Covert supper clubs (known as puerto cerrados or ‘closed-door’ restaurants) are all the rage in Buenos Aires. Argentina’s porteños get a kick out of hunting down addresses, scouring Instagram to track pop-ups and crowding into a chef’s dining room.
Aside from the thrill of the chase and cloak-and-dagger feel of it all, they’re a chance to enjoy the experimental menus of a passionate, imaginative chef (or a simply excellent home-cooked dinner) in an utterly unique setting. We’ve rounded up four of the best loved home diners to kickstart your gourmet scavenger hunt.
But first, a few pointers:
– The restaurant’s address will likely be revealed at the last minute, so be prepared to be flexible and get a little adventurous.
– Tasting menus are the norm and are usually shrouded in secrecy. If you live and die by la carte, maybe give these a miss.
– Often, the closed-door restaurant will be little more than the chef’s dining room or garden, so get elbow jostling and make some new friends.
– Each restaurant will have its own set of rules. Dining closed-door style is a lovely way of getting intimate with the locality, act as if you’re a guest at a friend’s house with the respect that affords.
– Allergies are usually catered to, but be sure to give the chef notice.
– Advance booking is essential and it’s de rigueur to rock up early.
Your hosts Chef and sommelier Dan Perlman and anthropologist and dance folklorist (!) Henry Tapia.
Number of guests 10
What to expect Guests gather at a communal table in the dining room of a cosy flat in Recoleta. The five-course tasting menu changes nightly (Perlman rarely cooks the same thing twice), and it’s the chef’s labour of love. There’s plenty of fresh Andean fruit and veg, and Perlman makes most of the produce himself (pasta, cheeses, sausages, ice-cream); cuisine tends to be varied, although they steer clear of Argentinian to mix things up a bit. Guests are treated to a traditional apéritif on arrival and it’s a wine dinner – no substitutions – so meals come paired with five tasting glasses.
On the menu Past dishes have included cheddar-and-ale soup, Brazilian sandperch with sesame and gojuchang on pine-nut porridge, and a corn-and-pineapple brownie with popcorn gelato and mole poblano spices.
Entry level Fair. Spaces fill up fast, but hosts appear responsive and have clear info on their site.
BREAD + BUTTER
Your hosts Globetrotting chef Isidoro Dillon, who’s clocked up hours at several Michelin-starred eateries, and his partner, in-the-know tour operator Vanessa Bell.
Number of guests Up to 15, but varies depending on the venue. Vanessa sources unique locations in the city
What to expect After a hiatus, events are running infrequently, but it’s worth catching them when they occur. Dillon spent 20 years in Sweden, where he learnt about and honed his skills in New Nordic cuisine. His eight- to nine-course tasting menus are big-revealed on the night. They’re crafted with such unbridled creativity and presented with such artful plating that even the – very few – lesser-loved dishes are warmly received. Venues change frequently, but tend to be intimate and unorthodox – most recently dinners were held in an antique shop, and guests could buy the wares around them, including plates and cutlery. Meals are only advertised on Instagram and must be booked through there, too.
On the menu Dillon uses traditional techniques such as curing and fermenting to produce intriguing flavour profiles. Past dishes have included fermented lamb’s tongue cooked in clay, with carbon-activated yucca, duck with beets in truffle milk, flower consommé, and Danish-blue-cheese mousse on homemade pumpernickel, topped with roasted plums. Theme dinners are held too – including an elegant menu of entirely black-and-white dishes.
Entry level Advanced, but mostly because securing a seat relies on quick-draw sliding into their DMs.
Your hosts Winning-by-a-nose sommelier, Ivana Piñar and her husband, chef Pablo Abramovsky.
Number of guests Up to 16.
What to expect This is a more multidisciplinary experience, where classes and wine tastings are offered alongside the excellent five-course tasting menu. Learn the history of and how to prepare Yerba Mate (a traditional botanical tea), and how to tell your Mendoza Malbec from your Patagonian pinot. Rustle up babaganoush, bread and ceviche from scratch, or limber up for a tango lesson with tapas. Pablo and Ivana host guests in their flat, a low-lit, theatre-curtain-red space set for lively evenings. Arrive at 9pm prompt.
On the menu Under Ivana’s curation, the paired wines are very good, and you get a welcome drink. Pablo lovingly prepares zingy ceviche, confit-lamb ravioli with mushrooms, braised pork shoulder with crispy sweet potatoes and red-rice salad. To finish, crème brûlée with seasonal fruit and almond praline – ¡Olé!
Entry level Middling, may require some email ping-pong and a blast on the phone.
Number of guests The clue’s in the name, which translates to a party-starting 30 seats.
Your host Chef Ezequiel Gallardo overlooks proceedings – he’ll be busy whipping up the tasty dishes in the kitchen, but usually emerges to chat to diners.
What to expect Slightly larger and less slapdash than other closed-doors, this spot feels the most like a ‘proper’ restaurant. Albeit a cosy, super-chill one. A stuffed animal here, a colour-coordinated bar there, jam-jars of coeliac-friendly chutneys and syrups for sale: its easygoing, ‘hey, come in, sit down, have some jam’ air belies the chef’s serious talent – but you’ll be assured of that once you get fork-shovelling, or partake in the cookery classes held on site.
On the menu There’s something new every week, but a typical run is: foie gras with quince, goat’s cheese quiche with leeks and hazelnuts, pork with smoked provolone and harissa-rubbed carrots, as well as mousse with almond crumble (alcoholic drinks are extra).
Featured image is Treintasillas