By James Brennan
With moments of discomfort on the plate, Asado has a way to go before it can be considered a stately pleasure dome.
With its rough-cut stone brick walls and dimly glowing lanterns, there was something quite dungeon-like about Asado. At the centre of the dining room, tautly stretched across an iron spit, a skinned and headless carcass turned painfully slowly above a pit of hot coals. And in the background there was an eerie wailing sound. But the carcass was a lamb's and the wailing came from a South American musical three-piece.
And, to be fair, the dungeons in my imagination didn't have gaping arched windows with views across a tranquil dining terrace and the half-built Burj Dubai twinkling in the distance.
The truth is that the newly opened Argentinean grill at The Palace Hotel is wonderfully atmospheric. Despite my first impressions, we soon adjusted to the muted amber lighting and settled into plush leather seats as we flicked through an extensive and authentic menu. And when our helpful waiter lumped a giant smorgasbord displaying various cuts of Argentinean meat up to our table - and painstakingly explained each one - we were sure that only a militant vegetarian could possibly consider this torture.
A traditional asado, like the Brazilian churrasco (and possibly the Australian barbie) is a collection of dead animal parts cooked on a grill or parrilla.
So, since meat was the order of the day, I chose to kick off with the degustation de escabeches de campo. The morsels of baby chicken, rabbit and quail were pickled rather than flame-grilled, which meant that the flavours merged into one, spiky, vinegary hit, even if the textures of the meat were suitably distinctive.
My dining partner had more success with the expertly seasoned sopa rabo, or traditional vegetable and veal tail soup, which burst into fresh flavour around a substantial disc of butter-soft boiled meat on the bone.
When the waiter appeared at our table to make space between my knife and fork, I knew I was in for something special. Indeed, the 400g bife de chorizo sirloin steak was as big as a basketball champion's thigh and as rare as Paris Hilton's philosophy diplomas. Although it wasn't as yielding as my friend's 200g ‘lady's cut' tenderloin, the expertly seared surface and crispy rind of fat sent shots of exquisitely smoky flavour deep into the ruddy flesh like bullets from a ranch hand's rifle.
But while the steaks were excellent, the accompanying mashed potato was too dry, the sautéed spinach was lacking in flavour and the grilled onions were a shade under done.
If we could have continued the meat theme through the desserts, we would have done so. Instead, my tablemate sunk her spoon into the sopa de frutas rojas, which was a crimson pool of Patagonian berry soup guarded by a portcullis of crispy biscuit. Like a children's beauty pageant, it was a little too sweet and sickly to stomach, but my caramelised apple tart with walnut ice cream was a light, tangy and refreshing way to conclude.
When it was time to leave the luxury of our leather seats, Asado had become far less like a dungeon and far more like a cosy cellar. But with one or two moments of discomfort on the plate, it has a long way to go before it can be considered a stately pleasure dome.
The Palace Hotel, Old Town Island, Downtown Burj Dubai (04 428 7888). Open daily 7pm-12midnight. All major credit cards accepted.
The bill(for two)
Mineral water Dhs20
Degustaticion de escabeche Dhs80
Sopa rabo Dhs50
Bife Chorizo 400g Dhs290
Lomo de ternera tenderloin 200g Dhs175
Sautéed spinach Dhs25
Grilled onions Dhs25
Mashed potato Dhs25
Berries soup Dhs50
Apple tart Dhs50
Total(including service) Dhs830