial theme that we loved about All Saints. Incidentally that’s moved upstairs in St David’s 2 and appears to have embraced its ambience, or lack of it. I shall say no more.

Whether Gaucho is great for a working lunch, I don’t know. You’d have to love that client and they’d have to be particularly profitable. Gaucho isn’t cheap, but then nothing good in life is. If you’re lucky enough to be taken there for lunch, then give yourself a pat on the back – you clearly deserve it.

We were there for dinner. It was a lovely, warm evening and Gaucho’s façade had a touch of London about it. A few chairs and tables outside but a moody interior beckoned. My first thought was ‘yes, Cardiff needs more like this’, and as we stepped inside, that thought was confirmed as being correct. It feels right. It feels grown up. It’s understated, sultry interior oozes moodiness. The kind of place in which you’d fall in love with someone you probably shouldn’t. Hey, we’ve all done it. And if you haven’t, hopefully there’s still time. Gaucho Singles Nights?

The first thing that strikes you is the bar and the waterfall lighting above it. Like The Ivy it makes a point of reminding you where the fun happens. The bar is beautiful. The lighting is classy, subdued but uplifting – very film noir. That combined with the matt black painted walls and ceiling, punctuated here and there by gloss black, textured tiling ensures the “dark glamour” casts its spell on anyone who enters. It certainly worked its magic on us. We felt at ease, and very welcome. The darkness envelopes you and you very quickly become part of the mood, something that many restaurants fail to achieve in those moments. So very often you feel like you’re in their domain – slightly uncomfortable, guarded. Not here. I felt like I’d been coming here for years. It had that favourite restaurant feel. The last time I felt this vibe was in Gibbs’ Jazz Club in a basement on Churchill Way back in the eighties.

Cayden, our waiter.

We were shown to our round table with bench seating in the left hand, far corner of the ground floor, with a panoramic view of the kitchen and the restaurant. A gaucho always keeps his back to the wall. A great position because we could see just about everything that was going on without making it obvious. We like to people watch, and the low light made the voyeurism easier. There were diners of all ages and they certainly seemed to have relaxed as easily as we did. Our waiter arrived. A charming, tall young man by the name of Cayden. We chat as you do and, it transpired, we went to the same school in the Valleys, Lewis Boys in Pengam, albeit several decades apart. This naturally created a common bond and throughout the evening we reminisced as you do.

We sipped away at a few sweet and sour cocktails (Citrus Negroni) which were very moreish while nibbling on some of the best breads we’ve had in a while – sourdough baguettini, pan de bono, chimichurri with butter (room temperature butter – I do hate cold butter). The bread was warm too. We could have just eaten that all night and dropped a few cocktails, it would have been a win.

By this time, we’d had the opportunity to observe the Argentine inspired synchronicity between kitchen and front of house. Rarely have I seen a restaurant team with such a professional connect. It’s seriously impressive. Talk about focus, it was a pleasure to watch.

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As if to reinforce our opinion, starters arrived. For Jennifer, Seared Diver Scallops (‘Nduja butter, aguachile verde and lemon crumb). For Jack, Sautéed Prawns, tomato, garlic, olive oil, and a side of bread. I went with Steak Tartare Sirloin, with palm heart emulsion, slow cooked free-range egg, plus a cracker. Given that we’d not dined here before, we all agreed we’d share. They were all pretty scrummy, but the Sautéed Prawns edged it for me. The flavours were perfectly balanced. We were certainly off to a promising start and as we watched mains come out for other diners, the anticipation grew.

We didn’t have to wait long. The Gaucho timing felt metronomic. Jack’s Classic Burger arrived. 100% Argentine beef patty, brioche bun, cherry tomato jam, baby gem lettuce, onion, mayonnaise, and chips. Now Jack is a bit of a connoisseur when it comes to burgers. One bite in and the thumbs were up. That’s like at least an 8/10 in our house.

Jennifer’s delicately marbled 500g Ribeye was a sight to behold – plenty of fat (which as we all know is flavour) and seriously tender and juicy. Realistically most ribeyes she orders are usually around 300g (which are on the menu). This was a monster and I thought she’d bitten off more than she could chew. It was perfectly cooked and, despite her best efforts, half of it at least ended up being next day’s lunch.

While I’d usually have joined her with a ribeye, the 400g Churrasco De Lomo had intrigued me. Cayden had introduced it when he brought out the meat platter at the beginning (a nice bit of theatre, and useful if you don’t know the cuts). Spiral cut, marinated in garlic, parsley and olive oil it looked mouth-watering, and it was. The beef was unbelievably tender and the marinade works beautifully. If you try one thing at Gaucho, it has to be this. 400g is plenty too.

For our sides, we shared Sautéed Broccoli (confit garlic, roasted almond, lemon zest), Creamed Mashed Potato (milk and cream), and Truffle Mac & Cheese (truffle, mozzarella, taleggio, gruyère, lemon herb crumb). All were perfectly cooked. We added a few sauces for good measure: the usual peppercorn (it’s a given) and we really fancied the Blue Cheese. Both were excellent but peppercorn is still my favourite.

We all agreed the quality of the meat was unbelievably good and after ordering our desserts, we sat chatting about life, the universe and everything. Gaucho does make you feel relaxed which is a great quality in a restaurant. The whole point of going out and eating with loved ones, or friends, is to forget the stresses of everyday life, chat and generally relax. Gaucho is certainly conducive to that.

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The arrival of desserts broke the ambient calm that had descended over our table. Jack, being a slave to sugar, had gone with the Tray Baked Cookie Dough, (double chocolate chip cookie, dulce, and vanilla ice cream). Jennifer had played it safe with the Lemon Tart (with strawberries and crème fraiche). To be honest, I was pretty beaten by my 400g Churrasco De Lomo, so had taken the lightweight’s choice of ice cream. As it happened, it was the right thing to do. The cold, creamy vanilla and chocolate ice cream seemed to be the perfect end to an exceptional meal. We all shared a few nibbles, and the other desserts were also very good – Jennifer’s Lemon Tart was zesty and citrussy without being too sharp – just as she likes it.

Round up (see what I did there?)
In case you were wondering, a gaucho is the Argentine equivalent of a cowboy. After all, someone has to manage those frisky Black-Angus cattle. Having said that, there’s nothing cowboyish about Gaucho’s delivery. This is clearly a chain that knows what it’s doing and aims high when it comes to the quality of its product. Are we fans? Absolutely. Will we return? You bet.

And finally, there’s an old cowboy saying: “May your belly never grumble, may your heart never ache, may your horse never stumble, may your cinch never break.” One thing’s for sure, after a meal at Gaucho, your belly isn’t going to grumble for quite a while. As for the heart ache, that depends on who you take with you. Be careful out there…

19 The Hayes
St David’s Dewi Sant
029 2059 6979

Opening Times
Sunday to Thursday: 12 noon until 11:30pm
Friday & Saturday: 12 noon until midnight

Private Dining Room
Available for hire and holds 26 guests

Meaty goodness!
Where do all you carnivores eat in Cardiff? We’d love to hear your recommendations.