On my last night in Mendoza I dined alone. It’s something I rarely do on my travels: often I’ll use a free evening as a chance to skip a meal and try to avoid becoming fat, but my hosts had kindly booked me a table at 1884 Restaurante Francis Mallmann, one of Mendoza’s most highly regarded restaurants. It was also was within 50 yards of where I was staying. Altogether, these factors made the prospect of dining alone considerably more appealing.
There are two downsides to being a solo diner. First, it brings out your own personal insecurities. Am I an antisocial, no-mates loser? Second, it makes the restaurant staff and fellow diners feel uncomfortable. How could someone be happy dining on their own? Is there anything we can do to help this poor, lonely soul?
The only way to counter this is to exude happiness, confidence and a degree of engagement, either with the wine list, the menu, an electronic device such as a phone or kindle, or scribble in a notebook. The latter has the disadvantage that it makes you look like a crazy person. Laptops are bad form, so avoid them.
The other thing to remember is to eat slowly. With no conversation to break the meal, the tendency is to wolf down one’s food. So a deliberate slowing of eating pace is called for.
Mallmann’s is a fine restaurant. The setting is beautiful: there’s a nicely furnished main room, but also a significant outdoor area, undercover, looking out onto an attractively lit garden. The garden, fringed by tall foiliage, has some casual seating, and also some more tables around the perimeter. The use of high-backed chairs gives each table a degree of privacy, but for the solo diner this makes people watching problematic.
The main dining area is separated from the outside area by some tall, round-topped windows with small panes of glass: these are a really nice feature.
What about the food? The menus is largely grill based, which is quite cool, because it’s taking traditional Argentine food and elevating it to fine dining. (In other words: it’s not faux French.) I started with grilled squid salad with Andean potatoes and quail eggs. This was very well prepared, and the flavours worked nicely together.
I then went large, ordering the rib eye steak with chimchile and Patagonian potatoes. You expect large chunks of meat in Argentina, and this was certainly a large chunk of meat. Huge, salt encrusted, with a lot of flavour. It was pretty good, but it defeated me. The Patagonian potatoes? A huge array of thinly sliced potato covering the surface of the large plate. They tasted like bad crisps, and this didn’t really work. A shame.
I’d brought a bottle of wine along (note below), but – of course – I spent ages examining the wine list. It was long and exclusively Argentine, with the exception of some Champagne. Lots of the top names, and the prices seemed pretty reasonable by UK standards, but would probably seem a bit rich to a local.
Service was very professional: attentive and unfussy, with the wine and water being poured with appropriate frequency. I had a long chat with the sommelier who seemed really clued up. A long wine list like Mallmann’s needs a good sommelier to sell it properly. Even though it was solo dining, I had a lovely evening and the combination of wine, food and atmosphere was quite special.
Catena Angelica Zapata Alta Cabernet Franc 2009 Mendoza, Argentina
This is a beautifully vivid Cabernet Franc with slightly salty, intense blackberry and black cherry fruit. It’s sweetly fruited but with freshness and an appealing salty minerality, combining freshness and intensity very well. A delicious wine. 93/100