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Hotel Argentina Bringing Beunos Aires to Williamstown

*ADVISED 16/2 CLOSED FOR NOW. Hellenic Hotel in Williamstown has been transformed into a modern Argentinian bar, grill and wine cellar, Hotel Argentina. The World Loves Melbourne was invited along for the Argentinian experience near the sea. Hotel Argentina is a revelation with affordable dishes, a sense of fun, and lively menu featuring recipes of super talented head chef Dan Szwarc.

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Light, vibrant vibe near the sea - how we like it.

Helmed by Argentinian-born and raised Head Chef Dan Szwarc, Hotel Argentina is inspired by the tastes, the smells, the celebrations and traditions of his childhood. Engaging with Dan during our dinner, he would reference childhood memories with dishes. (His mother must be an epic cook). Of course Dan styles these recipes for restaurant presentation.

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Head Chef Dan Szwarc is a revelation with X factor. He has translated the magical recipes of his childhood in Argentina to Williamstown.

Dan says: “Growing up in Argentina, almost any time we were together as a family it just organically, automatically, turned into a feast; lots of dishes to share, lots of conversation and, for me, lots of happy memories. That’s the feeling I want our guests to have at Hotel Argentina. It’s food from the heart.”

Designed to be both a destination venue and an always welcoming homecoming for regulars, Hotel Argentina is a bright vibrant space, unlike the dark brooding Argentinian spaces we are accustomed to.

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Grab some sourdough with cultured butter and spoon brilliant Fire roasted heirloom peppers, basil, fennel seeds. The peppers are cooked in a way that takes out the heat and brings a sweetness.

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Grilled octopus "escabeche" with palm hearts is a fabulous zesty dish (right) with Heirloom peppers a tasty and artistic looking dish (right).

The main restaurant, Areco, presents a light and fresh menu, designed to complement its port location, with a focus on the grill, seafood, meat and salads. Fittingly, Szwarc undertook his culinary studies in another port destination, Buenos Aires, at the prestigious cookery school, The BUE Trainers. At Hotel Argentina there is no pressure on customers - you can simply graze or go large. Versatility in dining is the modern way.

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Delightful Malbec from Argentina.

The menu opens with a wonderful long list of picadas (sharing plates) to choose from including provoleta, eucalyptus honey, oregano, the grilled octopus escabeche with hearts of palm, and the rainbow chard buñuelos, queso fresco and garlic cream.

We were able to sample empanadas available upstairs at Dan's Empanada Bar.

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Extraordinary Beef Tartare with poached egg and gruyere was one of the best tartare dishes I've eaten. Comfort food and creamy triumph as you mix together the ingredients with a spoon. Different to the French version and we loved it.

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Another revelation was the Grilled veal tongue, tomato sauce, white anchovies.

The menu then moves to vegetales + ensaladas (vegetables + salads), among them charred sweet potato, crème fraiche and goat’s cheese, and the eggplant and onion rescoldowith gremolata and cocina(kitchen) – the slow cooked pork hock, green papaya salsa criolla, is a favourite among the team.

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Golden snapper was perfectly cooked, white flesh and slightyl sweet.

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Kudos for the crispy skin.

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Roasted pumpkin, yoghurt, puffed quinoa was delightful.

Then, to share – or not – the parrilla, plancha + espiedo (grill, flat grill + rotisserie) boasts ojo de bife (Scotch fillet), lomo (tenderloin), asado (beef short-ribs) and chorizo(house sausage) not to mention langostinos (whole King prawns), pesca del dia (whole fish or fish fillet), pollo(half or whole chicken) and espiedo del dia (the spit special) all hot off the fire.

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Asado beef short ribs is a top cut of meat with perfect chewy flavour. Served with red chimichurri and mustard.

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Chips and salad spot on.

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Sparkling wine at Hotel Argentina.

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Australian Malbec hit the high notes.

Look to the drinks list for a selection of South American and Australian wines and beer and leave room for postre (dessert) – especially the quince pasta frola with cream cheese and ice cream. We enjoyed both Argentinian and Australian Malbec - each brilliant in its own way but the Australian Malbec was a stellar wine with well rounded softer tannins.

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Dessert is also a triumph with Summer meringue, fresh berries, rose hip sorbet and the Alfajor Helado, milk chocolate, walnuts, marshmallow.

For those after something a little more casual, or some wine to take away, Bodega is Hotel Argentina’s wine cellar. At the front of the venue, patrons can take a seat at a high top, make their selection from the range, and enjoy an almost endless spread, or just a taste, of picadas.  

And upstairs, Friday – Sunday, 12noon till close, find a little gold at Dan’s Empanada Bar. Empanadas, those golden, hot, flaky crescents packed with flavour, are, of course, second nature to Dan, growing up in the empanada capital of the world, and draw from his family’s recipes and traditions. 

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Expect a mix of six traditional fillings with a twist: CRIOLLA, braised beef, onion, egg and olives, J&Q, glazed ham, kefalograviera cheese and smoked chili, PORTUGUESA, rotisserie chicken and fire roasted peppers, along with vegetarian options including EMPANAKOPITA, wild greens, feta and ricotta cheese, HONGOS, wild mushrooms, sage and béchamel, and HUMITA, creamed corn and mozzarella cheese, each distinguished by its own unique crescent shape. At the time of this article $20 for 6 hand made empanadas is great value.

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Dan studied at The BUE Trainers, one of the most prestigious cookery schools in Buenos Aires. He then went to work at prominent venues including the Park Hyatt Buenos Aires, Claridge Hotel and Gate Gourmet before moving to London to work under Peter Kromberg at the Intercontinental Hotel.

Dan arrived in Melbourne in 2002 to work at Le Restaurant at Sofitel Hotel with Marcus Moore before moving to Number 8 at Crown. He opened Les Boucheries Parisiennes with Philippe Aubron, later joining Joseph Vargetto at Oyster Little Bourke. Dan rounded his experience at the Albert Park Hotel, Livebait and the celebrated Fenix with Raymond Capaldi and Gary Mehigan before moving to Hellenic Republic Brunswick and then transitioning to Hellenic Hotel Williamstown - now Hotel Argentina. Highly recommended.