Friday 10 December 2010

porteño, surry hills

I have visited Porteño twice now, and I am a huge fan.

The first time I visited, we arrived at 7pm and the restaurant waiting list was already full for the whole night. I can tell you it wasn’t just the pigs that felt gutted.
Instead we headed upstairs to sip on cocktails and snack on the well-thought-out bar menu.

For the second visit, I booked Sunday lunch for six and scored a table in the brightly lit interior.

No expense has been spared decorating Porteño. Even the water glasses are Riedel, the tabletops are grey speckled marble, handmade decorations like the hide and wood screen at the entrance, the waiters' amazing rockabilly uniforms and chocolate leather aprons.

Everything is immaculate and gives you a sense of stepping into an elegant Spanish villa, exposed brick and whitewashed walls, old tiled floors and cut out windows to peer from the upstairs bar down to the sun-drenched indoor courtyard. It's the perfect Sunday lunch ambience and a classy salute to the Argentinean asador.

We started our meals with an aperitif and I went for an Americano, the Campari and red vermouth poured over hand-carved ice and the soda elegantly served in a separate beaker.

The asado burnt fervently and chefs Elvis Abrahanowicz and Ben Milgate stood over their marble workspace, sleeves rolled up to expose their ink, as they eagerly await the first orders to be placed.

Abrahanowicz (Adan) stands solemn as he tends the fire and turns blistering chorizo over the parilla. He’s a renown chef in his own right, having marked his territory on the Sydney dining scene with Bodega’s side venture Argentinean Cocina.

Milgate and Abrahanowicz Jnr are patient as we snap photos. They’re no doubt under attack from food tourists every day and, with the number of blogs that have already descended upon Porteño, I’m sure they’re reluctantly getting used to the pervasive food paparazzi.

Because we all know it’s hard being fabulous.

To kick our meal off we are given two sauces, garlicky chimichurri that has a mild kick but is oilier than other versions I’ve tried, and criolla which has red chilli, onion and oil but which is more sweet than spicy.

The house baked bread ($2pp) comes warm and soft, perfect for scooping up the olive oil and pork pâté accompaniments.

But you don’t want to fill up on bread.

Instead we munched down flaky beef empanadas ($4ea), and the house pork and beef salami ($10).

For wine, we try a 2009 Fefinanes albarino from Rias Baixas, Spain ($89), its dry acidic edge cutting through the fats of the meats we sup upon.

First up was the pickled veal tongue (Lengua En Escabeche $8), probably one of my favourite dishes of the day. The texture was firm but easily broken with a fork, gently acidic and flavoursome without any strong offal edge. Amazing.

The blood sausage (morcilla $10) was ultra soft and served with sweet roast red peppers and garlic to counteract the iron intensity.

Another clear winner was the veal sweet breads (Mollejas De Corazon $16), the thick slices of spongy, fatty tissue melted in my mouth and the caramelised edges added an exquisite flavour and texture. This was superb, although not everyone at the table could handle it.

With the white wine finished in a blink, we went red with the 2005 Beronia Reserva from Rioja, Spain ($84). It’s not a fancy tempranillo, but it’s a good, honest drop that never fails to satisfy with its soft fruits.

A perfectly cooked beef inside skirt (Entraña $32) was flavoursome and pink inside with crusty charred edges, but the cut had sinew running through it, dampening the experience.

Luckily there was absolutely nothing to complain about when it came to the woodfired suckling pig (Chanchito A La Cruz $48). The skin was wafer thin and crisped to perfection, while the meat melted after 8 hours of roasting, crucified, on the asado. It was amazing, but for $48 it seemed a slightly small portion.
Maybe I was just feeling greedy?

The vegetables we ordered (yes, we ordered vegetables) did not disappoint either. A silverbeet salad with pinenuts, anchovy dressing and whole parlsey leaves (Espinaca Con Piniones Y Anchoas $14) was good, but my shock favourite were the crispy fried brussel sprouts with lentils and mint (Repollitos De Brusela Frito $14) that could convert any sprout hater to a major fan. The brussel sprouts were crunchy on the outside and soft in the middle, without even the slightest hint of bitterness. I could have eaten the whole plate if I hadn’t been so full of meaty goodness.

But there’s always room for dessert, right?

Again, the dessert I imagined would be my favourite turned out to be my least.  Don’t get me wrong, it was delicious, it’s just that the dessert I wasn’t so keen on turned out to actually be worth all the hype it’s been getting.

The Leche Quemada ($14) was a take on South American flan, a burnt milk custard with a rich texture and slightly caramel flavour. It was drizzled with sticky cumquat jam and served with salted popcorn and dark chocolate ice cream. Good (the salted popcorn was inspired), but there were better things to come.

Such as the chocolate fondant-esque pudding ($14),  filled with oozing dulce de leche and served with a scoop of banana ice cream. There’s not much that can beat oozing dulce de leche.

But in my opinion the Postre Chajá ($14) deserves all the media fuss it’s getting because the Porteño crew have taken this simple Uruguayan dessert and upped the ante. Shards of meringue, soft sponge crumbs, sous vide mango, swirls of dulce de leche and salty peanuts make the perfect combination of sweet, salty and fruity.

But the pastry chef at our table found it a little too sweet and the table voted fifty-fifty between the Postre Chajá and  Leche Quemada for campeona absoluta.

I’ll be back for more cocktails and more food, because there are still so many things on the menu that I want to try.

The bill was not cheap, but it was worth every greasy, carnivorous cent. And then some.

358 Cleveland Street
Surry Hills NSW 2010
(02) 8399 1440

Dinner: Tuesday to Saturday from 6pm
Lunch: Sunday from 12pm
Bar: Tuesday - Saturday 6pm - late; Sundays  2pm - late

Porteno on Urbanspoon


  1. What a feast!!! Not sure I'll be able to handle the sweetbreads nor blood sausage either, but the suckling pork for sure!
    I've heard lots of similar comments about the pricing and size of the roast plates - I think I'll have to save my 'greasy, carnivorous cents' till next year though.

  2. tina - it's worth it. really. every cent. i'm looking forward to trying the spiced eggplant, lamb ribs and the fourth dessert they offer.

  3. If you want to go again.. I'll be your date..

  4. Lacks enough shout outs


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