You’ll smell it before you see it. Piqueos is bringing Argentinean barbecue and a whole lot of fun to an innocuous Rathdowne Street shopfront.
Owners Shaun Burke and Dave Mills know what they’re doing. Both honed their skills in London: Burke at Gaucho in Piccadilly, Mills at Soho’s Floridita.
The pair came back from the UK determined to create a benchmark Argentine restaurant, and after two years seeking a site, they’ve settled on the increasingly excellent Carlton North. This is 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.
This is the sort of joint where 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 busting shapes to the unrelenting beats of reggaeton. Service is sharp and informed, without any fluff.
The meat is excellent. From the blood-rich skewers of almost spongy ox heart interspersed with onion and sweet red rocoto pepper, to thin slices of sirloin steak. It's all smoky from the charcoal grill and flavour-jammed after a day submerged in chimichurri.
The menu is masterminded by head chef Blair Williams who’s defected from Adelaide to the stoke the coals. He's got moves. There’s brightness and balance in every dish we try. But you’ll see influences from Peruvian sous chef Daniel Salcedo too. His national cuisine adds a little lightness to the many shades of bovine.
Between the meats you’ll have simply dressed radicchio leaves cupping black quinoa (it's a super grain!) heightened with pomegranate seeds.
The ceviche is classic Peruvian styles: a corn studded tumble of sweet, cured John dory with a sweet potato puree and a pool of tiger’s milk– the fiery, limey curing liquid that you could almost take as a shot.
A lot of sweat’s gone into the space. Burke and Mills gutted the room themselves, redressing the building's bones with copper-topped tables, and a centrepiece island bar, all glowing from a hanging forrest of lights.
Big groups should order as many of the small plates as possible from fat empanadas to humita – grilled corn, pureed with cumin served in little husk bon bons. If you’re in a fix decision-wise, do the tasting menu. It’s $60 and just the right amount of everything you want, finishing with Melbourne’s best alfajores: two shortbread cookies sandwiching just-warm dulce de leche.
But we’d be just as keen prop it up at the bar for a couple of snacks and a glass of dry white torrontes from Burke’s all Argentinean wine list. They’ve prioritised good times and good food over gimmicks here, and we'll come back for that every time.