I had no plans to visit Santiago in Chile. The Chileans are very friendly, maybe a little like South Africans. Two Chilean couples I met on my trip, unrelated to each other, invited me to come and visit them in their city, and stay over. As I only had four days in Chile before a last day in Buenos Aires, at the end of my trip, I split the visits into two two-day stays. I am so happy I took up their invitations, getting to know more about their wine industry, and being able to eat at Boragó, the 26th Best Restaurant in the world!
I decided to travel to Santiago from Mendoza in Argentina by bus. It was a modern double-decker bus, and I booked a window seat. I sat next to Felipe from Chile and in front of two Germans. We were served a snack box as well as tea/coffee, it getting colder and colder as we got nearer to the Andes.
Wikipedia informs: ‘The Andes or Andean Mountains (Spanish: Cordillera de los Andes) are the longest continental mountain range in the world, forming a continuous highland along the western edge of South America. The Andes also have the 2nd most elevated highest peak of any mountain range, only behind the Himalayas. The range is 7,000 km (4,300 mi) long, 200 to 700 km (120 to 430 mi) wide (widest between 18° south and 20° south latitude), and has an average height of about 4,000 m (13,000 ft). The Andes extend from north to south through seven South American countries: Venezuela, Colombia, Ecuador, Peru, Bolivia, Chile and Argentina.’
We had to fill in a form and declare to the Chilean Customs what was in our baggage, including fruit, vegetables, drugs, etc. I realized that I had to eat my tomatoes, apple, banana, and nuts with dried fruit, before we got to the Chilean border. I shared some with my fellow passengers.
The landscape was mountain and mountain and mountain, increasingly covered with snow as we got to the border, midway in a tunnel through one of the Andes mountains. On the Argentinian side the mountains became colourful too, with shades of red, beige, light blues, greys, amazing.
The longest part of the 8-hour trip was spending two hours at the border control. First waiting our place in the queue for passport control, and then having every bag checked via a machine for drugs, illegal items, and fruit and vegetables, and other items (I was worried about the heart stones I had in my bag, but they were not detected). Kilometers of trucks were waiting to be controlled, with a shorter queue for the buses. Sniffer dogs were seen too. Once done, we had a steep descent down the Andes, with 20 hairpin bends, each one numbered. I prayed throughout this descent, worried about the bus missing the edge of the road in the bends.
There was less snow seen on the Chilean side, and we arrived in Santiago to 29C! My first host Jorge Tapia was at the wrong bus terminal (three have the same name but are a number of blocks apart) so I had a nervous moment. But I could call him and we connected, driving with Uber through the main road of the city, older and then increasingly modern as the city has expanded towards the Andes. A 7 million person city. I was surprised that his wife Sandra OCampo was in Columbia, but I would her see her on my last day with them.
The next morning Jorge made me a Chilean breakfast of sweetcorn pancake (arepa) with cado (plata), delicious, with an English Rose tea by Whittard. We went to their local neighborhood fruit and vegetable market. What an amazing offering, even of fish, nuts, and I saw white aubergine for the first time. Jorge then showed me the extent of the Chilean wine offering at Jumbo, a hyper market created by a German immigrant over 40 years ago, with 30 branches in this city. It is massive, and I tasted a very smooth velvety Vigno Carignan..
We walked the dogs, and the first thing I saw that made my heart bounce was a coffee shop called Ubuntu Café. Wow. I went inside and asked where the name came from. They said South Africa. They were even more surprised when I told them that I’m from there. I told them that I did not know of any business with that name in South Africa. They were very happy that I took a photograph, and they asked that I tag them.
Around the block was another bar/café, so we went there with the dogs. They offer eight different tea leaf types of tea, and included Rooibos. Wow. Within ten minutes of seeing Ubuntu. I had the Lotta Karota tea, with Rooibos (very low key), carrot, apple, and a herb. I never touch Rooibos, but I loved this tea.
Jorge has asked me what I would like to do in Santiago, and I could think of nothing more exciting than eating at Borágo, (Chilean name for Borage), the 26th Best Restaurant in the world. He managed to book a table for us. The restaurant has no branding at all, not even outside. We were seen from inside, so they opened the door. The entrance is most unspectacular, a service counter, a device to heat cloths to wipe one’s hands for one of the dishes, and some wine cooler fridges; and untidy. The only impressive decoration on the reception counter is the World’s 50 Best Restaurant award statuettes the restaurant has won every year since 2013. The 2016 one was missing, so I asked what happened in that year. Sheepishly one of the staff explained that it was stolen!
The dining room is large, rectangular, the whole end of the shorter side being taken up by the open-plan kitchen. One hears the ‘Yes Chef’ coming from the kitchen in the distance. We tried two waiters, but the English was a struggle. I heard one serve the next door table, speaking good English, and he took over our table. But he stretched in front of me, when putting down the cutlery for each dish. We had to choose the same menu per table, the house rule, and no amount of negotiation could bend this rule, as Jorge wanted the smaller menu of 8 courses at 65000 pesos (R1450) . He graciously ate the 16 course menu with me, costing 75000 Chilean pesos (R1650) each. The dinner was ‘blind’, there being no menu available.
The restaurant proudly has no art and no music. The focus is on the food. One ‘wall’ is glass, and it was a very noisy restaurant when all the tables had arrived. There are no table cloths. We started off with a glass of champagne, price unquoted, and a different bubbly to the one offered. The excuse was that they had served that bubbly the previous night, but it had run out. So they served another.
My biggest problem was with Sommelier Amanda (the only female staff member on the floor) and the winelist. They push the wine pairing, nine wines for the 16 courses. We wanted wine by the glass, so Jorge ordered a glass of white and a glass of red. Weirdly only four wines per category are offered. Three of the four red wines were blends, with no blend info, so we called Amanda. She told us the blend compositions for each of the wines, but none of these added up to 100%. She was tapdancing, making excuses. I asked her to please check the blend info, and to write it down for me. She came back with a till slip piece of paper, had made errors she had scratched out, gave vintage information but not for all wines, so I asked her to please present the information accurately. I finally received it neatly typed up.
I missed the story about the food. We received a little pamphlet with our first course, but were told we did not have to read it immediately. It shows a map of Chile, with the Andes, a desert in the north, the Pacific Ocean, and a very cold south. There was no link to the map on the Tasting Menu, we jumping from region to region with no theme or location. I had read about Owner/Chef Rodolfo Guzman’s policy of zero-kilometer sourcing of ingredients. He meant not sourcing outside Santiago, yet we received references to Patagonia and other areas during most of the meal, a contradiction.
The highlight of our evening was the cutest man-bun Chef René Sanchez presenting each of our dishes, bar the last. He brought a duck covered in beeswax to the table, to show me how they prepare it. He tried his best to explain the dishes in English, but he didn’t know the English names of all the natural indigenous plants. They have a team of 200 persons source/forage ingredients for them all over Chile. He explained their own unique designed way of doing lamb over the coals, to guarantee the most tender lamb with a very crispy skin. They use every bit of every ingredient, and nothing goes to waste. They use recycled paper for the winelist, and for the menu when we received it as we left. Presentation of many dishes is spectacular, but not of all. Chef Rodolfo does not work on Saturday evenings, we were told! I ate a fish/eel for the first time!
The Maitre’d Paolo was very sweet, and once had a man in Umkomaas when he did cruise ships, so he was very excited when he recognized my English. I’m took a note back home, to his friend Jorge at the Kloof Street Black Sheep restaurant. Yet he was not on the floor the whole evening, sitting in an office somewhere.
In general, English is a problem amongst many of the staff, yet I only heard English spoken by the diners. Many lost in translation errors.
In summary: good kitchen, innovative and creative, and passionate, fabulous presentation of the dishes by dedicated chefs. The chair was pulled back each time I got up to take a photograph, and then pushed back. Exceptionally poor Sommelier, she just didn’t care. Water glass not filled up, I having to request it. Generally the waitrons were a let down relative to the food created by the chefs.
Sandra arrived back from Columbia in the early hours of the morning. She made us an arepa pancake each, topped with a fried egg, a Chilean breakfast. A long slow catch up over breakfast, sharing all my restaurant experiences since we met each other at Tegui Restaurant in Buenos Aires two weeks prior, where they had invited me to come and visit them.
Sandra then started the preparations for our lunch, a traditional Congrio broth made of a unique Chilean eel/fish, with onion, carrots, red and yellow peppers, parsley, coriander, oregano, and cumin. I had the task of choosing one of Jorge’s seven wines, and selected the Perez Cruz Carmanere 2017, not knowing this cultivar from SA. Soft and fruity. This we followed with a Cabernet Franc by Los Valetas, Jorge also loving Cab Franc. I suggested a walk with the dogs, to get some movement and fresh air.
And then the driver arrived to take me to the home of Pia Vogel and Guy McGrath, who live outside Santiago in CuraCuvi, near the wine growing area of Casablanca, staying with them for two days. I met them at Zuccardi Winery in Mendoza a week before, and we connected immediately. Such amazing luck to meet two such fabulous kind and generous couples from Santiago in Argentina.
Guy cooked mushroom risotto for us, which we paired with the excellent flagship VERO three Clone Malbec 2012 from Tempus Alba in Mendoza, which I had brought along. Exceptional quality. We did lots of catching up chatting, getting to know each other. Guy opened a bottle of Lomo Larga Pinot Noir 2012 too. Breakfast the next morning was Pia’s homemade yoghurt, with their mandarins. Plus a slice of her delicious homemade sourdough bread with avocado, fortifying us for our winetastings.
We drove a circular route, between hills, the landscape becoming greener as we drove closer to the Chilean Coast, and then we saw the first vineyards. In Casablanca there are 15 vineyards open to the public for visits (without appointments), we were told.
I will summarize very briefly where we went, what we ate, and what we tasted.
1. William Cole
2. Casas del Bosque,
Their Gran Estate Selection 2014 scored 95 points by Tim Atkin, prominently displayed. Pia and Guy wanted me to try a Wine Sour, popular in Chile, this one made with Sauvignon Blanc, lemon juice, and sugar, the latter making it very sweet. Enzo Canessa is their wine educator, very funny, good English, and generously allowed us to taste the Gran Estate Selection. Varieties planted are Sauvignon Blanc (almost 50%), Syrah, Pinot Noir, Chardonnay, and Cabernet Sauvignon. Very creative presentation of their wines in the shop.
I looked at their menu, and saw a dessert that sounded amazing, walnuts and chocolate, so I ordered it for us to share. But they were walnut moulds used to make the chocolate. The waiter Michael was amazing, asking where we were from, and I was shocked when he told me that his favorite band is Die Antwoord, asking me if I can speak Afrikaans. Unbelievable! And he is originally from Venezuela.
Service fail when it came to paying. Separate payment for the dessert and some wine gadgets. No invoice possible as the invoice person was on lunch. The payment taking person was on lunch as well. Pushed all my buttons as we were on a time plan.
We had lunch at the restaurant first. I needed some wine info, and was referred to the Sommelier Pablo Chavez, the rudest most arrogant sommelier I have ever come across, my second bad experience with sommeliers in Chile in two days. The marketing chap could speak English but could not tell us their largest cultivars. It turned out to be Sauvignon Blanc, Chardonnay, and Syrah, the latter being the variety they are best known for. Top scoring wine a Syrah. Lunch was good, but overshadowed by the sommelier, trying to charm Pia to prove how fabulous he is. I ate the Vegan Menu, to keep it lighter.
We drove to their winery section, some distance away, and a charming young man with excellent English showed us around their cellar, so neatly designed. It is biodynamic and we saw their sheep amongst the vines, eating the grass. Most of their production is exported. They have concrete eggs from France. Barrels are only used for the red wines and Chardonnay. I told him about the Sommelier, and he was annoyed hearing this, saying that it was not the first feedback about him.
A lovely light dinner prepared by Guy. I flew back to Buenos Aires in the morning. A lovely two days spent with Pia and Guy out in the countryside, outside Santiago.
This is an excerpt from my newest Book ‘SwitchBitch: my journey of transformation in travelling Solo, step by step’, the third in the SwitchBitch Transformation Trilogy, which will be published later this week. It is available directly from me, as well as on Amazon.com for Kindle.
Chris von Ulmenstein, WhaleTales Blog: www.chrisvonulmenstein.com/blog Tel +27 082 55 11 323 Twitter:@Ulmenstein Facebook: Chris von Ulmenstein Instagram: @Chrissy_ulmenstein