So, here’s my hypothesis on how Porteño gained its aclaim success:
- Use centuries old bbq technique;
- Buy whole animal;
- Cook them over woodfire for a long long time; and
- Wear lots of hairgel.
Located in Surry Hills, Porteño is an Argentinian restaurant that is the pinnacle of cool. It is where the cool crowd flock for a good feed – in a cool Argentinian bbq style. It is one of the hottest restaurant in the dining scene right now and it is becoming even more popular after being recently crowned Gourmet Traveller 2013 Two Stars award and SMH Good Food Guide 2013 Chefs of the Year award. There’s so much hype about this restaurant that made me wonder whether it is actually THAT good.
As always, with popularity, comes scarcity of tables. Bookings can only be taken for groups of 5 or more, and even then, getting a booking for weekends is bloody difficult. Our group settled for table on a Tuesday night as availability on Thursday through to Sunday night was weeks and weeks away. If it was any other restaurant, I’d pass….but I was curious. What’s with all the fuss?
Courted by one of their impeccably dressed waitstaff as I arrived (late again) at the restaurant, I can’t help to feel a bit special and ehem.. cool. What a nice place this is. I get the attraction, it has a sense of exclusivity about it. The décor, furnishing and the ambiance, it’s all very fashionable and glitzy. Think 1950s glamour and style. At Porteño, even the wait staff have hair as slick as Elvis…..
However, the most memorable sight for me was the meat on the asador (fire pit), and the parrilla, a primitive charcoal-burning grill. Now, I am no vego. I could eat a 400g rib eye steak or a full rack of ribs easy. But, I still find this display of the once-breathing-and-walking animal was somewhat confronting. Once I was over that though, I was able to grasp the sense of appreciation for chaste meat-eating that makes this place special. The tantalising smokey aroma from the BBQ was enough to awaken the primal carnivourous instinct in me.
Food here is definitely for sharing. Unless you hate sharing…….that’s ok too, I guess. You want to eat the whole serving of 8 hour woodfired pig by yourself? Sure, be my guess. Or the 8 hour woodfired lamb? Yeah that’s nice too. But that is $44 worth of BBQ meat right there, not to mention tons of saturated fat. Me, I rather spread my dollars, save my calories and indulge in tasting a number of dishes rather than struggling to finish one or two dishes. But hey, if you can eat Man vs.Food style; go for it!
Ensalada Palermo Viejo. Kinda like vegetarian pizza only 10 times better; smokey bbq eggplant, peppers and tahini, and soft boiled quail eggs just blending together into a mouthful of deliciousness. MUST TRY
Porteño’s Pig. Come on…… as if an 8 hour slowly cooked pig on wood fire would not taste good. Moist, juicy, crispy crackling, etc etc…. EIGHT HOUR WOOD FIRED PIG! You know you came for this. Leave your diet at the door and fight over who gets the last piece of crackling. Life is good my friend.
Ok, this place is supposed to be about the meat but I’m loving their side dishes. This one is definitely a winner – Crispy fried brussel sprouts with lentil and mint. Here, they did an extreme makeover to the bitter and boring brussel sprout and transform them to a sexy and tasty dish….crispy, flavoursome and fresh …hubba hubba. Another MUST TRY.
Porteño’s Lamb. Also cooked for 8 hour long on woodfired. Also tender, juicy and awesome crackling. Pretty good if you like lamb or don’t eat pork but if it was a contest and I was the judge; the Pig wins hands down.
Morcilla – Spanish Bood sausage. Pleasantly surprised with this one. It tastes rather nice for a black pudding. Dense, and mildy spiced with peppers and garlic. Definitely not irony and definitely palatable, even if you’re not a fan of eating blood-derived food products. Try if you’re feeling adventurous. You might even end up loving it.
LECHE QUEMADA – Burnt Milk Custard with Cumquat Marmalade & Chocolate Ice Cream. Everyone’s favourite this one was. Creamy and smooth custard with a slight burnt caramel taste. Love the cumquat marmalade and how it adds a zing into this dish. Didn’t think the chocolate icecream was necessary but it complements the custard nonetheless.
TARTA DE QUESO AZUL – Baked Pear & Gorgonzola Tart with Muscat Ice Cream. Table was divided on this one. You either love it or you don’t. One of my friends thought it tasted a bit off or weird. I beg to differ. I am a HUGE fan of blue cheese and thought this dessert was creative, interesting and delicious. I like how it plays with savoury and sweet concept and thought it was well executed. Try if you like funky tasting cheese like me
BISCOCHO AL LICÓR - Rum Baba with Chocolate Cream, Pistachio & Orange Ice Cream. I didn’t like the Rum Baba itself, too sweet and bready for me. However, I loved everything else on the plate.
So….. I get it. I get the attraction and the hype. This place does great food, great cocktail and amaaaaaazing atmosphere. I won’t go as far as saying that it was the best meal of my life but there’re definitely a few dishes that I’d come back for; eg. the woodfired pig, ensalada, crispy brussel sprout, the custard pudding and the sgropinno (not a dish per se but I certainly can drink that all night).
$-wise. Go with a group of friends and you could save quite considerably. For all that food I paid about $75 including cocktails (5 ppl sharing). I think value-wise it’s pretty good value. What do you think?