Sunday, February 19, 2012

El Vaquero, Whetstone, North London

I so wanted this restaurant to be great. It is a matter of seconds from where I live and its cuisine is Brazilian/Argentinean barbecue. It is all you can eat for a set price with a hot dish/salad buffet and staff go around the restaurant with their meat ready to carve as and when. There are stop and go lights on the table that you press when you want more or need a break. Perfect! I love barbecue and I love meat. But no, no no no.
I have lived in this area for nearly four years and I think there have been about three restaurants that have failed in this premises. They always looked empty and dull until this one came along. Every time we went past it in the evening it was jam packed which of course does not mean it is great but we thought lets give it a try.

Right then, let start with some positives. It is near my home, the staff were polite and the salads were nice enough.

So, we arrive and the first thing I notice is how busy it really is and so so noisy. I think there was music in the background but the chatter noise covered this. It is certainly not the place to go for a romantic meal, a group of friends is probably a better idea. The atmosphere in general is one of people rushing around and I did not feel relaxed. There were some plants, beer barrels and a couple of fake animal hides nailed to the wall. It felt as if they had 30 minutes to knock up some decorations for a party and this is all they had. The decor of the place was bland as can be, just like the food.

We were seated just in front of the bar area and a stones throw from the buffet. The tables are not too close together but still manage to make me feel closed in which is a little annoying. The waitress explained the process. First go to the buffet area and get our salads/hot dishes, then use the little lights on the table to signal we are ready for the meat skewers to come round.

We ordered our drinks first and the cheapest bottle of wine was nearly £18 which I think is a little much. Instead, I got a glass of The Paddock Chardonay/Semillon and Mr P got a Corona. There was also another beer listed called Sheendy. Have you heard of this? no? Shall I tell you why? Because it is meant to say, SHANDY. Mr P ordered it thinking he would see what it is like and she explained it is not a beer called Sheedy it is meant to say, Shandy. I mean really, is it that hard to correct a spelling mistake on the menu? This got my goat.

Next, we went to get our salads and there was I think about 6-8 cold salads and another 6 hot dishes. I picked an aubergine and garlic salad, some avocado and some salad leaves/tomato and parmasan that I think was more suited to an Italian restaurant.
Mr P had the same plus some coleslaw, fried caulifour and some sweet potato chips.

So with our plates full of salads, (some fuller than others Mr P!) we put our green light on and off we went. The first to arrive was chicken wings which looked great and the skin was very crispy. Unfortunately that's where the joy ended. They had no flavour of anything, bland as can be. I swear there was no seasoning whatsoever. This continued with the chicken leg. There was a mustard and honey chicken breast that came round which had a faint taste of mustard.
Next up was the rump of beef.

The waiter gently carves the meat off the skewer and it had a tiny bit of pink. Not much. It was over cooked and once again seriously tasted of nothing. How can they manage that? Honestly there was no seasoning or sauce or anything. It tasted dry and disappointing. I think at about this time we went back to the salad buffet for more. I was getting to my fullness limit so just went for some more salad leaves and avocado. Mr P could not be stopped in his plate filling which was amusing to watch. Just as we came back a bowl of chips appeared on the table which are handed out as and when but they were bland and dull as well. No seasoning and I am going to guess just frozen chips. We ate them sure but there was no joy in it.

More meat, this time some lamb came round. Again, dry and overcooked. I should add that you are able to ask the waiter to give you a rarer/well done section but I could not be bothered as it all tasted of nothing anyway. There was some beef which was a lot pinker but it still managed to be tasteless.

We ordered some more drinks and they seemed to take a rather long time to arrive. We did think they had forgotten and just as we were about to give up they came. I guess you could use the excuse they were busy but ten minutes for one glass of wine and a coke is a lot in a restaurant. By the way the coke was in a can and they did not offer to bring a glass or pour it into a glass. This may sound silly but for what we were paying I would expect them to pour it in a glass or at least offer to give us a glass to do it ourselves. DETAILS PEOPLE!

Right then, we were done. The lights were taken away and then offered the dessert menu. There were nine ice cream/sorbets and then this heavy dessert menu which were clearly bought in and correct me if I am wrong but not authenic!

They were way too heavy for me to try after the meat onslaught but naturally Mr P had some room. He went for the Honeycomb cheesecake. I tried one spoonful and sure, it tasted ok. But nothing better than your average supermarket cheesecake and being charged a fiver for a slice.

So that was it. Done. It came to £70 including drinks and service. The set rate per person is £21.95 for all you can eat main courses. If you want fish, then you have to mention this when booking. Would I go back? Well funnily enough when paying £35 a head I expect flavour and soul in my food. I wish this was a find because of it beng on my doorstep and I love a good steak but NO NO NO I WILL NOT GO BACK. I really cannot believe people are filling this place night after night. Is there really repeat custom? For the price you pay it really is not worth it.
The website happily says they ship in the meat all the way from Argentina. Well done you. Well done. Its just a shame when it arrives it is not treated with much care.

Value for money:2