It might not be on all the cool kids radar yet or in a spot that is reaching any culinary heights, but downstairs at Illovo Square is the relatively new kid on the block Don Armando. He’s swarthy and handsome, quiet and un-assuming.
Charcoal hued framed artworks ground the space, busy floor tile and a glint of Art Décor at the bar pay homage to South American glamour. In the evening you half expect a tragically beautiful woman in a sequinned red dress to start singing about her lost love in Buenos Aires.
A small menu celebrates Argentina’s staple, beef. The proteins are all given lightly charred, smokey glory by the ‘Asado’ flames of a coal fire. The sides are simple, no sprays, shavings or foams. The humble onion is served simply fried in olive oil, bright green spinach, gently wilted with lemon and earthy beetroots roasted with no fuss. Don Armando are not innovation on a plate or a runway of hashtags, they are certainly far from plant based. You do however get a feeling of honesty from their perfectly balanced Chimichurri sauce and tightly packed Empanadas.
You’ve heard the joke about the vegetarian dish in any Argentinian home being chicken? It’s not that different here, the free range butterflied chicken & fish of the day that arrived at our table looked and smelt amazing, our appetites though already belonged to the prime rib on the bone. To soothe your unctuous soft beef guilt pair it with the Ensalada De Le Casa and call a glass of scarlet grape pleasure dessert, there, problem solved.
The prime rib is surprising, so often ordered at backwater steakhouses with the sole purpose of getting maximum heft for your Zupta rand. At ‘The Don’ had to slip that in (Joburg’s jet set will be planning their next moves here soon) it is of non intimidating proportion. Served on the bone and cut into strips, so that it may be splayed to reveal its marbled fatty glory, it is a triumph. Sweet breads cheekily nestle into the Entradas list and the Empanadas deserve their own sonnet.
On occasion it is nice to down tongs, throw on some red lipstick (we call rubbish on that, we know it’s a 5 minute, blotting, correcting, tooth sucking exercise! But worth it!) grab an outside table, order far too much wine and let someone grill your meat for you. Eating out is so much more than nourishment, it’s travelling, learning and connecting. Jozi’s food map is growing by the day, from tiny shoe boxes making mind blowingly hot Souvlaki to our first official Ramen bar. Don Armando, gets our vote and is worth an afternoon/ evening of your time, one shouldn’t rush food this good.
As we head into the festive season, lets do so with empathy and kindness at the forefront. It takes bravery to be an artist in this life, to put out a plate of food to be judged. It’s far too easy to hand out dictatorial sentences online. Your waitress that didn’t make you feel like the most unique snowflake in the world, isn’t a trained therapist and her feet hurt.
The restaurant manager who didn’t hear your concerns about your napkin being low on starch, is probably doing his best. To err is human right? And hopefully it’s a human being grilling your steak, don’t like how its done, ask for them to try again. They’ll probably get it right this time. Please consider sparing the fragile planet your self righteous rant or at least bring us a perfectly cooked steak to kick off preceding’s.
Next week we discuss the merits of the annual Plettenberg roast, what is the true cost of sun damage?
Shop 2 Piazza Level Illovo Square 3 Rivonia Road, Illovo Johannesburg Tuesday to Sunday 12:00 – 3:30 / 6:00 – 9:30