Things are definitely on the up in my corner of South West London. Fitting in nicely next to the refined French atmosphere of the Food Room, Queenstown Road now has another quality eatery from a whole different continent. Santa Maria del Sur has one other branch out in Hackney somewhere, and has obviously proved so popular with the 'Enders that now the other side of the river gets a taste too.
We turned up on-spec fairly early - 6:30 or so - and were surprised to discover that they were fully booked for that Friday night. That they managed to fit us in is an indicator of the level of service, and that they were fully booked - well that's always a good sign.
It has traditionally been the case that a quality steak has been very hard to come by in London. I think part of the problem is the cost of the raw ingredients - Hawksmoor in the city do a fantastic aged Longhorn sirloin with triple-cooked chips and as many cocktails as you can fit inside you, but at £30 for the meat alone this is something you really pay through the nose for. Prices at Santa Maria immediately strike you as much more reasonable, £17 for a fillet for example, or £15 for sirloin. Quality steaks will never be cheap in England, but it's nice to find somewhere that treads that tricky middle ground between the very top-end (Hawksmoor, Groucho Grill) and the dross that is Angus Steakhouse. The sight of a miserable German family trapped in the window of a Covent Garden Angus Steakhouse of a Saturday night always turns my stomach. I feel like picketing the entrance sometimes - unwary tourists should not be subjected to that kind of torture.
These steaks however, were very good. Not as completely drop-dead gorgeous as the Hawksmoor (or Peter Luger) specimens, but extremely tasty, cooked to the required medium-rare in all cases, and served with sharp slice of pickled pepper.
Sides included parsley and garlic chips (nice enough, though the chips were a bit dry), and butter beans, which were a real hit with everyone - oily and herby and went very well with the steaks. It was all washed down with an Argentinian (of course) Mendoza which was a fantastic drink.
I should also say that the restaurant itself was decorated in a very comfortable rustic style, the Argentinian staff were charming and added an extra air of authenticity, and service throughout was not only efficient but attentive, friendly and informal - pretty much spot on for this style of place. I feel a bit guilty about denegrating their open kitchen the other day, but I hope they'll forgive me. Santa Maria del Sur is a lovely little restaurant.