I was led into a cavernous space, where chandeliers built from decanters (no, really) cast an almost ethereal glow upon a room that felt a million light years away from London. This was, as far as I was concerned, not the UK’s capital city. Paris, perhaps, or maybe Barcelona, but more fittingly Buenos Aires. It’s a city I lived in for a month in my last year of high school, more concerned with fake IDs and loose clubbing laws than I was gastronomical adventures. While I was running around drinking too much fernet and learning that 10pm was South America’s 5pm, chef Fernando Trocca was busy cooking up a storm. More fool 16-year-old me.
The Argentinian chef opened the original Sucre in Buenos Aires in 2001 and more or less hasn’t looked back, paving a way for a culinary revolution in the city (not that I would I know, I was probably three drinks deep and trying to forget I had maths homework to do). Two decades later and he’s made the leap to London, taking over an enormous space on Great Marlborough Street that, as mentioned earlier, feels a hundred miles away from the Soho we all know outside.
It takes real skill to transplant a popular restaurant in an entirely new country. Trocca seems to have almost picked up a slice of Buenos Aires and dumped it in Soho. Sliding into my seat – literally, the tables are so close together I had to almost asphyxiate myself to make it through the gap – I was struck by how distinctly special the space felt. Corniced ceilings, vibrantly upholstered chairs and a kind of roaring chatter that only works in a space as big as this. The cocktail menu forced me to confront my adolescent past, packed as it was with mentions of the infamous fernet, the cause of my first real hangover and many decisions that seemed ruinous at the time. The food menu, meanwhile, was gargantuan – spanning continents and cuisines but still heavily anchored in South America – with enough dishes that you could visit at least three times and have three completely different meals.
I woke up the day after dining at Sucre still thinking about one dish in particular. It was on the specials menu that day (Trocca, if you’re reading this, please make it a permanent fixture!) and was one of the best things I’ve eaten since I started writing about restaurants a few months ago. I couldn’t quite hear our waitress when she told us the name but I believe it was a take on the Peruvian dish causa. Traditionally a layered salad of mashed potatoes, at Sucre it was recreated in a one-tier iteration, fluffy room-temperature mashed potatoes topped with prawns, avocado, red onion, a jammy boiled egg and a mayonnaise-esque sauce. Explained like that I would be sceptical – in fact, I was when our waitress talked us through it – but it was a true delight. Zingy, bright and a multitude of textures and flavours that made for joyful eating. Seriously, please put it on the menu.
Other starters included the scallop tiradito, which saw tender slices of the shellfish in a soy-based sauce, covered in fresh chilli and delicate horseradish shavings. While packed with flavour, it perhaps lacked an enlivening spike of acidity. The cheese and onion empanada, meanwhile, is everything you want to kick off a meal. A little bit naughty, simply delicious, and enough to kick-start your appetite without leaving you too full for the mains. You may have seen me write about often judging a restaurant based on their snacks, and this would easily be the pick here – the perfect partner to a solitary drink.
The main dishes are split by cooking method – charcoal fire, wood oven and stove – and again there is a lot to choose from. Don’t do what we did and go for the two carb-heavy options. It was too much. Although, in our defence, we didn’t quite realise how focused on risotto the osso buco would be. Less emphasis on the meat and more on the saffron-spiced carby base, it was delicious but not quite what it said on the tin. The black fideuà – a sort of paella-style dish that uses tubes of pasta instead of rice – opted for a thicker pasta than the usual super-skinny spaghetti-style, and was wonderful. Deep inky black in colour, the squid and cockles mingled beautifully with the bucatini-style noodles, the addition of aioli adding a fatty depth, although it could have done with a little more than the three scant dollops we got.
By the time dessert menus were placed in front of us, we were full to the brim. A dessert of tarragon-infused marinated peach decorated with ribbons of melon made the perfect palate cleanser: flavourful enough to provide a fitting end to the meal, without tipping my already bursting stomach over the edge.
In keeping with Argentina’s quasi-nocturnal lifestyle, it would be very easy to keep your night at Sucre going with a visit to the downstairs bar, Abajo. Experimental cocktails are served futuristic in style in long, capacious glasses set atop lit-up coasters and based around eye-catching colours, like something out of A Clockwork Orange. It continues the otherworldly theme from upstairs, and is sure to become a favourite watering hole in a neighbourhood that isn’t exactly short of underground bars.
With international travel still in a precarious state, a dinner at Sucre is as close as any of us might get to the old-world glamour of Buenos Aires anytime soon, and it doesn’t make a bad substitute. While we may be darting out the doors to make the final Central line train as hardy Buenos Aires locals would just be starting their nights, Fernando Trocca has done a mighty job of a difficult task here, creating a little pocket of South America when we need the excitement of something new the most.
This week’s food and drink news
The Beaumont Hotel relaunches with a new look
After the renovation of most of the hotel’s public spaces, The Beaumont will reopen at the end of August, debuting a new look for the Colony Grill and the brand new Le Magritte bar. The Twenties-inspired New York feel makes it the perfect space to sidle in for a luxurious tipple.
Pensons launches bedrooms for overnight stays
While nabbing a room for a staycation may feel like an impossible endeavour at the moment, Pensons in Herefordshire has launched two new bedrooms and has some precious availability left for the coming months. Perfect for a romantic getaway, you can eat and drink all you want and then simply steal upstairs – no commute home required.
Calling all sweet tooths – Ring Ring ice cream opens in Ramsgate
While the classic red phone box has been adapted for multiple purposes over the years, an ice cream parlour is arguably the most exciting. Serving up gargantuan treats on the seaside, this small box has big dreams – including hopefully a stint on the festival circuit this summer.