Café Malbec introduces me to the wonderful world of empanadas
Having just booked a trip to visit Colombia and Central America, receiving an invite to visit Café Malbec, the new venture from the Latino America team, couldn’t have been timed any better. I’ve visited Latino America several times and always enjoyed the succulent steaks and well-paired wines, so I was intrigued to see what Café Malbec had to offer.
As the name suggests, the sister establishment situated right next door to the restaurant on Church Road Hove, offers a much more laid back and casual dining affair. Similar in style to established sites such as Ten Green Bottles and Fourth & Church the concept is a mix of wine bar/merchant and Argentine deli, with the added twist of a cafeteria.
The former toy shop has been stylishly converted so it’s unrecognisable. The soft, warm lighting creates an intimate ambience with high tops tables at the front and lower tables tucked away out back. The furniture has a chic 70s feel to it and on sinking into a high top, burnt orange leather couch, at the front of the restaurant, I instantly felt relaxed.
The small food menu is all traditional Argentine dishes and comprises of small snacks, larger sharing boards and the star of the show; empanadas. If, like me, you’re not familiar with empanadas they are like the Argentinian equivalent of Cornish pasties. There’s a selection of nine fillings to choose from including chicken or beef (spicy or plain), spinach & cheese, provolone cheese & onions and Roquefort.
We shared three empanadas between us to start. Served warm the pastry was perfect – not too hard and not too moist – and the fillings were packed full of flavour. The Roquefort stole the show, so much that Simon bought some to have for lunch the next day. They can be purchased to take home for £2.90 each or 5 for £10 and will last a couple of days easily. Don’t microwave them, slowly heat them in the oven to retain their consistency.
To wash these down we had a glass of wine from the extensive range of South American wines available. Keen to try a wine from a new country Simon opted for the Uruguayan Merlot – Tannat blend which had a smooth black fruits flavour. The Uruguayan wine market is small but what they do produce is of a high quality. I went for the Argentinian Pinot Gris. This crisp clean wine was packed full of citrus tones and was far too easy to drink!
We were then treated to the Gran Picada Argentina, presented over two sharing boards. The first board offered four types of cured meat and cheese, which were good but just the standard I would expect on a board like this – nothing fancy. Manchego being the standout Latino cheese alongside brie, stilton and a smoked cheese and the meats comprising of the usual suspects, salami, parma ham etc.
The unique twists on these compared to other boards were the accompaniments. A cute little glass jug with a tiny spoon took pride of place in the centre of the board – reminding me of one of the ‘eat me’ items from Alice in Wonderland. The thick red liquid was a Malbec reduction which contains all the flavour of Argentina’s favourite wine and went well with both the meats and cheese.
The second board in the Gran Picada contained two delicious chutneys (one sweet & fruity, the other with a spicy kick), some herb butter, tostada de migo (a mini cheese & ham toastie), olives and bread. At £25 there was certainly more than enough for the two of us to happily graze on for the next hour as we chatted and enjoyed more wine.
Finally, the wine list contains some excellent offerings, all hand-picked by owner Damien, from some of South America’s top vineyards for purchase in or takeaway. There is also a selection of half bottles, something not frequently seen, but on looking at the surrounding tables was clearly popular with diners.
PRICE: £47.50 (2 glasses of wine, 3 empanadas + grand picada)
RATING: Must Go | Worth A Try | Give It A Miss
Brighton has a few offerings in this area now and Café Malbec adds a new twist. While the cheese & meat boards (aside from the Malbec reduction) don’t have anything overly different to offer, the empanadas alone are worthy of a visit. They do cater to a wider audience as well, though, with soft drinks, coffee and beers available alongside the wines and desserts too. You can easily while away several hours in the comfortable environment chatting with friends.
34 Church Road, Hove, BN3 2FN
*Disclosure: Café Malbec invited me plus a guest, to dine but this does not have any bearing on my review which will always be an honest account of the experience.
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