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The very idea of pan-South-American cuisine is, essentially, incongruous. Lumping together the food cultures of the entire South American continent makes as much sense, on paper at least, as that bizarrely popular Ixelles restaurant serving “Greco-Polish specialities”.
The cuisine on offer at upper Saint-Gilles’ Los Ponchos is billed as Latin American, and the dishes on the menu are for the most part Mexican and Argentinian. Luckily, there is no attempt to create a cross-continental fusion repertoire.
The decor is pretty plush, intimate even, but, most of all, dark – unless you eat in the garden, that is. The solitary waiter’s austere look does not exactly brighten the atmosphere, to be honest. Time for some frozen margaritas then. These arrive suspiciously quickly, but are thoroughly enjoyable. They come with – you’ll never guess –tortilla chips and salsa.
My starter of provoleta a la parrilla (grilled Argentinian cheese), while no revelation, was extremely nice but somewhat misleading: the cheese was in fact deep-fried and served with a portion of relish so small that it was finished halfway through the dish. Across the table, the beef empanadas were exemplary: light, perfectly spiced… and very small.
On to the mains, and both my companion and I were after one thing only: Argentinian steak. Unable to choose between the sirloin and the fillet, we decided to order both and share. They came with exactly the same garnish: two sauces (a creamy one and a version of chimichurri), a chunk of corn on the cob and a mini polenta cake. The beef was beyond reproach: two butch pieces of meat (the fillet, as expected, more tender but less flavoursome than the sirloin) cooked rare just like we ordered. The accompaniments paled in comparison: the sauces were under-seasoned and the polenta squares on the lumpy side.
The bill, which included sparkling water and a bottle of lovely Argentinian malbec, came to €107. A very pleasant meal altogether, if possibly not quite value for money.
158 Chaussée de Charleroi,02.544.06.54, www.losponchos.be