In a world full of Ryders, Braxtons and Zaydens, what ever happened to the name Frank? Exuding confidence, practicality, a no-nonsense approach to life. No one messes with Frank!
Yet in 2013 only 996 American children had the pleasure of being anointed with such desirable attributes. Instead, we find the youth of the Free World straining under the burdensome yoke of such names as Logan (12,270!!), Jaxon (7,479) and Jace (6,341)… future presidents, each and every one no doubt.
And so we must look to the south, to not only rediscover our noble heritage but to enjoy a welcome return to normality.
“Of which land do I speak?”, I hear you cry in a voice laden with hope.
None other than the land of the saddle bound gaucho, cold deserts and lonely star strewn vistas. Boca Juniors, flamenco dancers and pisco sour chasers. Icy glaciers, thundering waterfalls and Marxist revolutionaries. Argentina hombre!!
Of course, to his doting mother in her time-worn kitchen it would be Franco; to us, in Hobart’s newest and most chic new eatery, it is Frank by which he is known!
And what an eatery it is. Towering black walls, chrome, steel and leather vying for your attention. Vibrant tattoos on glass, neon graffiti and a sultry Latino siren looking down with pleasure upon the steak gnashing masses. It’s eclectic, it’s modern, it’s another prime example of Hobart’s metamorphosis into a culinary destination.
The premise is simple, untried and irresistible. Never before has Hobart been graced by an establishment with a focus on Argentinian cuisine. Yet with such similarities between Australian and Argentinian palates, it’s actually surprising that it’s taken this long.
Argentinians have a long and proud history of living off the land. Beef, lamb, goat, potatoes, squash, tomatoes…sound familiar?
While appetisers of various types are greatly enjoyed, it’s the asado, or Argentinian barbecue, for which the Argentinians are renowned and on which Frank thrives.
Bypassing the mainstream cuts of beef, Frank focuses on the lesser known varieties such as hanger steak, inside skirt steak (entraña), flank steak and flatiron steak. For a much better explanation of the differences between each cut than I could ever give, drop by Casey’s ‘Good Food Stories’ blog here.
Now before I launch into some mouthwatering images, it has to be said that once in a while, ever so rarely, the stars align and I find myself with a black hole for a stomach. Of all the times for me to enter into such a state of nirvana, this was it! Never, EVER have I been able to eat so much in one sitting as I did last weekend at Frank. Karen looked on with awe as I ploughed through dish after dish. Even the surprise of a 400g plate of entraña when we were only expecting 200g (apparently 400g is ‘small’!!) caused only a moment’s hesitation before I brandished my steak knife and got back to business!
With a very handy drinks list (not only including Fernet & Coke of all things, but also including a number of wines on tap!) we were able to indulge in a couple of quintessential Argentinian wines. First up was a torrontes, colloquially known as the ‘liar’s wine’. This grape variety is the only one native to Argentina and is fascinating in that its bouquet is deliciously sweet, yet it’s surprisingly dry on the palate; hence the tag of ‘the liar’. Of course with our red meats we couldn’t resist our old favourite, the Malbec. The high altitude deserts of Mendoza provide the perfect conditions for this grape variety, offering strong fruit-driven flavours similar to a fine Cabernet Sauvignon or Shiraz, yet with very soft tannins. A great combination in my opinion. We were hoping to have a variety to choose from, so it was a little disappointing to find they only had one from Argentina on the menu (and one from South Australia…but that doesn’t count!). Still, beggars can’t be choosers.
A couple of very fine empanadas; one scallop ($4.90), the other mushroom, cheese and spinach ($4.50). You couldn’t say the scallop empanada was traditional by any means, but the flavours couldn’t be faulted.
The sopaipillas (fried pumpkin bread) with chancho en piedra (pepper salsa) were quite nice and at $2.50 for two well worth a try.
The ceviche with leche de tigre (tiger’s milk) was fantastic ($21.00). Pillow-soft morsels of seafood, rich flavours of the chilli permeating every mouthful, and the freshness of the onion and coriander. Outstanding dish.
At any other venue this would normally be the dish of the day, but it’s testimony to the steak that was to follow that these venison ribs ($19.00) had to be satisfied with second-best! With none of the gaminess of a typical cut of venison, I could have munched on these ribs all day. Tender meat, yet crispy and crunchy on the exterior and with some sensational little bones (on the left hand side of the image above) that were exceptionally tasty when crunched up and eaten with the meat!
While at their heart these grilled pickles had some good flavours ($4.00), excessive vinegar threw the balance somewhat.
Our first grilled selection was a ‘small’ serving of the hanger steak ($21.50) with accompanying chimichurri and salsa picante.
While better than many cuts of meat I’ve had elsewhere in town, and perfectly grilled, I did find the hanger steak to be a little bland. Strangely, neither the chimichurri or salsa helped, yet a simple twist of the pepper grinder lifted the dish admirably.
Karen convinced me to order this one (it was my Name Day, so I was making the selections!) and what an inspired choice it was! Silky smooth and smoky sweet potato, charred skin, crunchy almonds, sour curd and the bite of the coriander…a fantastic exercise in balance, innovation and control.
We were expecting a similar serving size to the hanger steak, and got the shock of our lives when the ‘small’ entraña ($32.50) turned out to be a plate of protein weighing in at a hefty 400g!!
So very, very good though. Again, a masterful touch with the grill, and a lot more flavour than the hanger steak. In this instance I found the smokiness of the salsa picante to work really well with the steak. My dish of the day!
Two very accomplished desserts. While I did enjoy the light finish to the meal that my parfait provided, Karen’s pan-fried corn bread with caramel cream (dulce de leche) was the better of the two desserts. I could have eaten buckets of that gooey caramel!
Until this point you could easily be forgiven for thinking that this was a meal without blemish. Unfortunately that wasn’t the case.
It doesn’t matter whether you’re chowing down on sweet and sour chicken from your local Chinese restaurant, or wining and dining at the finest restaurant in town. What we are looking for is not just good food, but more importantly, a great experience. While Frank could hardly be faulted in the meals they consistently dished up, the environment in which they were served didn’t quite hit the same heights.
Frank is aiming high, their clientèle are going to be expecting big things, and for that reason they need to get the little things right. Finding a dusting of salt and pepper on the table top from where the grinders had been moved. Neglecting to provide us with cutlery after our dishes were cleared away half way into the meal. Greasy fingerprints on the leather wine list. Oddly styled and poorly fitting uniforms for the staff that transformed them into school kids playing science teacher dress-ups. These things jar, and they matter!
And last, but most certainly not least…where was that most iconic of all Argentinian desserts, the alfajore?!! Truly a sacrilege to find it absent from the menu!
We walked into an empty room at midday. We watched Frank quickly fill. We watched Frank slowly empty. Two and a half hours of gourmet heaven and we were done.
Frank is exciting in concept, style and menu. It’s holds a unique position in Hobart’s dining scene and we look forward to watching the Argentinian revolution unfold before us!
You can find out more information on the Facebook page here.
To peruse their incredible menu, click here!
Flavours – 9.5/10
Menu – 9.5/10
Ambience – 9/10
Service – 7/10
Value – 8.5/10
Overall – 9.5/10
And for those that are interested, here are some images of Argentina from our time there in 2010…