358 Cleveland St, Surry Hills (map)
(02) 8399 1440
It was a brilliantly sunny Sunday afternoon and I was in Surry Hills with the gorgeous Miss C, nearing the end of my somewhat hedonistic long weekend in Sydney. The smell of roasting meat was growing stronger as we approached the large, white-washed building.
Inside was Porteño, the new Argentinian barbecue and grill restaurant opened by Ben Milgate and Elvis Abrahanowicz (the tattooed twosome from nearby tapas bar Bodega). As soon as we entered, the black and white tiles, heavy red velvet curtains, polished dark timber and black wrought iron helped put us in a South American mood.
We were meeting my housemate and some Sydney friends for lunch. On our way to our table, we checked out the kitchen and admired the asador pit and the slicked-back rockabilly vibe from the boys.
Thanks to the lovely Fooderati, Sydney food blogger/gal about town, for not only recommending that I try out the place but that I try to make it for Sunday lunch. The tiled sun-drenched courtyard/atrium was a sensational setting for my last meal in Sydney.
Cocktails to start: the menu described the Aereolineas Argentinas cocktail as an Aviation-inspired spin on an "outrageous" martini. My highly suggestible housemate and I nodded our heads approvingly - outrageous! Aviation gin, maraschino, lemon juice and cherry, lily and star anise syrup served with a touch of orange bitters.
Our friendly hostess was the COMPLETELY fabulous FOH manager Sarah Doyle, whose 50s-style dress, lipstick and immaculately styled hair made her a glam cross between Betty Draper and Eva Perón.
The waiters were similarly well groomed and dapperly attired.
To start with, we shared some marinated olives ($8) and two kinds of empanadas ($4 each), beef and broccoli & ricotta.
Because one at our table was not a meat eater we decided to get three seafood dishes, and I'm so glad we did. All three of them were excellent. The first was the ceviche peruano (Peruvian ceviche, $18) with kingfish, corn, cucumber, coriander, sweet potato chips and a sprinkling of rich bottarga shaved over the top.
Seafood dish #2 was pinkly pouting grilled tuna with tender asparagus and chargrilled jalapeño on a bed of thick, garlicky sauce ($22). The chargrilled jalapeños were a particular highlight, and we mopped up the very last of that sauce.
Our other seafood dish was BBQ calamari with pickled green tomato and chilli ($18). The serve was a little on the small side but the calamari that was there was beautifully tender, and the chilli had a real kick to it.
To balance all the MEAT on the second half of the menu, there are six different vegetarian accompanying dishes to choose from. We enjoyed the ensalada de remolacha ($14) of roasted beetroot, witlof, blood orange, radish and walnut.
We ordered the cordero a la cruz, aka the woodfired Suffolk lamb ($42), which was brought to us on a heaped wooden board. Oh wowowowow. They grill it "on the cross", strapped to the rack over the asador, for over 6 hours. It tastes magnificent.
We also polished off a bottle of Argentinian Malbec.
The other meat we had was the bife de chorizo ($38), a dry aged Coorong Angus sirloin still nice and rare on the inside. My mouth waters at the memory.
Neither Miss C nor I couldn't resist downing a quick glass of La Goya Manzanilla before dessert.
At the start of the meal I'd told everyone that we HAD to make sure we tried the postre chajá ($14), the Uruguayan style pavlova I'd read about on The Unbearable Lightness of Being Hungry. OH MY GOD. It was as though they'd deliberately structured my dream dessert: sous vide mango cheeks, soft sponge, meringue, peanuts and dulce de leche. As you can imagine with an ingredients list like that, it's ridiculously sweet... but it was a tropical fruity, salted caramelly TRIUMPH.
If I hadn't been defeated by the pavlova I'd've tried a spoonful of R's outrageously rich looking chocolate pudding, oozing dulce de leche and accompanied by a scoop of banana sorbet ($14).
Porteño is definitely not cheap, but I'd return in a heartbeat. In the few weeks since I went, it's received restaurant review love letters from both Terry Durack and Pat Nourse, so I imagine it will be nigh on impossible to get a table for at least the next six months. But don't let that stop you trying - it's worth it.