Situated in the heart of Chiado, one of Lisbon’s most beautiful and therefore also most touristic neighbourhoods is Buenos Aires Café na Fábrica, an Argentinian inspired restaurant. Nearby, there’s the Buenos Aires Café, a smaller version with a very similar interior design and more or less the same, expansive menu. Buenos Aires Café is a steakhouse that also does fresh pasta, apple crumbles and many other things. Like the stunning decor, it’s a bit all over the place.
Sure, no doubt about it: one of the main reasons to go to Buenos Aires Café na Fábrica is the neo Roaring twenties interior design, one leg somewhere in Paris and another in Buenos Aires. The smooth dark pink hues on the walls serve as the background for memorabilia and a substantial antique collection including random objects such as mirrors, paintings, clocks, vases and flower arrangements. Blackboards with parts of the menu or special dishes written on it in chalk. Dark brown furniture, heavy wooden chairs and couches with leather seats: it’s all wonderfully luxurious and indulgent, which makes it all the more tragic when the rest of the experience simply isn’t.
Granted, you could do much worse than the fresh homemade sorrentino pasta which was stuffed with courgette, tomatoes and mozzarella and sauteed in a light tomato sauce. The pasta was light and delicate, cooked to absolute perfection and the sauce had a slight acidic note which cut through the rich pasta ever so nicely. Yes, there was some fresh rocket on top, but basil would have been so much more suitable and one might have also wished for some freshly grated parmesan. A good dish, surely, but it didn’t sing. Nice also was the chimichurri sauce that accompanied my steak – fresh, vibrant and garlicky – and the slightly smokey sweet potatoes.
Apart from that, there’s much to be faulted. At least for the price. Paying 7€ for a starter consisting of nothing but button mushrooms without much flavour (even though they really are delicious if you know how to cook them properly) in a basket made out of parmesan cheese is more gimmicky than creative, on the verge of a rip-off. Paying 17 euro’s for strips of beef cooked to medium / medium well temperature (even though I asked medium rare) which then turned out not to be well rested leaving a toe deep pool of blood, juice and chimchurri on my plate by the end of my meal is very unpleasant and unprofessional to say the least. So is the glass of red wine which had some residue by the end, because they poured the bottle until the end. Or having to scrape off small burnt bits here and there of what was an extremely mediocre apple crumble as dessert.
Not necessarily a mistake but more in the “What The Fudge” category is the rosemary. This restaurant really loves its rosemary. They’ll serve a stick of the woody herb on top of everything, like an undecorated christmas tree. Only the pasta comes without rosemary. It’s kind of a shame really: rosemary should be stewed or at least deep fried so it gets crispy and pleasantly edible. Like tyme, bayleaf or sage it’s a woody herb which doesn’t taste very nice when it’s raw. Either the chef mistakenly stocked up on rosemary before the holidays and had to get rid of it or s/he just had no clue of what to do with it except using it as a decoration. Let’s make an educated guess here and say it’s option number two. Especially because we didn’t taste any rosemary in any of the dishes. So why serve it then in its raw state anyway? It’s a paradox which could create a massive, gaping black hole if you think long and hard about it. So, you know, just don’t.
Put simply, “Buenos Aires Café na Fábrica” isn’t a restaurant without its problems which either are due to incompetence, ignorance or sheer laziness. In any case, it’s a shame having to pay a relatively high price (for Lisbon at least) for a relatively unpleasant experience. We were cramped like sardines in a box between two other tables – elbows to the left and the long hair of the diners to the right, there we were, stuck in the middle. Getting out to pee was at all costs very awkward and challenging.
So was the service by the way: understaffed waiters in Christmas season are no fun for anyone involved. Not for the waiters, who were probably students and trying their very best, nor for the costumers who feel more like they’re keeping them from their work whenever asking a question or ordering something. However: noticing afterwards on the menu that your steak comes with a salad which apparently had been forgotten, noting it to the waiter who then responds that clients normally “ask for it” and asks whether “you’d like it now” when your plate has already been finished, is not the right way to deal with remarks like these.
A final word of warning: they don’t accept any credit or debit cards, so be prepared to bring a wad of cash with you. It’s a bit inconvenient for a modern day restaurant and to be honest, just another sign that this restaurant is cutting back costs the wrong way around. Go back there for the fresh pasta, it’s a safe gamble. One might even go back there and get a proper steak, even though the quality or taste of the meat was nothing to be super excited about. A bit like the wordplay in the title of this article (misteak… get it?), Buenos Aires Café na Fabrica is a tad bit idiotic for the price they’re charging. And at least you got this article for free.
(Nout Van Den Neste)
Opening hours: Mon-Sat: 18h00 –1h00, closed on Sundays
Address: Rua do Duque 22, Lisboa
Phone Number: 21 342 0739