On my trip to Cuba and South America in our winter 2019, I had tremendous luck in the top international restaurants I was able to get a table to eat at, not planned as part of my trip initially, but just evolving during my travels, and often booked at very short notice. One of the most disappointing dining experience relative to its 26th rank on the World’s 50 Best Restaurant list was at Boragó (meaning Borage) in Santiago in Chile, at the end of August.
I had not planned to visit Chile at all, but again through luck I met two Chilean couples, one at a disappointing dinner at Tegui in Buenos Aires, and one at a superb lunch at Zuccardi in Mendoza. I connected with both couples, and both of them invited me to visit them in Santiago, described as being just over the Andes mountains from Mendoza. I accepted the invitations spontaneously, and after a scary bus ride through and over the Andes, I was met by Jorge at the Santiago bus station. Jorge’s wife Sandra was out of town initially, and Jorge was a most gracious host, showing me around their city, and asking me what I would like to do. There was nothing better I could think of than to eat at Boragó, the best restaurant in Santiago and Chile, according to the World’s 50 Best Restaurants, having retained its 26th Best position from 2018 this year. As luck would have it, Jorge’s secretary managed to book a table for our dinner.
We UBERed to the restaurant, now in a new location since Jorge and Sandra had eaten there previously more than a year prior. While the driver stopped at the correct address, we could not see the entrance to the building, it having no branding. Someone must have seen us from inside, and opened the door. Our reservation was found, and I asked if there was any branding anywhere so that I could take a photograph as I had done with all the restaurants that I had eaten at on my trip. I was told that there is none. So I asked if I could use the Boragó cookbook lying on the reception counter for the photograph, wanting to step outside as there was better light. The hostess seemed very concerned about me disappearing with the book, but in the end I returned it to her, and we could be shown to the table.
We sat alongside a glass sliding door, in a very minimalistic space, large, rectangular, with one full wall of glass, an open plan kitchen at one shorter end, and tables quite far from each other. The tables have a stone holder with holes, in which horns have been placed as what is intended as a decorative touch! There is no art on the walls, the chef clearly wanting his dishes to be the visual attraction of his restaurant. Tray tables were dotted around the room, with a colourful blanket over them, the only touch of colour brightening up the large stark room. Wait staff wore black shirts and slacks, and are all male, women having babies and requiring separate changing rooms, and therefore not attractive to be employed in Chile, Jorge explained. Wow!
We were asked if we wanted an Aperitif, and quickly two glasses of Agrapart & Fils Champagne were brought to the table, without any indication of charge or cost. Very quickly I picked up a problem with waiter Elias in his English communication, poor Jorge having to translate. Another waiter took over, Manuel speaking the best English of the waiters we tried, but he was quite formal and distant.
Our allergies and dietary preferences were requested, and I was told that they use onion and garlic in their sauces which I understood, and accepted. The restaurant had opened nine years ago, and had moved to its new location on the outskirts of Santiago at the beginning of this year. It is owned by Chef Rodolfo Guzmán, who does not work on Saturdays, we were told.
There were two Tasting Menu options, the Endemico, dishes made from ingredients which are close to extinct in Chile,and consisting of 16 courses and costing 75000 Chilean pesos (R1400), it was explained to us. The Complementary Menu consisted of 6 courses, at the cost of 65000 pesos (R1200). While Jorge wanted the reduced menu, and I wanted to try the full menu, we were told that we both had to order the same Tasting Menu. Jorge was a gentleman, and joined me in eating the full Tasting Menu. A further irritation so early on in the evening was that the Menu was ‘blind’, and that we could not know what we would be served, hampering our choice of wines to order.
We were introduced to the wine list by young Sommelier Amanda, and from here things started sliding, her wine list being as minimalist as the decor of the restaurant. The winelist was printed on recycled paper. Amanda told us that we would be served five small snacks, two meat dishes, and two desserts, not adding up to sixteen dishes at the outset, and that a flight of nine Chilean wines paired with the full Tasting Menu would cost 57000 Chilean pesos (R1060). What shocked me was that the winelist consisted of four white wines and four red wines, three of the four reds being blends. I asked Amanda to tell me which blends they were, and the composition, and none of her percentage totals per wine added up to anywhere near 100%. I asked her to please double-check the Blend compositions and she returned with a till slip on which she had handwritten the Blend composition per wine. I rejected this scrappy information presentation, and she returned for a third time with a neatly typed list! Amanda told us that she had worked at the restaurant for seven months, and was in her second year of training at the Sommelier School! She is the worst ‘Sommelier’ that I have ever encountered in a Fine Dining restaurant, not doing the title justice one bit! I had to complain to Restaurant Manager Paolo about Amanda, and he made things happen. I finished the champagne, and drank water during the rest of the meal. Jorge had a glass each of La Leonie Chardonnay from Casablanca, and Grez Grand Vin, a biodynamically produced wine blend of Cabernet Sauvignon, Carménière, Merlot, Lacrima Cristi, and Viognier, produced by Tipaume.
What I liked was that chefs presented their dishes to us, knowing the ingredients and preparation techniques the best, and charming well-spoken in English Chef René Sanchez brought most of them to our table:
This snack was described as being a traditional Chilean desert-inspired macaron translated into a savoury version, with a green apple disc, made with parsley extract oil expressed in a vacuum machine. In its middle was a berry peumo (Chilean acorn), kefir cream, and jibia squid which had been smoked and cured. On top of the macron was a cocoa butter and spinach disc, all of which one was to eat as a sandwich with one’s hands, and a wet cloth was provided to clean them afterwards. The taste of the apple came to the fore initially, but the saltiness of the squid dominated overall.
2. The Mariscal
This snack was described as a traditional Chilean seafood dish, made with limpets, clams, and piure (barnacles) cut into small pieces, with cilantro, onion, and lemon. This snack was not too salty. It contained chickweed leaves, with a barnacle sauce. We were told how to eat this snack and advised that slurping it while eating it was allowed. The snack was presented in a volcano stone bowl, with crushed stones from the Pacific. It did not have a strong seafood taste, but was refreshing.
This snack was another barnacle dish, a rare type of barnacle found on the shell of the picoroco. It was served as crudo, raw and in a Tartare style. It was presented on top of a grisini cracker, topped with shavings of raw hazelnut. The dish was prepared in a traditional Pulmay hot stone cooking method for seafood and meat. The cracker broke while I ate it. It did not have much taste, but the nuts gave it crunch.
4. Sea urchin
This unusual snack of soft sea urchin tongue, müsli, and pickled parsley stems, was served with junco (butternut) inside a pumpkin. Its white outer rim had penicillin spores. The snack was served with an acidic sauce emulsified with butter, and yuzo, a Chilean mandarin. The müsli gave the dish texture, the penicillin a chewy cheese texture, and the yuzo taste came through predominantly. Mimosa surrounded the dish decoratively, but its aroma did not come to the fore. In placing the wooden spoon to eat this dish with, the waiter stretched right across me, an absolute no-no, especially at this level of restaurant.
5. Milcao bread basket
Milcao is a traditional Chilean bread, served as a blue potato (michuna) ‘pancake’, made from raw grated potatoes and cooked mashed potatoes, the dish originating from the Chiloé Archipelago in Chile. It was served with kefir butter, acidic, with a taste of cheese. Not knowing this dish, it tasted like dough which had not been cooked properly, not my favorite dish.
6. Van Gogh on a plate
In a calabash type ceramic bowl roasted flowers had been placed on the inside of the bowl, with cauliflower purée, lemon juice and zest, and a little sugar, to create the texture. Carrot juice had been reduced at 10%, and was filtered twice, to paint the inside of the bowl. Roasted marigolds, Bergamon, and mushroom powder were other ingredients of this dish, served with a loyo mushroom broth, the mushrooms having been foraged north of Patagonia, and preserved. Cochayuyo, a seaweed bladder, was cooked with king oysters, pulverised seaweed, and butter inside it. The broth overpowered the dish with its very dominant taste, and to my mind the dish would have been more successful without the broth.
At this stage the service started slacking, I having to request that our water be topped up. I had left the dining room, and on the way to the bathroom I went back to the reception area, asking for the Manager, seeing how untidy this area was, with a microwave to warm the cloths to wipe one’s hands with. I noticed all the World’s 50 Best Restaurant Award statues from 2013 to 2019 on the reception desk counter, and asked what had happened in 2016, it missing from the collection, I was told that it had been stolen by a diner!
A tofu (vegan) ice cream made from almond milk, beautifully decorated with mouba flowers, was served with abalone from Punto de Tralca coastal region of Chile, as well as dried mandarin zest. The abalone was slightly rubbery in texture, and its taste was hidden, such a shame for what is such a delicacy in our country. The tofu ice cream had a strange texture, not my favorite, being an ice cream lover.
The dish was served inside an Abalone shell, it having a different shell to that of our South African abalone.
In serving a spoon for this dish, waiter Manuel stretched across me for the second time.
8 Razor clam cake
The dish of razor clams was served with a Brazilian black bean purée and a leaufe succulent, to balance the flavours of the dish, with a Kolof broth made of the suction part of seaweed. The dish was salty, and left a burning sensation at the back of one’s throat.
9. Congrio eel
I would never have thought that I would eat eel, my parents having eaten smoked eel at our home, and we as children all disliking its look and smell. The Chilean eel/fish was cooked rescoldo, a local cooking technique, in avocado leaves, in a dome made of ashes dough and cooked on the fire. It was served with a salad of wild roses, cauliflower purée, and the sauce of the caldio of the Congrio, an infused broth of sea carrot and seaweed. Despite never having eaten eel, the dish had no overpowering eel taste, one picking up more of an avocado taste from the avocado leaves. For this dish we were offered a fish knife and fork, as well as a spoon to finish the delicious broth. The rose petals decorating this dish were too chewy. I bit into salt crystals in the dish, giving a strong salty taste.
10. Grilled Duck Margret
This was an interesting dish, in a dramatic red, with beetroot leaves hiding the small grilled duck pieces, but not every beetroot leaf had a piece of duck underneath it, so that one actually ate very little duck in this dish, a shame because it was so good. It was served with an apple vinegar sauce. I was shown how the duck was prepared, in a bees wax mould. In true head-to-tail fashion, every element of the duck is used.
When I left the table after this course, a fresh napkin had been placed at my seat, A visit to the bathroom was interesting, there being a double roll of toilet paper in the ladies bathrooms, and only a single one in the men’s bathrooms Jorge told me.
11. Lamb Magallanes
A steak knife with a bone handle was brought to the table. Chef René pointed to the whole Lamb on a skewer outside, a unique design created for Boragó, using an inverse cooking technique, the lamb carcass spending 13 hours in the fire, at 15C initially, when they start at 11h30, and the heat increasing to 90C throughout the day. This cooking technique helps to keep the meat juices inside, Chef René explained. The lambs are sourced from Patagonia.
We were served a plate with the rare roast lamb, delicious roasted skin, three-year-preserved liquid amber leaves, a millefeulle of cabbages, black truffles, tamari, and a sauce, topped with grains of salt. The cabbage leaves added a crunch texture to the dish. Unfortunately my meat contained a piece of bone, which I saw luckily before I could swallow it!
12. Black sheep of the family
Despite being in the dessert section of the menu now, and having been served the lamb course, the next dish title was an unusual one. It was a construction made to look like ….. a black sheep, the head made from apple vinegar marshmallow cooked with a flame, the body of sheep milk ice cream painted with cocoa butter, and preserved rhubarb, standing on very crunchy grisini legs prepared with squid oil. Wow. It was served with apple compote.
13. and 14. Digestive
We were served an ice cold brûlée Rica Rica, made with a medicinal plant used to aid digestion. We were told that medicinal plants are foraged by a team of 200 locals for the restaurant in the Atacama Desert of North Chile. A sandwich of ice cream of Roses of the Year resting in the rim of the brûlée accompanied this course. Muna muna ashes, lemongrass foam, tolilla foam, and Rica Rica oil accompanied this course too. The infusion disc of roses made this the most beautiful dish of our dinner. The dishes gave a balance of flavours, from the bitter medicinal plant to the sweetness in the ice cream, its presentation looking better than it tasted. .
15. Menthol refreshment
This dessert dish was left to waiter Manuel to explain, a frozen glacier made with menthol meringues and a foam cream of citrus and cocoa powder, the explanation having to be repeated by Chef René. Liquid nitrogen was used to add drama to this dish. It was a refreshing way to clean the mouth, we were told.
So our supposed dinner of sixteen courses, short by one according to the initial introduction, came to an end, but not before we had a chance to chat to Chef René some more. He had been lucky to be able to work with owner Chef Rudolfo, whom he described as a ‘genius’. He talked about their test kitchen CIBoragó alongside the restaurant, where new dishes are created. We found him to be a fantastic ambassador for the restaurant, enthusiastic and passionate in his work, and able to explain the dishes in good English.
I asked for the bill, receiving it in the reception area, and asked to see Paolo the Manager, who had only been visible in the reception once before during the evening when I had a problem with the wine blend information. He had not been inside the dining area during the evening and never checked on our satisfaction with the meal or service, nor had anyone else. I questioned the charge for the champagne, not having been told the charge, and he graciously accepted the reduction of one glass of it from the bill. When he asked where I am from, thinking the accent sounded familiar, he was beaming when I told him, as he visited Umkomaas near Durban regularly whilst working on cruise ships. He also knows Chef Jorge, co-owner of Black Sheep on Kloof Street in Cape Town, and quickly wrote him a note which I dropped off for him on my return to Cape Town.
I loved the predominantly grey dishes use to plate the courses, making the food on them very photographable. Chef René (left) is a delight and a key strength of the restaurant, given how poor the English of the waiters is, a surprise given that most of the other diners in the full restaurant spoke English, being tourists from other countries. The wine ‘service’ was shocking for the calibre of the restaurant, and it felt that ‘sommelier’ Amanda knew nothing about wines at all. Waiter Manuel spoke English the best of the waiters that we tried, but his explanation of the dishes was poor and he stretched over me a number of times to lay down cutlery, an absolute no-no. The tables are far apart in the restaurant, not creating any cohesion, but perhaps the kitchen cannot cope with more than the current seating of 54 diners at a time, having a staff complement of 40. Staff well-being is important, and a yoga class is held for the staff in the mornings, adding quality of life to the staff. .
The website provides more information about the restaurant, not shared with us whilst we ate there. Its water comes from rainwater of Patagonia, with a high level of purity. Milk is milked by the staff. About its winelist it states: ‘We do not have a wine list. In return we seek to add the effort of Family projects full of passion. We have a wine pool. These represent particular conditions in the Chilean territory, occasionally with surprising results’. Vegetables used in the dishes are grown on a biodynamic farm belonging to Chef Rodolfo (right), half an hour away from Boragó. Unique ingredients are harvested and used when seasonally available. A team of 200 collectors and small producers throughout the country collect ingredients for the restaurant. The culinary research centre is adjacent to the restaurant building, the first of its kind in Chile.
Despite its weaknesses, Boragó gave me an interesting insight into traditional Chilean cuisine.
POSTSCRIPT 26/11: I sent a link of this Review to Chef and owner Rodolfo Guzman via Instagram. He told me that Sommelier Amanda had left. He then rudely told me off about the description of the dishes, about him not working on Saturdays, and about the lost World’s 50 Best Restaurant 2016 statue, all of which was information provided by his waiters and chefs. He did not seem to understand how poorly his restaurant information is communicated to dining clients:
‘Hello there what’s your story Chrissy ? There’s anything I could do to help you ?
Yes unfortunately you are not precise with my recipes , my name it’s not Adolfo but Rodolfo , the restaurant has been open for 13 year and not for 9 as you said , and yes I work on Saturday’s and very hard btw!, and you know what the 50 thing I was traveling and I’ve lost it ! And never been stolen , but you what impress me the most ,that I have never ever seen such a looseness within our recipes , they are all wrong ! as you wrote on your review , you should be buying that book the day that you came , so you could see what it’s really behind and of course well described. Btw tell your friend Jorge that we have bathrooms for man and woman since we have an staff of 13 woman at the restaurant. Great review but poor precisely it is not , cheers and ufff
Boragó, Avenue San Josemaría Escrivá De Balaguer 5970, Vitacura, Santiago, Chile. Tel +56 22 953 8893 www.borago.cl Twitter: @boragocl Instagram: @boragorestaurant @rgborago
Chris von Ulmenstein, WhaleTales Blog: www.chrisvonulmenstein.com/blog Tel +27 082 55 11 323 Twitter:@Ulmenstein Facebook: Chris von Ulmenstein Instagram: @Chrissy_Ulmenstein