On Saturday evening I ate dinner at Tegui Restaurant in Palermo, Buenos Aires, getting a reservation easily at this the 86th Best Restaurant in the World. While it has an attractive interior design, its food presentation does not match this look, and while suggesting that it is Proudly Argentinian, it seemed a little too close to what Peruvian 6th Best Restaurant Central is serving! The Chef sadly oversalts his food.
Tegui is named after the second half of the surname of its owner/Chef German Martitegui, and stands for its passion for Argentinian ingredients. Bizarre was that many of these ingredients were in the dishes of the Tasting Menu at Central in Lima in Peru too. The restaurant dropped badly from 49th Best in 2017, 55th in 2018, and 86th this year. It was the Best Argentinian Restaurant until this year, when it was overtaken by Don Julio, now 34th Best, at which I’m eating later this week. The 10 course Tasting Menu became 13 dishes, and was charged at 4200 pesos (R1400).
Chef German was not in the house, cooking at an event in the USA. Head Chef Leonel Aguire Toble was in charge of the kitchen. I loved the interior design of the restaurant, very hidden and discreet to the street, and all in black inside, with white tablecloths breaking the colour, with the open-plan kitchen being a blend of green lighting and stainless steel. A bulls head oversees the kitchen but oddly no beef is served.
I was welcomed at the door, having to ring a bell to be let inside, by Sommelier Mariano, asking my name, and being given a message that the restaurant was not quite ready to seat me. One couple had arrived ahead of me, Jorge and Sandra, from Santiago in Chile, and we started chatting about World’s 50 Best restaurants immediately, being on the same wavelength. Sandra was in the city on business, so they decided to use the opportunity to eat at one of the two top restaurants in Argentina.
The sommelier Mariano poured a glass of El Esteco Don David Extra Brut NV sparkling wine as a welcome drink on my arrival. I’m happy that I ordered a glass of Miras Pinot Noir 2015 from Patagonia (250 pesos), from their wines by the glass on the winelist, many of the early dishes being very light. The wine label has a Picasso-like illustration, very modern for a classic and not very common Argentinian cultivar.
This was followed by a very good Clos 7 Lindaflor Malbec 2012 (450 pesos), in which French winemaker Michel Rolland had a hand. I appeared to have confused Mariano about which red wine I like to drink, telling him that I like it full-bodied, but then I liked the Pinot Noir in preference to the Malbec, both of which he allowed me to taste. In the end I had a glass of each, the more meaty dishes only being served in the second half of the menu. Mariano kindly prepared a recommendation list of vineyards for me to visit in Mendoza next week. His English was good, and he answered some of my questions, in the absence of a Restaurant Manager. One sees an impressive glass cabinet with the Argentinian-only wines as one enters the restaurant, and I was told that they stock 2000 bottles of 300 wine brands. The wine list is informative about the seven wine regions in Argentina, but sadly the lighting in the restaurant is so low, with only a tea light on the table, that I didn’t get to read any of it during my dinner.
Rob introduced himself as my waiter, a young man with a little ponytail, speaking a good English, exuding a slight and increasing touch of arrogance during the evening, almost strutting the floor like a catwalk model, telling me that he has only worked at the restaurant for seven months. He was unable to answer what seemed to me to be some basic questions about ingredients in the dishes, but he would offer to find out, and always came back with the information. Every time I thanked him he would reply with a charming ‘You’re welcome’ and a smile. Sadly, our end interaction was unpleasant, but more about that later.
Rob told me that the restaurant opened ten years ago, that they like to stay under the radar, which is reflected in their very low key branding outside, with patterned walls alongside their entrance, making it very hard to read the very small name of the restaurant. It was a ‘vintage’ house before, meaning that it is old in its foundations but was renovated for the restaurant, in a very sleek and chic look, dominated by black in its ceiling, wooden floor, and leather banquettes alongside one wall length, offset by white tablecloths. Tables are close to each other, and each has a small glass table next to it, on which the drinks bottles are kept, sadly not in coolers, the water requiring ice blocks throughout the evening as a result. The table only had the table cloth, with no cutlery, and a white linen napkin. The opposite wall is made of glass, with a lit up outside area of trees and greenery, mirroring the green at the kitchen counter. Chairs are comfortable, in beige upholstery.
Rob gave me a copy of the menu, but it was impossible to read in the low lighting. He told me that the Tasting Menu consists of ten courses with two appetisers, at a cost of 4200 pesos (R1400), while a ‘wine selection’ of wines from El Esteco added an extra 1400 pesos to the price, He did not tell me how many wines were in the selection, and he did not want me to refer to the selection as a pairing, which confused me, but I did not pursue this with him. In reading the menu whilst writing this review, I could see how wines from the selection were poured for groups of dishes on the Tasting Menu, shared below.
The waitron uniforms are unusual, with black slacks, and a white jacket which looks like a chef’s jacket, adding to the black-and-white restaurant interior. Rob told me that the uniforms were designed by Ramirez, a local fashion designer!
And very quickly, our dinner began, with the first appetiser served:
- Red Corn and cracker
Given the low light, this very first taster was a disappointment, being two black crackers made from red corn, resting on a dried stripped corn base, served with a fermented Red corn dip. There was no further explanation. The colours were dark, the crackers mainly black but with some white parts, which looked like popcorn to me, but Rob could not explain these. The crackers were crispy and crunchy. The dip did not look attractive at all, being in a deep dark burgundy colour, and it did not add any lift to the crackers. I was told to eat the crackers by hand, dipping them into the dip. I hadn’t even finished this appetiser when the next dish arrived. I had to request Rob to pace the courses, and to not serve more than one course at a time. He told me cheekily that these were appetisers, so that it was in order for them to arrive almost simultaneously. I had to tell him that it was not in order for me.
2. Tubers from Argentina
# An oca tuber, resting on a salt crystal. It was accompanied by a small bowl of bacon emulsion, and again I was instructed to use my fingers, in dipping the tuber, tasting very much like carrot, into the dip.
# Fermented Olluco purée, topped with oxalis leaves, with no explanation of these ingredients the same combination of tuber and herb having been served at Kjolle. It tasted very much like beetroot to me.
# A (nameless) tuber from the Tucana province, cut in half, and coated with honey and lemon, was unexciting
None of these three tuber types were introduced, and the only one of the three making an impact was the first, the dip lifting the taste of the oca tuber. The last of the three tubers was boring, and I had to request a cloth with which to wipe my fingers, being sticky from the honey. A container with warm water and lemon was brought to the table.
3. Bread course
This course was not counted in the Tasting Menu. It was called a Mathé herb ‘biscuit’, when in fact it was a bread. Mathé is drunk as a tea in Argentina, not liked by everyone. It was served with a homemade butter, the first utensil being provided for the course, one breaking the bread open with one’s hands, and then spreading the butter onto the bread with the spoon.
Different textures of carrot were presented in/on one carrot on a wooden board, attractively plated, with a cream of kefir topping, onto which dried carrot, pickled carrot, and fine flowers were placed, to create an attractive if understated presentation. The carrot toppings gave the dish a crunchy texture.
5. Jerusalem Artichoke
Called ‘Sanchos’ in this country, the Jerusalem Artichoke dish from La Plata City, its location not explained, was a marriage of artichoke foam, purée, crackers, combined with nuts (not identified), topped with oxalis herb leaves as decoration. The crackers provided a crunchy texture.
Courses 4 and 5 were linked to El Esteco Old Vines Criola, with no vintage nor cultivar description provided. Cutlery was brought to the table specifically for the requirements of the dish, next to each other, on my left, thereby preventing stretching in front of me.
I felt it getting warm in the restaurant, and so was my water, so I requested ice cubes, which were served in a metal container, with a pair of tongs.
6. ‘Brocoli (sic) Rabe’
I went over the name of this dish a number of times with Rob, bringing in a colleague to, and he kept say ‘broccoli rave’, which I had never heard of. It may have something to do with the Spanish spelling some words with a ‘b’ but then pronouncing it like a ‘v’. I had to Google their word, and there is a Rapini plant (a word they did not use to explain it to me), described as a ‘green cruciferous, with the leaves, buds, and stems all being edible; the buds somewhat resemble broccoli, but do not form a large head. Rapini is known for its slightly bitter taste, and is particularly associated with Italian cuisine’. There were some flowers in the plate, and these were linked to the ‘rave’, I being told nonsense information about them being turnip flowers. A slice of dried mandarin was a sweet balance to the over-salted artichoke sauce at the base of the dish. An unmemorable dish, in its presentation, the broccoli rabe looking overcooked, and in its taste. The mandarin was the only strength of the dish, being crispy. The course allowed me to eat the dish with a knife and fork for the first time!
This was a pretty dish, slices of raw scallop from Rio Negro in San Antonio served ceviche style in two scallop shells, with kefir and borage. The shells were placed on a bed of salt crystals on a stone plate, but a number of the salt crystals landed inside the dish too, unfortunately completely spoiling the taste of this dish when I bit into the crystals.
For the first time another waiter approached my table, to collect the plate, and asked me for the feedback. I received no reaction to my feedback of the dish being over-salted.
The wine selection for the Broccoli Rabe and Scallop dishes was El Esteco Old Vines Torrontes, with no vintage nor descriptive cultivar information.
I got a bit of a fright when I heard the name of this dish, but loved its taste, the sweetbread having been grilled, covered with sliced green apple, plated on a bed of spring onion ‘juice’. It was a powerful presentation, in the contrast of the white topping and the green base. The apple gave freshness as well as crunch to the dish. Strangely, a local bread called Cremona, made in a pastry style, was served with this dish, after we already had been served bread as dish number three. I could choose whether I wanted to eat the rest of the pastry for subsequent courses. I sent it back to the kitchen at the end of this course. To me it distracted from this dish, not adding to it at all.
9. Red Mullet
This is the first time that I have eaten red mullet, and its colour made for a pretty plating presentation. But serving this with smoked potato mash, or purée as Rob called it, seemed a huge disappointment for a restaurant of this world calibre! Olive oil was part of the dish, but how it was used was not explained by Rob. The dish was finished off with a ham broth, a weird contrast to the fish, but the ham was not identifiable in tasting the dish. A tock leaf and dill finished off the dish. Disappointingly I detected a fish bone, and this dish was once again strongly over-salted.
The wine selection for courses 8 and 9 was El Esteco Blanc de Blancs. No vintage information was provided.
At this stage I had to pour my own water, Rob no longer taking an interest in servicing my table!
I love eating duck, but the presentation of this dish was poor, masculine, dark and red, not exciting in its presentation at all. Duck Margret was offered with an endive which was rolled in fermented cabbage, and a blob of chutney made from spaghetti pumpkin, Rob explained. The duck jus overpowered the dish. The endive had a crunchy texture, whilst the fermented cabbage could not be detected in its taste. I liked the sweet chutney taste, but sadly once again the jus was over-salted.
At this stage I switched to the glass of Malbec, a Vista Flores from the Uco Valley in Mendoza, made by Clos 7.
The wine selection for this dish was Finca Notables Tannat, with no cultivar-specific or vintage information.
Had I been able to read the menu, I would have been very annoyed that it promised Lamb, when I was told that it was Hare, which I felt uncomfortable eating! On the Spanish menu the word ‘Liebre’ (hare) was used, incorrectly translated as ‘Lamb’ into English!!! Not acceptable!
For the first time Rob stretched over me to put down the cutlery for this courses, from my right. A second blow for this dish!
The hare was presented with onion purée, and salsify, all dark colours on the plate, with ‘lactarious mushrooms’ from Argentina, I was told! Once again, the jus served with it was over-salted. I was not impressed with this course, masculine in its presentation too. .
12. Blood orange
The fresh blood orange was accompanied by celery ice cream, unusual in its taste and a good colour addition to the plate. The dish was finished off with a granita of buffalo yoghurt kefir. I liked this dessert, and its sweet and savoury interaction, as well as its presentation.
The final course was a celeriac (part of the celery family) cream, with a refreshing dried kumquat (a member of the citrus family), and noisette butter ice cream. Its presentation was dull, tasting better than it looked.
The wine selection for the dessert courses 12 and 13 was El Esteco Tardio de Torrontes.
I loved the playlist, starting with American jazz and swing, and moving up in tempo, ending off with ‘Funky Town’ by the time I was ready to leave, the last to leave, sounding absolutely danceable to me. I did have to challenge Rob on the American style music, when no Argentinian Tango music was played at all, to be paired with the proudly Argentinian Menu! The bathroom is all in black too, with a oively feminine touch coming through with white roses near the basin.
I started chatting to a Brazilian couple sitting at the table next to me, sadly only at the end of the dinner. Earlier during the evening there was an amazing connection with Sandra (Columbian) and Jorge (Chilean), whom I had met while we were waiting for our tables, which led to an invitation to visit them in their home In Santiago, Chili.
Sommelier Mariano recommended that I visit the following wine estates in Mendoza: in the Uco Valley Clos 7, Superuco, Zuccardi, and Alto las Hormigal. In Luján de Cayo he recommended Casa El Enemigo, Viña Cobos, Las Perdices, and Catena Sapata.
I asked Rob for the bill, and he became very pushy about the tip all of a sudden, telling me that it was not included in the bill, and please could he have it in cash! I was certainly not walking around with cash of this magnitude. I added it to the bill total, so that it could be paid with my credit card, and once again he asked me about the tip. A total fail! In writing my review, I realise that he was exterior charm, but failed in a number of respects in his service, including stopping to pour the water, and in incorrectly providing information. He no longer interacted with me, too busy counting his pesos, no doubt, so a colleague stood at the door with me, waiting for the Uber to arrive. The first Uber could not find the location, and a second did, but the driver could not find my hotel address!
While it was exciting to visit Tegui, it having an aura of intrigue to it with its hidden exterior and minimal information on the website, it was very disappointing as an eating experience. I missed a story to the Tasting Menu, none being told, the waiters just bringing one plate after the other to the tables. I sensed a degree of copying ingredients used by Central, highly successful as 6th Best restaurant in the world, and the best in Latin America. It is no surprise that Tegui dropped so badly in the 2019 World’s 50 Best ranking, especially with the chef not being in his kitchen! I was told that head chef Leonel had traveled, and had eaten at some of the other World’s Best restaurants, leading for example to the creation of the scallop dish. Repeating ingredients like kefir, and fermenting as a style, is a weakness.
The speed of serving the food was much too fast, new dishes arriving before the previous one was finished. The Head Chef has a very heavy salt hand, in his scallop dish, as well as all his other four dishes with sauces. Interesting was eating salsify, the vegetable after which Salsify at the Roundhouse is named. Only one dish stood out for me, sweetbreads with apple and a spring onion juice, in its presentation and taste. The lighting is very low, the little tea light on the table not being much help. Generally the dishes lacked presentation appeal. What really surprised me was that there was not one woman chef nor waitron in the restaurant!
In conclusion, the Tegui Menu is bizarre in its welcome and introduction. It introduces its ‘The Cast’, including the missing owner Chef German Martitegui, with six other chefs! It encourages diners to ‘please take memories, not pictures’, encouraging one to switch the phone onto silent and to leave it out of sight, probably explaining why the Restaurant does not have an Instagram account! I did not get the message until I wrote this Review, due to the poor lighting in the restaurant! The dishes at Tegui do not photograph well, having little appetite appeal in their presentation.
There were too many errors and weaknesses to this dinner, both in terms of its food, as well as the service, for the calibre of this restaurant. I predict that it will fall out of the World’s 50 Best 51 -100 list in 2020!
Tegui Restaurant, 5852 Costa Rica, Palermo, Buenos Aires, Argentina. Tel +54 11 4770 9500. www. Tegui.com.ar Instagram: @germanmartitegui Dinner only.