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South America

Argentina

Most of these reviews come from a tour of Argentina in December 2011. Argentina is the most spectacular and beautiful country, and it is a huge one too: reviews cover Purmamarca in the north to El Calafate in the icefields of Patagonia, a distance of 4,000 kilometres.

Buenos Aires

La Bourgogne, Ave Alvear 1891, Recoleta.
Tel: (011) 4808 2100

This fine dining restaurant within one of BA's grandest hotels, the Alvear Palace, is without doubt the most haute-cuisine experience I had in the capital, based on international, French-inspired gastronomy. If Michelin gave stars in South America, this would probably be the prime contender for three of them. The room is urbane, chic and sophisticated with all the luxury trappings including glamorous fresh flower displays and sumptuous red leather chairs at crisply-napped tables. We decided against the tasting menu and opted for à la carte from chef Jean-Paul Bondoux's menu, making our choices as we nibbled on little ham muffins and cheese bread sticks. An amuse of a fantastically deeply flavoured gazpacho arrived, alongside a little deep-fried ball of herbed mozzarella. My first course proper was exceptional: an indulgent slice of seared and caramelised foie gras, that came with half of a fresh peach that had been crusted with crushed almonds and then grilled, along with a very sweet and richly sticky sweet wine reduction. My main course of Patagonian lamb three ways - confit, loin and two perfect little chops - came on a bed of terrific confit tomatoes with braised lettuce and cooking juices. This was wonderfully flavourful and accomplished cooking, each morsel of the lamb different in texture and taste that was unmasked by any stronger flavours, and the accompaniments fresh and yet full-flavoured. A little coconut granite pre-dessert did its job, before a stunning dessert: a fresh peach soufflé with lemon verbena ice cream and a side dish of lightly poached fresh peaches in syrup. The wine list is huge of course, and we had a few by the glass suggestions from the sommelier, all of which were expensive by Argentine standards, but very reasonable on European levels. The meal was so richly satisfying in terms of the intensity of the dishes that the array of chocolates and petit fours served with coffee remained (largely) untouched. A fabulous high-end dining experience, certainly on the formal side, but that is to be expected. Expensive at around £250 for two.

Restaurant Hernán Gipponi, Soler 5862, Palermo. Tel: (011) 3220 6800
It's formidable team here at this chic restaurant inside the boutique Fierro hotel, bringing together Chef Gipponi, whose experience includes a brace of two-star Michelin restaurants in Spain, and the wine list of Andres Rosberg, President of the Argentine Sommelier Association. Working against a series of powercuts and a temperamental generator during the service of my dinner, the young team coped well. Two tasting menus of around 10 small courses are offered, each at 195 Pesos (£30) which is outrageously cheap by European standards for refinement of this quality. A couple of glasses of sparkling wine drank nicely with courses one and two, a little deep fried chard fritter with a creamy sauce, followed by one of the star dishes, a bowl containing crayfish, brown shrimps, mussels and a scallops on a smoked cheese cream with light layer of a dark jelly, and a little test tube of fish reduction that is uncorked and poured over. It might sound like an overly-worked dish, but the sweetly cooked seafood and mild, creamy cheese, with the salty lick of the reduction was superb. Another terrific dish followed, which with the lightly oaked Gewurztraminer from Rutini, was the wine/food match of the night: sweetbreads served on a fennel mash, topped with a pile of lemon grass and fennel shavings. The melt-in-the-mouth meat and punchy flavours of the vegetables was superb against the gentle creaminess, sweetness and spice of the wine. A series of other excellent dishes followed, including a tranche of succulent hake, a squid-ink darkened bowl of rice, king prawn and wild mushroom and onto the final savoury dish, braised Patagonian lamb with an artichoke purée. Again the food match here was terrific. Finally, after a palate cleansing sorbet the best of two lovely desserts was a glass of creamy, rich yoghurt topped with a tangy passionfruit-like sorbet (it was a Brazilian fruit but I've forgotten the name), slices of fresh lychee and heaps of toasted sunflower seeds and little strips of citrus zest: hugely tangy and uplifting, and with a glass of late harvest Viognier, the perfect end to an absorbing but never heavy meal. Gipponi's watchwords seem to be freshness and balance in his sometime subtle, sometimes more vivid dishes, but the overall effect is excellence.

Miranda, Costa Rica 5602, Palermo. Tel: (011) 4773 4255
On my first night in sultry Buenos Aires and staying in the excellent Hotel Fierro (above) we wanted to eat somewhere good, casual, local and air-conditioned. Miranda really delivered. A hip and slightly hippy modern interpretation of the classic parilla (barbecue), the young, friendly and informal staff are nonetheless efficient and attentive, and the simple wooden tables, open kitchen and busy bar all set a pleasantly buzzy atmosphere. A basket of fine breads and herby cheese spread plus a bottle of Susanna Balbo's Crios Torrontés at £10 kept us entertained until our food arrived. I chose pork fillet from the grill, three formidable but absolutely delicious slices, perfectly cooked with charry outside and cooked-through but soft inside. Accompanied by an assortment of apple, whole onion and sweet potato cooked on the grill, a wonderful sweet tomato marmalade and a very fresh chimichurri (a salsa of herbs, garlic and vinegar) it was delicious. Puddings were excellent too - my 'crunchy apple tart' had a feather-light streusel topping over loads of caramelised apple and a scoop of vanilla ice cream. With coffees, a bottle of Malbec from Achaval Ferrer and bottled water, the final bill of 328 Pesos - about £60 was such a bargain for the quality and overall experience.

Don Julio, Guatamala 4691, Palermo. Tel: (011) 4832 6058
Ask anyone to name their top three traditional parillas in BA and chances are Don Julio will figure. The crowd spills out onto the corner outside, smoking and drinking glasses of wine, but we were quickly led to our reserved table in the air-conditioned room just in front of chef Pablo, expertly carving superb cuts of meat on his butchery counter whilst simultaneously working the grill like a maestro, moving and juggling the meat from hotter to cooler and from flame to smouldering ash, to make sure each is cooked perfectly. The atmosphere is noisy and energetic, the efficient and friendly waiters sweeping through with plates of food and bottles of wine, and conversation buzzing all around with a mix of locals and tourists. Don Julio is also renowned for its wine list, and we started with a bottle of the Yacochuya Torrontés with meat empanadas and sweetbreads. Both were delicious, though I found the sweetbreads a touch firm and missing the melting, foie gras-like creaminess of the best. Onto the main course, and with a huge bowl of fat-cooked chips came a Bife Chorizo Ancho (top end of the rib-eye) and Lomo (tenderloin) which we divided and shared. The Chorizo Ancho won easily on moist, juicy flavour and deliciously easy slicing, though the Lomo was tenderness personified and still had great flavour. With this we drank another bottle of the fabulous 2010 Mendoza Malbec from Achaval Ferrer at a modest £24 a bottle. The accompanying chimichurri was tangy and deliciously moreish. Somehow leaving space for dessert, dulce de lecce-filled pancakes are the traditional end to a meal at Don Julio, so we shared a portion to end an excellent meal and historic BA experience. Around £65 for two.

La Cabaña, Ave Moreau de Justo 380, Puerto Madero. Tel: (011) 4314 3710
The super-modern dockside area of Puerto Madero is a lovely place to escape the heat of downtown for a stroll. It glistens with sky-scraping new office blocks and apartments, yacht clubs and of course restaurants and cafés. More than one of BA's smartest city restaurants has opened a branch here, and the very upmarket parrilla, La Cabaña, has relocated here from downtown since my last visit. Very expensive by BA standards a steak will cost 150 Pesos or more (around £23 at time of writing), so double what even the best traditional steakhouses will charge. But for that you get sumptuous surroundings with huge wood and leather tables and chairs and ostentatiously oversized wine glasses to slightly over-state the high-end credentials. Steaked out from a parilla dinner the evening before, we stopped for lunch and ordered pasta - the main alternative option - in the shape of pumpkin raviolis. There was a lot to like about the overall experience, with lovely breads and good coffees, glasses of Catena Chardonnay and excellent service, but in truth the dish was disappointing: the pasta was nicely cooked, but the filling was just too sweet and the raviolis swam in a sea of even sweeter creamy sauce. It did not hit the spot, though it would be unfair to write off a place renowned for steak when choosing something else. It offers a calm and grown up spot amongst the crowd of tourist-filled bars and restaurants on the quay-side, and its high prices give a little feeling of VIP exclusivity.

Astrid y Gaston, Lafinur 3222, Palermo. Tel: (011) 4802 2991
Peru's most famous culinary export is Astrid y Gaston. Now a chain of half a dozen restaurants across South America, here chef Roberto Grau interprets the dishes that built a huge reputation for this highly, but delicately spiced Peruvian cuisine based around native fish, seafood and vegetables. The Argentine branch burst into the top of the city's fine dining scene when it opened a few years ago, though it has also faced a little criticism for the rather dreary decor. Based in an old mansion in a quiet Palermo side street, the numerous rooms are decorated very plainly with red and yellow walls that indeed don't really cut it in the hip BA scene. Unfortunately the complex menu was all in Spanish, and our Peruvian waitress spoke not a single word of English, so we had little choice but to opt for the tasting menu, understanding enough to do so with confidence. At only 240 Pesos (under £40) it certainly was not expensive. Of the various little courses (around nine in all) the ones that stood out most where a fine ceviche with squid, salmon and bass, served with a rich spicy tomato broth studded with tiny, deep fried calamari. The vivid lime tang of the ceviche, yielding flesh of the fish and the crunch and heat of the broth and calamari delivered real flavour and texture fireworks - exactly what we'd hoped for from the experience. Other fine courses included more octopus, grilled with a lovely caramelised edges and served with various Peruvian vegetables in a light, citrusy and fruity sauce, and a Peruvian take on spring rolls stuffed with stewed rabbit and slow-braised beef cheeks. A whole menu of Pisco drinks is available, but we stuck to some Argentine sparkling wine and well-chilled Torrontés on a steamy hot evening when the occasional waft of air from a tall window was the only thing to alleviate the heat. With a total bill of less than £130 this was a real experience. Next time I'll be sure to take along a phrase book.

La Brigada, Peña 2475. Tel: (011) 4361 5557
What a great lunch I had in this place, a real institution in the heart of the city's San Telmo district. La Brigada is a very long-established and traditional steakhouse a little off the tourist trail, its dining room filled with gaucho memorabilia and souvenirs of the Argentine and Boca Juniors football teams. The experienced, efficient staff bustle around as chef-proprietor Hugo Echevarrieta directs the kitchen. The baby beef was succulent and absolutely overflowing with juicy taste, and there is a serious wine list here of Argentina's very best, so passion for cuisine and wine is obvious. This is the sort of friendly, honest and welcoming place that is always a joy to discover in a foreign place. Prices are very modest for the quality.

La Strada, Recoleta Mall Tel: (011) 4801 1771
First thing to say is that this is absolutely not a destination restaurant and would barely merit a mention except it ticked several boxes. It is sited within an upmarket shopping mall which provided an air-conditioned sanctuary after a couple of hours of fascinating strolling around the open market and Recoleta cemetery (burial place of Evita and many BA notables). Tired, hot and hungry, on the top floor were various predictable food options, but tucked at one end in a more salubrious position and enjoying a cool, airy glazed dining area, La Strada offered something closer to fine dining. In fact the efficient, friendly staff and decent rendition of Italian classics was good: my spinach gnocchi came with plenty of rocket, sweet baby tomatoes and torn chunks of mozzarella. With good breads, some ice cream to finish, water and a half bottle of Sauvignon Blanc from Trivento, the bill for two barely reached £30. Handy to know about if you are shopped-out, sighted-out or sunned-out in this part of town.

Patagonia - El Calafate

patagonia Calafate: Eolo Hotel. Tel: (011) 4700 0075
This super-expensive Relais & Chateaux property lies on its own 4,000 acre estate in a stunning location mid-way between the airport of Calafate and the Perito Moreno glacier and iceberg field of the Upsala glacier. Built as a traditional estancia around a central garden, it affords mesmerising views in every direction, to the mountains and glaciers, to the wide expansive of Lake Argentino and across the Patagonian steppe. The hotel is exquisitely furnished with antiques and local fabrics and artefacts, but all in a harmonious and quite minimalist style. Its 17 suites are interspersed by lounges, libraries and other intimate public areas. The service and staff are impeccable, and you feel cosseted and welcomed from the moment you airport transfer deposits you in the spacious, comfortable living room, and one of the hotel staff orientates you to the surrounding glaciers and mountains on large scale maps. Guests are on a full board basis, and the food is really excellent - up there with the best of my 18 day trip across Argentina. Typical would be a starter of carpaccio of local deer, with plenty of citrus and capers in the dressing and a little salad of poached pear. For mains, one evening a whole Patagonian lamb was barbecued and served to the entire dining room. It was beautifully flavourful and fell apart at the threat of a fork. On other evenings there is a choice of several dishes, some of my favourites being Partridge cooked two ways - the breast pan fried and a delicious little stew of roasted leg and thigh meat, or Patagonian tooth fish - a two inch thick tranche of flaky white meat. Desserts are excellent, including a dense flourless chocolate cake served with Calafate ice cream (Calafate is a wild red berry from bushes growing on the estancia). The wine list is extensive and proudly features Patagonia's top wines from the likes of Chacra, Noemia and Famila Schroeder, as well as the best from other Argentine regions, though mark-ups are amongst the highest I encountered (all prices in US dollars. But then this is one of the country's most exclusive hotels delivering the highest levels of service in an extraordinary and remote setting. Guest taking one of the all day excursions to the glaciers choose a packed lunch from a menu the evening before which is thoughtful and delicious too, and afternoon tea is a ritual with a choice of exotic teas and infusions and dainty cakes and sandwiches. But the setting that is the star. The hotel's own guides will take you on bird-watching hikes through the grounds, horse rides or mountain bike trails, with expert spotting of the abundant wildlife - we saw condors, Caracara falcons, a flock of galloping rheas, boxing hares and so much more. Truly a magical place. Rooms start from around £500 per night for two, full-board.

Mendoza and the vineyards

mendoza Bistro M, The Park Hyatt, Plaza Independencia.
Tel: (026) 1441 1200

The Hyatt is one of the smartest hotel addresses in the city, and as the epicentre of the wine business I have stayed there on four previous visits to Mendoza, always enjoying at least one meal in the bistro. Having booked for dinner several weeks in advance and requested a table on the broad terrace that overlooks the bustling life of the Plaza, I was disappointed to turn up and find the à la carte menu had been suspended and the terrace closed because of a large function in the hotel. In its place was a buffet (my personal food hate). I expressed by dissatisfaction in no uncertain terms that there had been no prior warning of this, and to give the maitre'd her due, the kitchen managed to offer us the à la carte menu in the rather soulless interior dining room as a concession. As usual the food was good. A starter of home cured bresaola, figs and brie was good, drizzled with olive oil and served on little toasts. My main course was two very succulent and moist fillets of a local fish that was "like sea bass" according to my waitress, served with artichoke hearts and potato gnocchi, with plenty of olive oil, lemon and capers making a punchy sauce. We drank a bottle of the fine Rutini Chardonnay (just over £20) and finished with two slices of refined cheesecake. The total bill came to £75, but it was a disappointment to find the corporate world of catering for a function being allowed to steamroller over their normal service paying guests can expect.

Francis Malman 1884, Belgrano 1188. Tel: (026) 1424 3336
Based in the Escorihuela winery, a beautiful and atmospheric old building, 1884 is widely regarded as one of Argentina's top restaurants (it features regularly as one of the 50 best restaurants in the world according to Restaurant Magazine). Chef Francis Malman is classically French trained, marrying these techniques to the best Argentinean produce. In the courtyard a huge wood-fired oven produces succulent roasted meat dishes, whilst the menu is peppered with more exotic fare, but all centred on prime Argentine ingredients. The wine list has all of Argentina's top-end stuff, and even at this level of dining, European and North American diners will find prices to be very reasonable. I have eaten here several time, starting as usual with a selection of empanadas and a big roasted pumpkin salad, the empanadas from the wood-fired oven succulently filled with melting cheese, or prime steak and mirepoix of vegetables wrapped in short, buttery pastry. The salad was deliciously fresh with lots of leafy greens and the chunks of sweet pumpkin had tasty caramelised edges. Our main course was, with hindsight, a mistake for us: we could not resist the 'giant bisteca' for two, imagining a chateaubriand. What arrived was an absolutely enormous, two-foot long rib of beef, served with roasted vegetables and chimichurri. It was seriously delicious, but the sheer gargantuan size of the steak was just too much and after a few mouthfuls it was just too daunting. I wished we'd gone for a more manageable cut. We drank the excellent Malbec from Bodegas Mendel, a couple of glasses of house fizz and squeezed in a very good lemon tart to share after the half-abandoned steak. The food and service is exemplary in this restaurant that is stylish, yet in its soul so rustic. The bill, at a shade over £100 in total, was exceptional value.

Bute Plaza, Espejo 501. Tel: (026) 1423 3661
On the corner of the Plaza Indepencia, just across from the Hyatt, this corner café/bar looked like a promising place for an informal light lunch after a morning's sight-seeing and shopping. There is a broad pavement terrace shaded by tall plane trees, but we chose a table in the small, air-conditioned interior. We enjoyed a simple but delicious lunch. I had saltimbocca, a really juicy flattened chicken breast draped in crispy pancetta and smothered in cheese, topped with lots of finely sliced peppers, onion and tomato that deliver bags of flavour. My partner's pan-fired trout with almonds, capers and baby tomatoes was pronounced delicious too. With a couple of beers and coffees, the bill came to just under £30 equivalent. The menu runs to salads, sandwiches, cheese and cold meat sharing platters and a few special dishes like this, in a relaxed, casual atmosphere. A good lunch spot.

Maipu: Club Tapiz, Route 60 2.5km. Tel: (026) 1496 3433
It was a job finding this winery restaurant, with the sign for the Route 60 not clear from the autoroute heading south from Mendoza. Look for the junction at 16km from the city centre. Housed in a beautiful and charming small hotel that is part of Bodegas Tapiz, the old adobe building is cool and airy with its high ceilings and views to the vineyards. This was some of the best cooking in the Mendoza region for sure, my tempura of langoustines plump and juicy, served with a simple salad. My partner's bruschetta of ham, burrata cheese and tomato was three refined little discs of bread surmounted by quality ingredients. For my main course I chose raviolis of wild hare which were deliciously earthy and deep, and for pudding we had a playful take on an English trifle, with lovely vanilla ice cream layered with rich, dark lightly poached berries and topped with cream and nuts. We drank glasses of the Tapiz Sauvignon Blanc and Malbec, both of which were good, and priced at 20 Pesetas, or less than £3 each. With coffees and waters, the bill of around £60 was truly great value, especially as we sat in the beautiful garden with our coffee afterwards, enjoying the birdsong and sunshine.

Salta and the north

salta Salta: La Lenita, Balcarce 802. Tel: (038) 7421 4865
La Lenita is a huge, bustling place downtown in Salta that throngs with an unusual mix of celebrating locals and large tourist parties, enjoying steaks and copious amounts of Malbec in the noisy atmosphere of its vast dining room with its exposed brick walls and central buffet station for those who choose it. In truth this was not my sort of place, but was recommended by my hotel's duty manager and it is quite clearly one of Salta's 'highlights', even down to a guitar-strumming and singing waiter to end the evening. Food was pretty good and service briskly efficient. Dinner for two with wine will cost around £40 - £50.

Salta: Dis Tinto, Ave Reyes Catolicos 1255.
The first thing to say is that this is not a 'destination' restaurant, but this modern parilla was extremely handy for our wonderful small hotel in Salta (Hotel Kkala) being a five minute stroll away and recommended by the hotel manager. Indeed the food was simple and exemplary, the empanadas very tasty, the steaks beautifully cooked and so big that at the English-speaking waitress's suggestion, we shared one and were more than replete by the end of dinner. The wine list is small and mostly local, and the welcome friendly in an inexpensive, simple, low key place that in some ways blew Salta's bigger names away. Around £40 for two all in.

Salta: Jose Balcarce, Necochea 590. Tel: (038) 7421 1628
This was the one big disappointment of our entire three week trip across Argentina. Much hailed as the best restaurant in Salta, and inventor of 'high Andean cuisine' specialising in local and seasonal ingredients, things started brightly as we arrived to find a modern, very stylish and cool dining room off of one of the main touristy strips. But alarm bells did start to ring as we realised part of the hushed atmosphere was because there was only one other table occupied, whereas the evening before at La Lenita there were 150 people crammed inside, with a queue waiting patiently outside on the street. Our waiter left us with menus and approached the other table to clear their plates, and we overheard an exchange in English with one diner complaining that their dish "tasted funny" and the waiter agreeing to remove it from the bill. When they left, we were the sole diners for the rest of the evening, creating a difficult ambience with three staff watching the two of us eat. The food was not terribly good, with nothing particularly stand-out in terms of flavours or textures. A few unusual seeds and herbs added interest, but not particular enjoyment. Prices were modest at around £60 for dinner with a bottle of Torrontés from Yacochuya and two glasses of Malbec, but the overall experience was not a great one.

Purmamarca: Jose Gabriel
Purmamarca is the wonderful little village in the Jujuy Province north of Salta, at the centre of the breathtaking drive through the multi-coloured rock formations of the Quebrada de Humahuaca. It's a tourist-focused economy now, but that does not negate the charms of its spectacular mountain setting, the adobe buildings and the handcrafts being practised by locals. One of the few dining options is this airy restaurant where a big plate of meat and cheese empanadas and a couple of bottles of beer provided a delicious lunch on a long day's touring. Very inexpensive and the village and the area is a must-see if touring the north.

Cafayate: Don Olegario, Ave Guemes Sur 20. Tel: (038) 6842 1004
Cafayate is a lovely town at the centre of the wine industry in the north, the bustling central square surrounded by restaurants and cafes. We settled on a wine bar that looked pretty chic and had an interesting menu, but once seated in a rather sombre room (all outside tables where taken) and noting the thick layer of dust on the table-mats and cutlery, took ourselves off to this large and obviously mid-market sort of place on the square that provided a decent meal (no specific notes taken) and a comfortable outdoor terrace under broad trees and parasols, where we very happily ate, drank and watched the world go by for an hour or so. Decent quality and value at around £40.

Chile


The reviews in this section are from my 2004, 2006 and 2007 as marked below.

santiago Santiago: Da Fiore, 3185 Isidora Goyenechea.
Tel: +56 2 334 0209

In the heart of the business district, this is far from haute-cuisine, but the fact that it was jam-packed one lunch time suggested it is popular for a reason. That reason is probably the copious plates of decent Italian food and a small but interesting wine list, all at very moderate prices. There's a terrace and two adjoining dining rooms, where I enjoyed a salad Caprese that was tasty, even though the cheese was not Mozzarella as I know it, followed by a huge bowl of fettuccine with a liberal infusion of hot smoked salmon and black olives, in a rich cream and cheese sauce. We drank the Family Reserve Carmenere from Aresti (near the top of the list at around £13) and finished with excellent espressos. Total bill was about 12000 pesos - about £12 - per person. (2007)

Santiago: Infante 51, 51 José Miguel Infante. Tel: +56 2 264 3357
This upmarket restaurant is fairly new, and is a very minimalist place split over two levels, with whitewashed walls, pared down furnishings and fittings, but a quiet air of chic. It has serious foodie credentials with its smartly uniformed staff and total dedication to fish and seafood. On any given night over 20 different fish are on the menu, and the staff will describe each in David Attenborough-like detail: where it comes from, what looks like, its habits and history. Do not expect rich sauces or dishes of complex construction: each large white plate will feature only a piece or pieces of fish, simply fried or grilled with no dressings, sauces or other distractions. Basque chef Xabier Zabala is obsessive about taste, and this really is an object lesson is the exquisite flavours of these fish. My favourite from six lovely small portions sampled was a white tuna, a rare species from the freezing waters of Easter Island. There are seafoody and salad starters, some more complex main dishes, and good desserts, but Infante 51 is all about the flavours of the sea, and is a terrific experience. Moderate to expensive. (2007)

Santiago: Liguria, 19 Luis Thayer Ojeda. Tel: +56 2 231 1393
Suecia is a wonderfully vibrant quarter of Providencia, one of the oldest neighbourhoods in Santiago, the street thronging with young Chileans intent on enjoying the myriad bars, restaurants and clubs pumping our music and filled with drinking, eating and dancing good times. If, like me, strolling through rather than participating in such a scene is your bag, then just a block away is this brilliant casual place, still jumping with life and full of music, but with a greater emphasis on the quality of food and drink. It is decorated with massive amounts of eclectic memorabilia, and lit by dozens of scrapyard-chic light fittings, from antique Venetian glass to art deco brass. Food is wholesome and hearty, and a bowl of roasted peanuts, bread and delicious Chancho en Piedra (coriander salsa) is served whilst you choose. I loved the Carne Mechada a serious sandwich of toasted crusty bread piled bible-thick with slices of succulent roast beef, roasted peppers and slices of fresh tomato. I washed it down with Chilean brewery Kunstmann's Pale Ale: a food and beer match made in heaven. No bookings, and there are two other branches in the city at 1373 Avenida Providencia and 47 Avenida Pedro de Valdivia. Inexpensive. (2006)

Santiago: Senso Restaurant, Grand Hyatt. Tel: +56 2 950 1234
This was a meal I enjoyed, in the Mediterranean restaurant of this five-star hotel. The restaurant has efficient, polite service, a nicely relaxed yet quite formal décor and atmosphere, and lovely views over the Hyatt's gardens to the Andes beyond. A starter of home-made papardelle with a hare ragout was delicious: the papardelle, cooked perfectly and drizzled in olive oil, was generously sauced with a rich, slightly gamy shredded hare stew and topped with some crisply fried basil leaves. A very nicely cooked (though not rare) thick little steak of yellowfin tuna was served on a little disc of dense, textural aubergine and green olive and was delicious, the meaty but soft fish nicely counterbalanced by the rich tapenade. My main course was a lovely piece of pan-fried red deer, that had been cooked wrapped in bacon so it was very moist and lightly smoky, and was served on a creamy pumpkin puree, and drizzled with a red wine reduction enriched with dark chocolate. Pudding, a warm chocolate pear cake, was very good though slightly too sweet, with the chocolate not bitter enough, especially with the accompanying vanilla ice cream. A very nice meal overall though. Expensive (2007).

Santiago: Vinos & Tapas, 2874 Isidora Goyenechea. Tel: +56 242 9360
Sister restaurant to a Vinos & Tapas in Barcelona, this casual wine bar and restaurant opened in 2006, and is in a nice part of town and opposite a large branch of the excellent Vinos del Mundo wine stores. With minimalist, modern wooden furniture and a bright, airy atmosphere, the smartly uniformed staff serve tapas and small main dishes to accompany Torres's wines from Chile and Spain, all of which are available by the glass or bottle. In truth, I didn't rate the food here that highly: a fish and seafood tartare was slightly rubbery in texture, though a rich sun-dried tomato tapenade was very good. The best dish was a simply fried chunk of conger eel, with a green olive emulsion enriched with little chunks of morcilla sausage. The food is ok, and it would be a good choice for a casual meal or glass or two of wine and nibbles on a day around Santiago's shops. Moderate (2007).

Santiago: Europeo, Alonso de Córdova 2417. Tel: +56 2 208 3603
Without a doubt one of the gastronomic highlights of my visit to Chile, was Europeo, where Swiss chef Carlos Anwandter prepares brilliant modern seafood and haute-cuisine dishes, which celebrate local ingredients. We sat in the cool of the evening on the shady terrace for a glass of Chilean sparkling wine and a selection of hors d'oeuvres, including plump, seared scallops in a Pernod broth, huge Pacific prawns in a tempura batter, and little foie-gras and smoked salmon pastries. Inside, Europeo is quite sober, cool and sophisticated, but bustling with life - lots of it seemed to be business related. I had Chilean deep water sea bass, which was simply but beautifully cooked and presented, followed by a terrific dessert: a panacotta with a ginger cake, apricots and ice-cream, which most obviously lent on the chef's Swiss leanings. We rounded off the meal with hand-made chocolates and Illy coffee. The wine list is fantastic, with the best of Chile and world wines well represented. Expensive by Chilean standards, and clearly international experience, but this is very, very fine cuisine. (2004)

Santiago: Osadia, Av. Tobalba 477. Tel: +56 2 232 2732
Carlo von Mühlenbrock is Chile's celebrity chef: a better looking Jamie Oliver who's TV show is adored in equal proportions by teenage Chilean girls and earnest foodies. Osadia is a funky destination with basement bar and buzzing ground floor restaurant. Mr von Mühlenbrock is behind the stoves every evening, and I have to say, the food was superb. I started with a cast-iron pot filled with a rich fish stew, liberally endowed with chunks of seafood and fish. A second course of gnocchi, in a dramatically dark wild mushroom sauce, was fantastically tasty, as was a lamb carpaccio which unexpectedly appeared before the main course. Seared tuna was served with creamy mashed potato and roasted red pepper sauce was delicious, with the thick-cut steak crusted black outside, but raw in the centre. Finally, a grand dessert plate of miniature creations blurred slightly given the quantity of food and wine that had gone before, but the whole Osadia experience was first class. Moderately expensive. (2004).

Santiago: Bristol Restaurant, Alameda 816. Tel: +56 2 639 3832
The fine dining restaurant of the Hotel Plaza San Francisco is run by French-trained superstar chef Guillermo Rodriguez. This vied for my best food experience in South America, with its wonderfully skilful modern renditions of traditional Chilean cuisine. I stared with succulent shards of Patagonian king crab with Altiplanic quinoa, a cous-cous like grain, served with a salmon caviar sauce. Golden fillets of salmon with algas marinas - seaweed - came with a rich avocado cream as a second course. The main course roasted rump of young lamb with a herby, rosemary jus was accompanied by Crèole Charquicán, a spicy Chilean vegetable stew. Rounding off a tremendous tour de force of Chilean cooking, homemade Lucuma ice cream with a Hierba Luisa sauce was just delicious: Lucuma is a delicate, sweet fruit native to Peru, and the sauce is made from herbs from the north of Chile. A fabulous experience in this comfortable, upmarket dining room, with moderate to expensive prices. (2004)

Santiago: Miraolas, Avenue Vitacura 4171. Tel: +56 2 206 0202
This much more humble seafood restaurant was absolutely superb: much more traditionally Chilean food, served in a white-tiled, no-nonsense restaurant, its folding doors thrown open to the bustling street. Friendly waiters served up copious dishes of ceviche: raw fish and seafood (scallops, shrimp and squid) marinated in a citrus dressing until it "cooks", served with a crisp, leafy salad and chunks of flat bread. Everything here was simply cooked, presented, and wonderfully fresh: exactly as it should be. There's a small wine and beer list, and prices are low. (2004).

Reñaca: Delicias del Mar, 16000 Avenida Borgono. Tel: +56 890491
Reñaca is a lovely seaside town on a thrilling and rugged part of Chile's Pacific coast north of Valparaiso and Viña del Mar. This traditional seafood restaurant sits right on the seafront with picture windows offering sweeping views over crashing surf and the conurbation of Valparaiso clinging to the cliffs on the distant bay. The food is somewhat old fashioned but of good quality. We shared a seafood platter, with Abalone, scallops, squid, mussels, clams, crab claws and king prawns, served with a selection of sauces and fresh lemon. My main course Seabass was served in a creamy sauce liberally doused with prawns and mushrooms, and though a tad overcooked, it was tasty. The wine list is excellent (there is also a wine shop as part of the set-up) and a bottle of Leyda Single Vineyard Chardonnay at £20 was superb from near the top of the price list. Moderate prices, but the view is worth much more. (2007)

Curico: Restoran Cantares, 226 Las Heras. Tel: +56 312824
This is a beautiful historic old manorhouse on the outskirts of Curico, a fairly rustic town on the wine route. Built in the Spanish style, with low buildings around a palm-filled central courtyard, one section of the house is an elegant but homely restaurant that is fairly quiet in the evenings, but much busier at lunch apparently. A starter of Ceviche of Corvina (Seabass) was one of the best ceviches of the trip: bursting with bright, zippy flavours and chunks of fish. For a main course I had a steak, that was served with a sauce made from langoustine, peppers and courgettes in a creamy base, that was really very wholesome and good. (2006)

Siete Tazas National Park, near Talca: La Flor de la Canela
Siete Tazas, or "seven cups" is a national park easily reachable (especially if you have a four-wheel drive vehicle) from the city of Talca on a day trip. You can explore the dramatic seven waterfalls and ice-cold pools after which the park is named, and there are miles of hiking trails into the Andes. We took a four hour hike, on which we saw eagles, condors and some stunning mountain flower displays. The park's only food option is La Flor de la Canela, and it was a welcome sight when we returned in early afternoon. From the outside La Flor de la Canela looks like a slightly tumbledown shack. What a joy to discover that inside is a warm welcome and excellent home cooking, with fruits and vegetables grown and preserved by the owners, and baskets of wonderful warm flat bread served with bowls of Chancho en Piedra, a deliciously spicy, coriander (cilantro) -based salsa. We had steaks and chips, and washed down the lot with a couple of ice-cold beers. Fantastic place, and very cheap. (2006).