When a restaurant opens in Cape Town’s CBD it’s entering a market where the competition is fierce and if you don’t make the cut your time will be limited. That’s why when Charango Barbacoa opened its doors to the public and offered a selection of meat dishes it made a strong statement.

Once you step into the chic ‘barrio’-inspired setting you’re met with a trendy and laid-back feeling that one would be accustomed to while frequenting the streets of town. The whitewashed brick and white tiled walls with the wooden floors host a collection of South American artwork and décor provides a setting that fits the theme of the carefully curated menu.

With Charango Barbacoa being a South American-themed restaurant, a selection of cocktails is a sure thing. A speciality of the restaurant is the ‘negroni’ which mixes Tanqueray gin with Cinzano Rosso, Campari and orange. Upon your first sip you’ll notice that it has quite a kick to it so if you’re palate isn’t as resolved, a more conventional cocktail would be recommended. There’s also a generous selection of wines if that’s more to your taste.

The starter selection is a great introduction to the main courses as it focuses on lighter meat-based dishes. The selection draws strong similarities to what you’d find at a household barbecue or braai as it features selections such as Ceviche (salmon mixed with orange, sesame whipped cream cheese, pickled fennel and toasted hazelnuts), chipotle chicken livers, chicken wings and seared tuna tataki. From the starter menu we sampled a pair of Argentinian king prawns served with chunky avocado, red kidney beans, chilli and basil salsa and charred nectarines. The prawns are not shy of quality as it offers a soft texture and flavourful taste that compliments the salsa it sits on in an unexpected manner.

If you prefer a vegetarian starter, an option can be ordered from the sides where your options consist of hand cut chips, sweet potato fries, zucchini fries, a baby veg bowl or some mash. We opted for the chargrilled corn as it’s something that’s not offered by many restaurants in the Cape. It’s not a difficult dish to get right so it complimented the grill flavour theme of the menu. There are a number of salads to choose from, the green salad seemed like a good choice. I really enjoyed the dressing and this essentially was my main meal.

As for the meat mains, Charango Barbacoa offers an array of specialty steaks with South American wet rubs, butters and sauces allowing you to create a bespoke meal to your liking. We however, opted for the pork ribs with the Madagascan green pepper corn to see how this restaurant approached the comfort meats.

The quality of the ribs is of high standard; the meat comes off the bone with ease, possesses a tender texture and doesn’t suffer from that chewy roughness which lower quality ribs offer. The basting used however, could to with a bit more seasoning as it lacks that tangy flavour one expects to compliment a pork dish. The sweet potato chips, albeit a bit oily, comes compliments the flavour of the ribs well with its sweet aftertaste and crunchy texture.

The dessert selection of Charango is limited as it features deep fried ice cream, crème catalana (crème brulee) and dulce de leche which consists of caramel ice cream with crushed candied almonds; we choose the latter two. The crème catalana offers a flavourful refreshing palate cleanse complimented by a fruity arrangement of berries but the crème itself appeared to have not set properly and was too watery for our liking. The dulce de leche was the better of the two as it was served with a very generous portion. It’s a distinguishable caramel flavour that provides a pleasant surprise on the odd occasion that you bite into the candied almond. I emptied out this bowl of deliciousness even though I was particularly full by this point.

Charango Barbacoa offers a comfortable dining experience that fits into the vibey and trendy atmosphere offered by the CBD with dishes that complement its setting well. The experience does come at a premium that again, fits in with the expectations of dining in the CBD, but you’ll feel its money well spent upon departure. A vegetarian selection however, is lacking from this experience. While considering that this is essentially a grill house, there is a growing amount of interest in vegetarian menus and this cuts out what is becoming a prominent market in Cape Town.