Nobody’s rung Guinness yet but it’s possible that El Papagayo is the narrowest restaurant in Argentina.
A strange accolade, if you will, it’s definitely the country’s most curiously dimensioned spot at one centimeter less wide than Romanian basketball player Gheorghe Muresan – the world’s loftiest pro who measured up at 2.31 meters – is tall, 36 meters long and six high.
Crazy stats that made chef-patron Javier Rodríguez fall in love with the spot three years ago. Sounds more like a passageway? That was exactly its humble role, linking several homes together, but Rodríguez saw its potential. Today, it’s the restaurant that has revolutionized the fine dining scene in the city of Córdoba.
Working within these dimensions is – in positive language – a challenge (sounds like a freaking nightmare), but Rodríguez and team love it.
In three short years, El Papagayo has racked up plenty of accolades: an unofficial godfather in the form of Fernando Trocca (chef-patron of Sucre, Buenos Aires – “a great support,” says Rodríguez); Germán Martitegui from Tegui has also popped up to cook at El Papagayo’s guest chef cycle Sincronía, which recently saw Córdoba golden boy, the one Michelin-starred Mauricio Giovanni (chef-patron of Messina, in Marbella, Spain) take on the dimensions and cook alongside former lawyer Rodríguez at El Papagayo for a month.
Big guns aplenty, but how does the restaurant fare standing on its own two feet?
It’s all about the details and Rodríguez – bright eyed with disheveled hair and a charming smile – has a bulging CV: eight years notched up around the world in Noma, Copenhagen, and in Peru, Singapore and Sydney, Australia. Technique and product understanding are key, and innovation comes fluidly to him in that tiniest of kitchens. That’s how he was able to convert a passageway into a fine dining restaurant for 36 diners.
The table to book is the loft, offering up a bird’s eye view after which it was named, a lighter space apt for foodie claustrophobics.
One exposed brick wall, poured cement floor and a skylight create a contemporary look with Scandinavian airs: art, installations and bowls of apples (depending on the season) complete the look.
The details continue in the 15-piece plateware inspired by Noma and brought to life by sculptor Santiago Lena; functional and beautiful art. The egg box (that doesn’t contain eggs), a gorgeous example of ceramic creativity, and thought has even gone into the espresso, served in a transparent cup.
The menu itself is ultra seasonal, spontaneous and switches up every day. The acidity in a whipped goat’s cheese cuts right through the delicious fattiness characteristic of kid liver, while pork belly, skin perfectly crunchy, fuses with a properly smoky baba ganoush and miso.
A personal hit is the pine mushroom dulce de leche-filled pancake drizzled with cumin oil. Original, umami, exquisite. Haters gonna hate this interpretation. Me, I want to put a ring on it.
The wine list is also notable. Curated by sommelier Mariano Moreno (ex Faena Buenos Aires), who joined the team last September, it shows off the province’s few jewels from tiny wineries in Traslasierra while rotating bigger, more well-known bodega boys. Moreno has put together an excellent and ample whites selection, ideal for fighting Córdoba’s stifling summer months.
Possibly the best news is just how very, very reasonably priced El Papagayo is in comparison with its porteño fine-dining colleagues. Six courses for AR $650 is unicorn fodder in 2018 (wait until we get to March and watch inflation grab us round the neck).
Ten courses? You’ll get change from a new orange bill sporting Argentina’s national avian, the hornero, prices that don’t exist in la ciudad de la furia but that are alive and kicking in La Docta.
Arturo M. Bas 69, Córdoba
Tel: +54 351 425 8689
Monday to Friday: three-step lunch $400, six-step tasting menu $650; Thursday to Saturday seven-step dinner $750, 10-step dinner $950.
(Cover photo via El Papagayo/Rodrigo Ruiz Ciancia)