If you have a good product, people will find you—so goes one of the more optimistic and romantic tenets of the restaurant culture.
Is it really true? Much depends on the environment and the adventurous nature of the residents. To hedge their bets, many chefs place restaurants in the middle of large urban areas where they may be accessed by millions of potential customers. Sometimes, in an exercise of reverse psychology, an entrepreneur will create a restaurant in a remote location to foster an aura of exclusiveness.
Francis Mallmann has upped the ante by opening Garzon in a semi-abandoned railroad town in Uruguay’s interior. Mallmann is Argentina’s most famous chef—a TV personality, and the owner of the country’s most acclaimed restaurants (1884 in Mendoza, and Patagonia Sur in Buenos Aires). The metropolis of Garzon contains 168 inhabitants, down from over 2000 in the 1960s, before the railroad to Brazil stopped running.
It sounds exotic until you spend an hour bumping along dirt roads to get to the village. At the end of the journey is a sprawling old house containing the restaurant and five hotel rooms, and a garden shaded by huge palm trees. Mallmann himself was present on the day of my visit, along with Martin Summers, London “art dealer to the stars” who has constructed his own house next to the restaurant. The irrepressible Mr. Summers functions as a one-man cheering squad for Mallmann and his seemingly impossible venture in the interior.
Lunch began with cannelloni of spinach and wild mushrooms, light and fluffy. The featured main course was one of Mallmann’s famous dishes—lamb braised for more than seven hours, garnished with a profusion of rosemary and served in a bowl of broth with mashed potatoes. For dessert, there were caramelized crepes accompanied by dulce de leche, a sweet local specialty. The meal was accompanied by wines from Finca la Anita in Argentina. Unfortunately, the food was not without flaws, despite the fact that Mallmann sat at the table with us.
Rates at the hotel range from $480-660, meals included, and lunch for two can easily exceed $200. The clientele consists mainly of wealthy tourists from both Europe and Argentina, in search of the rustic setting that Restaurante Garzon provides.