Monday, 9 December 2013

Life and food in San Telmo

I am re-posting here a review that I prepared for Fabrizio, the owner of Chacabuco 1181 where I have stayed in 2010, 2011 and 2013. For those visiting San Telmo, this short guide offers a 30 minute or so walk to take in some of the delights of the bario.

"Living at Fabrizio’s, you are in the ideal place to enjoy the features and opportunities of bario San Telmo. Here we propose a short 30 minute walk to familiarise yourself with the neighbourhood, and we will point out places of significance on the way. Note that these are just a small sample of the delights that await discovery here in San Telmo.

Locking the door to the street, and wearing comfortable shoes, turn left in Chacabuco. Three doors down at 1169 is the butchers shop. Although of unlikely appearance, this is the best butcher in the neighbourhood, with excellent meat and helpful staff who will greet you as you pass. For your asado, shop here. Pre-order to get the best cuts, and collect the following day.

Across the road at 1108, before Humberto Primo is Graciela's pedicure. The shop has a narrow front and will be open from 10 am Wednesday to Friday (tel 4300 6789 or cel 15-6700-2479). A pedicure at the time of writing is 90 pesos (excluding a tip of 10 pesos which is customary). If you dance, value your feet, or simply want to pamper, this is the place for you. Tap with a coin on the door to attract attention. For those who do not speak Castillano, sign language is more than adequate, and the treatment lasts 20 minutes. One tip - remove your shoes in the treatment area, and ensure that you do not sit on the raised platform in front of the treatment seat. A second tip - be ready for probably the best treatment you have experienced. Mention ‘Stephen and Stephanie’, and Graciela will be kind to your feet (and to ours!).

Now continue to the junction with Humberto Primo. Should you turn left  (which we shall not do today) you would come to the laundry at the corner (Piedras 1006). For 25 pesos per wash, this is definitely the place to bring your clothes. Ironing is extra, and all of the clothes care is done by the Chinese family. If you call in here, note the vast Ombu tree at the junction.  Just round the corner at Piedras 1176 is an intriguing art studio.

On the right side of Chacabuco and Humberto Primo is your local supermarket (Autoservicio). In truth it is a small self-service shop run by a pleasant Chinese man, with separate fruit stall positioned at the doorway run by two Argentine sisters. Whilst it may be unprepossessing, it is my favourite, with a selection of basics and wines at reasonable prices (compared with Carrefour in Peru). You have to travel some distance to better it. The cost of your shopping will be added up on a large calculator and shown to you. This is a safe shop where your custom will be valued, and you will be helped with your change.

On the opposite corner of Chacabuco (Humberto Primo 689) is Moderna Pizza. I have to say that I have a fondness for this place (which stays open to about midnight). The empanadas may not be the best, but the pizzas and tostados on the other hand, are excellent. Order the medium size pizza for two, and try a glass of Malbec or a bottle of Quilmes. Pizzas here cost about 70 pesos. The staff are very friendly and will greet you on your return visits.

From Moderna, we descend Humberto Primo. Stay on the left side, passing Roli cafe at the corner of Peru, run by Manuel who always wears his spectacles on his head! To your left round the corner in Peru 1085 is Cosas Ricas, a bakery. This is a good place to buy medialunas, bread, cakes and tortes, and is usefully open on Sunday mornings when other bakeries are closed. Mid-week they also serve delicious boxes of salads. If you are prepared to wait seek out Diego, the young male assistant with the smile, who teaches English. At busy times, don't forget to take a ticket from the dispenser, or your wait may be long.

Opposite across Peru is Origen (Humberto Primo 599), a delightful breakfast venue where you can sit inside, or at the pavement to watch the San Telmo world. Breakfast coffee, fresh juice, and tostados with jam and cream costs 59 pesos and is the best way to start the day. The waitresses only speak Castillano, but this is never a problem. For lunch or an evening meal before the milonga, try one of the woks - delicious and sustaining.

For this walk, we shall not remain in Peru (a delightful street with Itame Sushi bar at the opposite corner (1112), and an architecturally interesting local police station just further down on the right in the direction of Carlos Calvo). We shall continue past Origen in Humberto Primo towards the next street, Bolivar.

Stay on the left side and note the Arab restaurant Habibi (Humberto Primo 523) as a fun place for a cosy night out with spicy food, and continue to Bolivar. On the right corner at Bolivar 1101 is Caracol, a very popular cafe with locals for Sunday lunch. Had we gone straight ahead towards Plaza Dorrego we would have passed the tiny Guebara in Humberto Primo 463, a bar for jazz and beer. Ask for the draft - it is only a few pesos, grab a chair if there is one, and listen to the band. But, on this occasion, we shall cross into the San Telmo mercado. Arguably the most famous market in Buenos Aires, this mercado combines fruit, vegetables, meat, cheese and snacks, with antiques. Wander at will, and take a break on one of the tall stools at Cafe del Mercado in the centre, sample a deep-fried empanada; or try the best coffee at Coffee Town and watch the theatre of the market. Take time to glance up at the roof, and amble through the market stalls to Defensa. Here, turn right up towards Plaza Dorrego.

We are not to stay today, but will continue up Defensa in the direction of San Juan (towards 1000-2000) looking for Pasaje de la Defensa at 1179 on the right side of the road. Enter here, and browse the antique shops and cafés, ensuring that you take the stairs to the first floor gallery for the view and photos down into the courtyard.

We shall continue our walk on towards San Juan. …..Note that were you to continue across San Juan you would eventually reach Parq Lezama, flanked by the famous twin cafés Britanico and Hipopotamo…... But that is for another day. For this walk, we turn from Defensa left into San Juan, noting over to your right Café San Juan, the extremely popular french restaurant (San Juan 452 - tel 4300 1112 booking essential) and opposite at 451, step down into El Maipu, run by a delightful young couple (an excellent place for marinated pork).

Take the next left into Balcarce. This is my favourite street in this section of San Telmo. When you reach the junction with Humberto Primo, detour twenty paces to your left to 340, to photo the Parroquia de San Pedro Telmo, a stunning neo colonial church. Afterwards, retrace your steps to Balcarce and continue left downhill.  Call into Galerio de Viejo Hotel (1053) on the left - tour the balcony ateliers, and on the ground floor try the café El Patio de Cabo Verde for a quiet snack. Leaving, pop across the road to Alma Zen Arte at 1056 for genuine period clothing from 1920-60. For a quiet lunch or early evening meal remember Pasaje Solar (1024) which features a gorgeous shaded courtyard away from the noise of San Telmo. At the junction with Carlos Calvo, turn right and brave the 'yet to be paved' tail end of the street where on the right you will find Celine (242), a French cafe open evenings only (tel 4361 1269 to book) with a superb 1st floor terrace overlooking the picturesque German church. This is the place for early evening drinks on warm evenings (but take a shawl should the breeze lift). Retrace your steps back to cross Balcarce. Ahead at Carlos Calvo 319 is Antigua Casa de Cuchilleros (tel 4300 5798 to book) which offers Grand Parrillada for 225 pesos for two people. Then back to Balcarce, descending yet again. If you are vegetarian, note at 958 Naturaleza Sabia - run by enthusiastic veggies (tel 4361 1549 to book). Take a look in La Celina at 922 for interesting crafts and weavings. The candles you were looking for are available from Maria Jose Gomez at Prema, Balcarce 914, on the opposite corner at Estados Unidos 302 (tel 4361 5529 to book) is Cafe Rivas, a delightful restaurant with simple menu and excellent reputation. Two gorgeous cafe con leche and a shared cake will cost 55 pesos - worth the price just for the charming environment and excellent service. If you are seeking a very private triste, pop up to the gallery via the stairs near the door!

Turn left in Estados Unidos (another favourite street), to find Vinotango at 488, a useful wine shop run by Juan, who sings tango songs to his customers and speaks perfect English. Juan and his mother will give excellent advice on what wines to try. Crossing Defensa to Yauss Club at 509 - (formerly Waffles Sur) operated by Javier and his pretty girlfriend Valentina. Opening times here can be a lottery but try the breakfast waffle with bacon, scrambled egg, salad drizzled with honey. Together with coffee and fresh juice they make an excellent start to the day. Just a little further up Estados Unidos at 617 is Walrus Books ( - worth a mention because all of their stock is in English. Before you leave San Telmo, make sure you drop of your unwanted paperbacks here as a gift for the proprietor, and mention that you are staying at Fabrizios.

We shall turn left, back into Bolivar just in time to book a seat at Fellini at 933 (tel 4361 4679 to book). The  family serve a set meal  involving 14 dishes! For the full description of this terrific, favourite restaurant (formerly Maria Fedele), visit my blog at Stephen Twist Tango. Whilst returning up Bolivar, note Pedro Telmo, the cafe under the market at 962. This is one of the oldest original cafes in San Telmo - skip the main meals, but it worth a visit for pizza and beer or glass of wine. In the day, see the 80+ year old Manuela and give her a gentle hug, and at night greet Horacio, the larger-than-life waiter. We return we miss Antonnino at Bolivar 1087 - which used to be the one place locally to buy fresh or prepared fish. Now you will need to track out to Defin at Azara 99 -  a 19 minute walk down Tacuari, crossing Av Martin Garcia). So to continue, back to Humberto Primo, where we turn right towards Chacabuco.

On your return to Fabrizios, turn right to Dylan Ice Cream Parlour at Peru 1086.  As you may know, Portenos take their ice cream seriously, and you will need a half litre tub at least, perhaps with a triple mix, to take back with you to share at Fabrizios".

If you wish to contact Fabrizio for accommodation in his shared house at Chacabuco 1181, email

Friday, 6 December 2013


In October the sun rises early with flashes of light from the windows of passing taxis, that are ubiquitous here in Buenos Aires.

It is Tuesday, and today Stephanie and I are to meet with Cristina, a lawyer and mediator, whose practice mirrors my own. Our destination is the banking district in the micro centre of the city.
'Micro centre' is somewhat of a misnomer, as the area stretches eight blocks each way, and contains the heart of commerce, banking and shopping for Buenos Aires. In daylight hours, it is busy, and during working hours thronged with bankers, office employees, messengers, traders, tourists and just about everyone that makes a city work.

Our rendevous is in Calle Reconquista, a principal banking street - part pedestrianised to allow only the security trucks which carry cash and bullion to the Bank of Argentina. These are bomb-proof, with heavy plated steel, wheels of huge dimension and weight, and are invariably accompanied by police and security outriders Yamaha and BMW motorcycles.

Reconquista has not always been the centre of Latin American civilisation. This was the place where in 1806, the Spanish immigrants of Buenos Aires gathered to swear allegiance to their cause - the removal by force of their recent British overlords. After 46 days of occupation, William Carr Beresford was forced to surrender to the Spanish general, Santiago de Liniers, and the Rio de la Plata was returned to Spanish control.
Today's visit will not be quite so dramatic, involving discussions about legal process and mediation of disputes - over lunch with knives and forks, without a cutlass to be seen.

As we meet in the sun-drenched calle, the convent bell of tolls to call the monks of this last surviving order to prayer. The steps up to Convento San Ramon Nonato lead to a wide, dark corridor; but ahead is a fierce splash of light as we exit into the cloisters that surround the convent garden. Like none other in Buenos Aires, here is an enclosed place, festooned with the richest diversity of trees and flowering shrubs, and surrounded by tables set for lunch with white cloths and glinting glasses. The waiters bob from kitchen to customer, ensuring that the menu executivo is available for all of the diners.

We order steak, served with chips and salad, preceded by mozzarella in a light tomato and tabasco sauce, and followed by coffee or flan. It is accompanied by a glass of Malbec within the set price of 89 pesos (about £6.00).

Conversation ranges over business, mediation, politics and the cultural differences and resonances between Argentina and Britain. As we chat, birds fly from tree to flower under the canopy of palms. Around us sit business people, bankers and lawyers, ours being the only English voices. Elsewhere under the cloisters peep small antique shops and the indoor eating areas.

The convent's principal bell tolls - perhaps the end of mid-day prayer, and we rise from the square. With further legal meetings ahead we leave the tranquility of Convent San Ramon Nonato to head down Reconquista towards Avendia Corrientes, the street that never sleeps. For those seeking quiet moments in the sea of humanity that is Buenos Aires, here is your oasis.