February 13, 2011


About three years ago I travelled in Argentina for a month and fell in love with the place. It's a beautiful country full of amazingly good people and to top it off, some of the best meat in the world. I would go so far as to say that it is a carnivore's heaven and a vegetarian's hell. I ate so much meat over there that when I came back to Australia I didn't want to see steak again for several months. It's not just the fact that we ate so much of it, but we were spoiled by the quality and taste. So when I first heard that the talented people of Bodega were going to open Porteño, I knew I would be making a visit to see if I could find a little piece of Argentina here in Sydney.

We arrived at the restaurant after driving countless circles around Surry Hills looking for a parking spot. After placing our names on the waiting list we went upstairs to the bar and were seated. The bar is has got great atmosphere and all the staff look very rockabilly cool which I loved. There were a lot of interesting sounding cocktails and C chose the San Carlos whereas I asked for a mocktail of "something fruity" since I was designated driver. We also ordered a tapa from the Bar Menu - I can't remember the exact name but it was a tartare of kingfish and avocado served with tortilla crisps (about $14 or $18). What I do remember is that it tasted awesome. It can get a bit difficult to scoop up the tartare with the tortilla crisps so one might have to resort to fingers which means you get to lick your fingers too.

Finger licking good tartare, the cool bar area and funky cocktails.

We were then taken to a table downstairs and happened to be seated right near the bar, asador grill pit and parilla grill which made for a nice view of the action. Unfortunately both the Cordero a la Cruz (woodfired lamb) and Chanchito a la Cruz (woodfired suckling pig) were sold out so instead we opted for a few other dishes. Our eyes lit up when our waiter brought out chimichurri and salsa - "just like Argentina!" we exclaimed. And so it was with the Chorizo Porteño ($12), both meaty and juicy. Repollitos de Brusela Frito (Crispy Fried Brussel Sprouts with Lentils and Mint, $14) was like a vegetable epiphany. I'd never been a fan of brussel sprouts but these were crisp with a hint of vegie-bitterness and the mint is a perfect touch. Finally the Tira de Asado (beef short ribs, $34) arrives and it's this dish that takes me back to the land of meat aplenty. They were perfectly cooked and so flavoursome. I could almost say "please sir, I want some more" but the serving size is extremely generous and we are practically bursting at the seams by the time I've eaten the last mouthful (the last mouthful is naturally eaten by me, because I am the slowest eater in existence as all my friends know).

Working the parilla grill in style, the best brussel sprouts ever, chorizo and the downstairs bar.

Estrella beer, Tira de Asado and Chimichurri - 3 things to transport you to Argentina.

Our rockabilly-cool waiter said he was impressed that we finished it all and asked if we could even fit in dessert? During the meal I had seen some desserts wafting past to other tables and knew that I needed to make myself acquainted with at least one of them despite being full. So I told the waiter that I would be making use of my dessert stomach and he understood, saying that we were kindred spirits (heehee). The decision wasn't hard, Leche Quemada (burnt milk custard with cumquat jam, dark chocolate ice cream & salted popcorn, $14). On ordering we were informed that the jam was to be made with cherries instead - no complaints from me as cherries are my favourite fruit! The custard was rich and sweet but perfectly balanced by the bitterness of dark chocolate ice cream (when it comes to chocolate icecream, the bitterer the betterer I say) and the other components of the dish. I scraped every little bit off the plate, the only thing left to do would have been to lick it but I decided to exercise some restraint. And when the waiter came to take the plate away? He simply commented "No words need to be said". And so it was with the entire meal, I couldn't fault a thing even if I tried - the service, the atmosphere, the cool-without-attitude attitude and most importantly the fabulous food.

Leche Quemada - no words need to be said.
What: Porteño
Where: 358 Cleveland Street Surry Hills
How much: It ain't cheap but it's worth the money for what you get.

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