Ah, Melbourne alleyways: effortlessly bringing together urinating drunks and well shod diners who seek the restaurant gems hiding bashfully behind a dumpster. Portello Rosso is one such gem, but being in one of the less dodgy alleyways, the fear of getting a little bit stabbed or accidently winding up at B grade karaoke is much reduced. Still, the name is yet to reach the tip of everyone`s lips, meaning that (fairly) reasonably priced tapas with all the quality and creativity you would expect of the rival MoVida dynasty can be yours - with less of an awkward, elbowy wait for a table.
Passing through the huge sliding doors-come-blackboards and into the cunningly sectioned space filled with lightly hued wooden tables and pools of soft light, you feel like you are entering a Basque wine cave that could very well be harbouring rogue moustachioed senors as well as the CDB diners. Versatile, you can pick from prime date nooks upstairs, bar spots for a paella sans amigos, or else you can dominate the more raucous shared centrepiece tables.
If you do have numbers on your side, we recommend that you approach the menu using as little caution as possible. Steer off the beaten track of patatas bravas and churros con chocolate (not to imply that they aren`t excellent) and take the trail less well beaten to death. Cubes of stick-to-your-fingers pork belly with a tangy skordalia-esque counterpoint (almond-garlic puree) for $6 each and a yellow fin tuna, green lentil, tomato and pomegranate salad ($14.50) should put some pepper in your pocket, and instil enough faith in chefs Aaron Whitney and Kevin Liang to test out their other creations. Fragrant rabbit filo parcels with tomato, cinnamon and cardamom relish, or sherry-caramel yoghurt on mint, sweetcorn and zucchini fritters, for example. This latter is sweet and tart, fried yet fresh, and awesome. For the benefit of the authenticity police, the beverage list is more than 50% Spanish, boasting a decent list of Spanish wines, sidras (cider) and sherries, and, whilst it will set you back $24 for 30g, eating the famous Iberian Jamon, (acorn reared, and air cured prosciutto-like ham) will make you as happy as, well, a pig who spent its entire life eating acorns.
It`s bemoaned that good cheap tapas is impossible to find in Melbourne, and whilst this is still a tiny bit pinchy compared to say, a night at Shanghai Dumpling House, the quality means you definitely get a decent bang for your buck, and service with an actual smile to boot.
Eating Spanish solo is sadder than riding a tandem bike alone, so take a group and hit the jamon and tapas at this seductive laneway boudoir. Numbers: up to 16. $42 pp.