REVIEW: There’s the beef. Don Armando steakhouse

donarmando_picanha_steak.jpg Somebody told me it was the best steak they’d eaten. They were at Don Armando, a steakhouse with Argentine leanings. Owner Daniel Toledo also runs Il Leone, the Italian eatery nearby. Opening in late 2014, Armando is named in honour of Toledo’s Buenos Aires-born father.

It’s a compactly cosy space. Stairs lead up to a dining area with wooden tables and modern grey decor. The waitress was charming, explaining the meats are all charcoal-grilled, but was stumped by a query about the beef being grain or grassfed. We heard about a 400g rump special, and ordered the 800g ‘picanha’ steak special for two – with a 45-minute waiting time.

Chorizo and empanada starters kept us busy. Made inhouse, Argentinian-style chorizo tasted porky with strong herbs, but no chilli heat. Great with the vinegar zing of herby Argentine chimichurri sauce. Two empanadas held umami beefiness inside undercooked turnovers, instead of the feather-light Argentinian pastries they’re modelled on.

donarmando_wine_list.jpg On to the meat. An impressive hunk arrived, with salad and so-so handcut chips. Brazilians call it picanha, the top of the cow’s rump, served with its charcoal-charred fat-layer crown intact. Ordered medium, well-seasoned beef was sliced at the table. Lean yet mellow, it tasted of something between sirloin and a roast. Delicious dabbed with chimichurri.

A manager said Don Armando uses only Chalmar beef. One of the pricier local grain-fed beef sources, this top-grade meat is from cattle raised in one company’s feedlots.

But Toledo later revealed that only Armando’s rump, sirloin and T-bones are in fact Chalmar. He doesn’t know his butcher’s source of grain-fed beef picanha, but said it’s closer to the Argentinian ‘vacio’ or flank in cut.

The adjacent table called for their bill. Our steak-friendly Neethlingshof Malbec (R195) was empty. A shared flan (crème caramel) added a custardy, singed-sugar-sauce finish to a carnivorous evening.

donarmando_flan.jpg What to eat Charcoal-grilled steaks. Ask about specials not on the menu.

When to go Dinner is cosy in the small upper-level dining area. Have an appetite-whetting drink downstairs.

Who to take A colleague at lunchtime. A partner or friends, at night.

What not to do Expect creative vegetarian options. Order salads, fish or butterflied baby chickens if you must.

What to drink Steak-friendly blends and a good Malbec (Argentine and SA) selection from a small, red-focused list. Corkage R50.

Whatever you do Don’t fill up early. Leave space for meat, and perhaps a shared dessert.

How much? Starters and desserts average at R50. 200g sirloin at R110; 400g at R165. 800g picanha steak (serves two) at R395.

The verdict Add Don Armando to your steakhouse shortlist.

DON ARMANDO, Coburn Road, Green Point. Open Tuesday to Saturday for lunch and dinner. Tel 021-418-1462.

This review appeared in The Times on 8 April 2015.