IN THE Secrets In Their Eyes — a superb Argentinian film from 2009, more recently remade with Julia Roberts — a killer is finally pinpointed thanks to his ardour for a Buenos Aires football team. ‘A guy can change his girlfriend, his religion, his god,’ reasons one investigator, ‘but he can’t change his passion.’
And passion is the quality that palpably recurs as I visit the city. Passion for dance, for beef and malbec, for friendship and family, for antiques, art and music. And, yes, passion for football.
That movie villain supports Racing Club but I instead watch River Plate at their El Monumental stadium (from £44, viagogo.com). It’s a vast bowl beside an airport where jumbo jets suddenly loom overhead while fans drum and chant relentlessly. When River go two goals down, the volume only increases; as they equalise, I’m sure the pandemonium must be audible in London.
River’s great rivals, Boca Juniors, hail from working-class quarter La Boca, whose mustard- and mint-coloured houses I find incredibly charming. Later I snake between 5,000 densely packed mausoleums in Recoleta Cemetery to find the one that houses suffrage heroine Eva Perón.
Then I cycle — bikes are free for an hour (buenosaires.gob.ar/ecobici) — around the Bosques De Palermo park, where residents perform yoga moves or inch along tightropes. The whole city seems to be here.
Also busy is Retiro, a district noted for its leather stores. But I’ve come to explore another Argentinian staple. Like barbecue, the word ‘asado’ means both the act of grilling and the accompanying social gathering. Ranked among Latin America’s finest restaurants, Nuestro Secreto did the best asado I tried: platters of offal and stacks of butter-soft steaks (five-course lunches from £47, fourseasons.com/buenosaires). ‘We eat this way most Sundays,’ a local friend laughs as I slump, vanquished. ‘It’s normal.’
If the Four Seasons is too pricey, fear not: I encounter cheaper parrillas (grills) everywhere and, judged solely on an olfactory basis, many seem (or smell) top-notch. You can also economise by visiting Buenos Aires with Norwegian: the airline has just commenced direct flights from Gatwick in the UK’s first low-cost service to Latin America.
Further south lies the old barrio of San Telmo. Here, among antique shops and artisanal dulce de leche stores, a slower pace and more boho air prevails. Below the Mercado San Telmo’s glass roof and peeling iron arches, on the corner of Calle Defens and Carlos Calvo, trendy twentysomethings gather at food stalls.
A ten-seat empanada joint called El Hornero (£5.50 for three and a beer, Carlos Calvo 495) looks best but I’ve got to dash: there’s tango to catch across town at the Esquina Carlos Gardel theatre. What a show it proves too: dancing couples segue in seconds from saucy, slow-mo gropes to acrobatic triple twists. It’s astonishing and undeniably sexy (show, drinks and transfers from £55, esquinacarlosgardel.com.ar).
Nearby Palermo is Buenos Aires’ biggest district. Among five sub-areas, Palermo Soho boasts most of the action. Late, late at night, everyone heads to cocktail bars like Uptown And The Bronx and its mimic NYC subway station (uptownba.com) or speakeasies including Frank’s, whose daily password is teased on its Instagram page (instagram.com/franks_bar). By day, I ignore clothing boutiques in favour of wandering through side streets festooned with murals. Nevertheless, Palermo Soho still feels slightly like Shoreditch or Brooklyn, places that know they’re cool but whose original edge has been partially blunted.
For those reasons I prefer adjacent Chacarita and the still-authentic vibe of its scruffier streets. Rita, a former florist turned cool corner restaurant, serves me a quality cortado (£1,80, facebook.com/ritarestaurante), while leaf-swathed bookstore Falena surprises behind weathered wooden gates (falena.com.ar). The reliable metro whizzes me onwards again. Musicians are omnipresent amid stations and carriages — I meet rappers and even a mini soul band — and most impress.
One young violinist does his thing with closed eyes and a broad grin; he’s having a blast. Applause breaks out, then congratulations are bellowed. Passion, I think, as my train arrives.
Return flights from £589 per person, flying four times a week, norwegian.com/uk
Doubles from £106 at CasaSur Bellini, casasurhotel.com/bellini