Opening restaurants is a bit like having a family. After the burden of expecation carried by the first child, its subsequent brothers and sisters are often more relaxed, more fun, and more than happy to upstage their elder sibling.
So it is with Garufin. Younger sibling to Highbury’s Garufa, it’s elusive, tucking itself into a basement down a quiet passageway just off Red Lion Street. While Garufa is a ‘starter, steak and pud’ kind of a place, Garufin bends the rules. Sure, there are slabs of beef, but this ‘Argentine kitchen’ has also plundered the regions to turn everyday dishes into – what else? – modish small plates.
We enjoyed a pair of empanadas (Argentine ‘pasties’); one with a gutsy filling of tender ox cheek and spicy tripe, the second taking its cues from the Patagonian coast, with sweet morsels of scallop steamed in a pastry case. Another highlight was grilled pork loin, the smoky, charred meat sat on a heap of sweeter-than-usual humita (creamed corn), a happy marriage not unlike matching pig with apple sauce. It was joined by a startlingly good black pudding croquette. In fact, the only wobble came in the shape of a milky quinoa pudding, too grainy and fridge-cold (in spite of being accompanied by ice-cream) to enjoy. Happily, the rendering of South American favourite, dulce de leche (cooked-down condensed milk), into modish scoops of 'salted' ice cream, was a delight.
The room has a laid-back chic: designer lightbulbs cast a warm glow over the monochrome floor tiles, Paolo Conte croons through the speakers. On our visit the restaurant was only half full, but we still had a good time; there's something to be said for a bit of sibling rivalry.