This week’s post has nothing to do with French food, but I couldn’t let this one pass, a great restaurant so close to where I live!
After months and months of walking past the old Dimitri’s building on Cleveland Street and wondering how it would all look like once the new owners, Ben Milgate and Elvis Abrahanowicz from the famous Surry Hills tapas restaurant Bodega, would settle in, I finally had all my questions answered last week, after I found some eager carnivorous friends to have dinner at Porteño with me.
It’s around 6:30pm on a Thursday, I am the first from the group to arrive and put my name down with the lovely hostesses. I am then led to the bar upstairs to wait for my friends. There is a vast choice of cocktails, which all sound lovely, but I set my choice on the Santa Rosa, composed of aperol (a bit similar to Campari), blood orange, caramel syrup, lemon juice, grapefruit bitter and adorned with a generous orange zest strip, which turns out delicious.
My friends show up a few minutes later and the hostess leads us straight downstairs to our table, as she explains to us that the restaurant is already filling up quickly, which is impressive considering that they can seat 300 people… looks like the hype is nowhere near fading yet!
The space is simply gorgeous… and huge! They really made an effort in recreating the ambiance of a South American restaurant, be it with the beautiful tiles, the arches, the lights, the music, the pictures on the walls, the cow skins on the couches and of course the much talked-about Argentinian Asado grill… Not that I would know the difference anyway, since it is the first time I have eaten Argentinian food (yes, I have never even been to Bodega, shame on me!), but according to my Mexican dining companion, the whole affair looks very authentic and she is very excited to be here!
Our waiter recommends ordering several dishes to share, as the concept is still very much tapas-style and we decide on the following dishes: Beef Empañadas, Pickled Veal Tongue (!), Mackerels, Blood Sausage with Capsicum, Beef inside Skirt, and a bit of greens for form’s sake, with some Brussels Sprouts.
We start with some bread and Pork Liver parfait, that has quite a strong flavour and doesn’t last long on the table as it is very tasty.
The service is prompt and efficient and soon we see the Pickled Veal Tongue arrive on our table. The very dish I am a bit scared of actually ends up being the highlight of the meal! The thin slices of tongue are soft and melting in the mouth and the taste very subtle. The accompanying vinaigrette’s tanginess is a perfect match for it.
The Beef Empañadas are crunchy but nice and moist inside, with bits of black olives that I particularly like.
The waiter brings us sauces usually served with meat in Argentina, including some Chimichurri, consisting in chopped parsley, garlic, chilli and lemon juice and that we eat so much of that we ask our little sauce dish to be refilled a couple of times!
The Smoked Mackerels pack a punch of flavour, to my other dining companion’s delight, as she is a fan of mackerel. I’m usually not big on strong fish flavours, but I quite enjoy this dish, especially with the seasoning, herbs and accompanying avocado and palm hearts.
The roof, being see-through, lets the remnants of daylight in at the beginning of the meal, but as the night progresses I don’t have enough light to photograph the next dishes, and having previously had bad experiences using a flash in restaurants, I prefer to let it go and enjoy the dishes and the company… Apologies in advance for that!
The Entraña (Beef inside skirt – $32) is served conveniently cut into strips on a wooden board and is very tender and juicy, perfectly cooked.
The Morcilla de Corazon (Blood Sausage with Red Peppers in Garlic – $10) is quite pleasant, it has a pretty sweet taste that is well complemented by the roasted and marinated capsicum and with a bit of Chimichurri sauce.
Another highlight of the meal is the Crispy Fried Brussel sprouts with lentils and Mint – $14: the brussel sprouts are cut in halves and caramelised, with the outer edges almost crunchy… I haven’t had these for years and we all really enjoy them!
I get up and have a look at the open fire Asado grill, where whole animals are being cooked. There is another grill to cook smaller pieces of meat at the back of the open kitchen and it’s really nice to be able to see how the chefs work.
Despite being quite full, we decide to order some desserts and order the South-American Pavlova (having heard much good about it from this blog) and a Chocolate Fondant with Ice-cream, oozing and gooey inside, as it should be. Both are delicious and very rich and we can’t even finish them, the shame… We wash it down with a Macchiato and ask for the bill, a.k.a. la Douloureuse in French! (“the Painful”): $232 = around $78/each, which is not too bad, considering the amount of food we ingested!
All in all, a great experience, I really felt like I was in another world and loved the food, the ambiance, the decor and the service! A great addition to this usually a bit bleak part of Cleveland street, that I warmly recommend.
358 Cleveland Street
Ph: (02) 9212 7766