Winners: Blair Williams, Daniel Salcedo, Piqueos
South American restaurants are generally better known for meat, smoke and fun than precision cooking. But there’s an extra element of sizzle to the food at Piqueos that sets it above its Latino cousins, and for that you can thank head chef Blair Williams who comes to Carlton from Inque in Adelaide, and his Peruvian sous Daniel Salcedo. Williams balances off the meat-heavy dishes of Argentina – blood-rich cubes of ox heart and slices of chimichurri-slicked sirloin steak, all smoky from the charcoal-fuelled grill – with some lighter Peruvian influences. Perhaps it will be radicchio and quinoa salads bejewelled with pomegranate, and a sharp fiery cebiche of John Dory and sweet corn rolling in chilli, onion and lime with a satiny sweet potato puree. There’s brightness and balance in every dish. And it’s not just the kitchen that makes eating at Piqueos such a raging good time. Owners Shaun Burke and Dave Mills honed their knowledge of Argentinean meats and malbec in London, and after two years seeking a site in Melbourne, they opened this bronze and bare brick house of South American food and fun in Carlton North. Piqueos presents one of those rare cases where a young team’s enthusiasm and ideas are matched punch for punch by the discipline and talent required to pull them off. Read: your Pisco Sour will be a tight balance of lime, pisco, egg white and bitters but they’ll make it in a milkshake maker. Probably while throwing shapes to the unrelenting beats of Reggaeton. Come simply for a fat empanada and a drink at the long copper bar or bring a posse and do the $65 tasting menu finishing with Melbourne’s best alfajores: two shortbread cookies sandwiching still-warm dulce de leche. Either way, good times are guaranteed.
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