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21 January 2007

Francis Mallman 1884

The one thing I kept hearing about Francis Mallman's restaurant 1884 was that it was the seventh best restaurant in the world. It seems such a strange thing to make a virtue of and not really something to brag about. I think it is fair to say that we never remember which song was at number seven in the charts, or which country came seventh in the World Cup. My confusion was only compounded when I discovered that for the last three years, 1884 Francis Mallman has not been ranked at all by Restaurant Magazine. It was last ranked 7th in 2002, by 2003 it had dropped to 45th. However, just because it is not ranked does not mean it is not good.

The restaurant is housed in Bodega Escorihuela, a beautiful building, the size of a small fort, just outside Mendoza. You enter the restaurant through a well-stocked, although not very imaginative bar. I noticed that behind the bar were several cocktail books, although tellingly, the only cookbooks were The River Cafe Cook Book and The River Cafe Cook Book Two.

The River Cafe Cook Books set the tone for the meal: very high quality, delicate but robustly flavoured Italian food. Although the food itself nodded towards Italy, the menu layout was a bit more Spanish: Tapas, Starters, Main Course and Desserts. Me and Silverbrowess shared four tapas: eggplant bruschettas with tomatoes and mozzarella; ricotta bruschettas with anchovies and black olives; grilled polenta with tomatoes and basil and burnt fennel with grilled tomatoes. They were all good, but the ricotta was outstanding, exceptionally fresh, creamy and milky in equal measure. I would guess it was homemade, if not, it could not have travelled too far from its producer. If only the rest of the ingredients had lived up to the cheese. One of the things we noticed with Argentina, was that the fresh ingredients is not always that good. If we had been in Italy, or the River Cafe, the tomatoes would have been sweet and juicy. At 1884 they tended to be a bit pulpy without much flavour. They were not the floury pap that often passes for tomatoes in London, but these were not astounding examples of their kind.

Silverbrowess' main course of grilled salmon steaks with baked potatoes and onions was excellent. The salmon had a bit of char on the outside, but was only just cooked in the middle. It had a very delicate flavour. I did not find out how local the salmon was, but the I would have thought the rivers through the foothills of the Andes would have provided excellent conditions for the fish to thrive. The potatoes and onions were basically dauphinoise: creamy, layered, unctious. At the time, I enjoyed my main course of mascarpone and pumpkin ravioli in fresh herb butter. The pumpkin was sweet, the ravioli, sufficiently pillowy and the sauce a little too rich. However, later that night I began to feel my ravioli return for a second round. I hasten to add that it never actually resurfaced, I just had a nasty feeling that it might. I cannot blame the ravioli, or any part of my meal at 1884 for certain, but I know that the thing that made me feel most queasy, was the thought of the ravioli. Which is a shame, because I enjoyed it whilst I was eating it. I am slightly concerned that it was the richness of the meal that got to me. It does not bode well.

Luckily, I was not blighted until after we left, so I was able to share with Silverbrowess a refreshing dessert of berries with mint ice cream. It was fine, that is about it. Judging the meal on how we found it at the time, it was very good. However, with a couple of hours hindsight, the quality paled. Having said that, my abiding memory of the meal is not that I felt unwell, it is of the beautiful surroundings, the generally well executed food and the River Cafe Cook Books.

I had expected Mendoza to have lots of very good restaurants. It is one of the largest wine making regions in Argentina, home of Malbec. I had thought a bit like Napa or Bordeaux, good wine would be matched by good food. I was wrong, decent places are too scarce and 1884 is one of the few that can be considered good. On our meal it was not anywhere close to being in the top restaurants of the world, but it is a very good restaurant and generally, I believe lists are overrated. I think I was unfortunate with my upset tum, but, it was the experience I had, so you can take warning from that if you so choose.

1884, Belgrano 1188, Godoy Cruz, Mendoza, Argentina
Tel: +54 261 424 2698

What others think

Frommers - With fine Argentine meats and fresh local produce, his carefully presented cuisine combines his Patagonian roots with his French culinary training.
New York Times - ...widely considered the premier restaurant in Mendoza.

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Not really following your logic as to why a restaurant wouldn't brag if they were ranked #7 in the world.

Typically people who do remember the #1 song for a year are the same people who can remember the top 10 list and of course no one will celebrate being 7th in the world cup... 7 out of 194 isn't really that big of a deal, is it?

On the other hand, being the 7th best restaurant in the world is quite the accomplishment when you consider the massive amount of restaurants out there. Just saying...

@Jason, as I said: "...just because it is not ranked does not mean it is not good."

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