Bodega’s got its groove back. Not that it really went away, it just took a little breather while chefs Ben Milgate and Elvis Abrahanowicz opened Argentine barbecue pit to the stars, Porteño. They’re back now, splitting their time between here and there, working their brand of denim-clad, Brylcreemed magic and frying some mean eggs while they’re at it.
The little Surry Hills tapas bar’s been given a whole new look. From the plush, dusty-blue bar seats and banquettes to the black lacquered ceiling and an antique pink flamingo hiding amongst a tangle of plants, the place as a whole is lighter, fresher and sleeker. It’s certainly a little more them.
‘Them’, by the way, is Milgate, Abrahanowicz, Sarah
and Rachel Doyle and Joe Valore. The close-knit family – some of them are married to each other, others are related, and they’re all besties – all rolled up their sleeves, chipped a few nails and got the whole job done themselves in just under three weeks.
The menu is a flamboyant mash-up of South American and Spanish snacking, and also features a short cocktail list, put together by Porteño’s barman, Simon McGoram. Beer and a Smoke is a beer spiked with hot sauce garnished with a smoky mezcal float, rimmed with a peppery coriander salt crust. Or get trashy with a Kalimotxo – that’s a red wine and Coke, innit.
Don’t miss the fluffy, sweet, buttery rich and salty buttermilk pancakes with maple butter. They’re topped with a rough, deep golden puck of salt cod and slow-cooked egg and a shower of green onion. Break open the puck, let the scarlet egg yolk run into the maple butter then get a bit of everything on your fork. Eyes-roll-to-the-back-of-your-head good.
They’re also dipping into Abrahanowicz’s Polish-Argentine roots with the hefty pork and sweetbread cabbage rolls. These were a mainstay when Bodega first opened in August 2006 and we’re very pleased to see they’re back. The soft, sweet mince is mixed with black grapes and wrapped in cabbage leaves and the whole thing is steamed and adorned with a tall rib of crisp-fried cabbage.
Fish fingers are still on the menu, of course (there’d be uproar if the garlic-rubbed toasted sourdough topped with raw kingfish, cuttlefish and shavings of cured tuna were taken off). And so is the steamed milk bun with barbecued veal tongue and crab mayo. They’re joined by the likes of arepas – a crisp little corncake filled with fresh cheese (casa fresca) and refried beans. And – oh boy! – devilled eggs with soft, silken rags of house-smoked ham.
Veggos, go for the Andean salad, a mess of quinoa (it’s an ancient grain!) and crisped-up potato skins. And if you dig on a steak, the wagyu skirt (not too wagyu fatty, but still rich, with great chew) comes with a super-dense, almost paste-like béarnaise sauce. For an extra $8, you get a plate of fried eggs covered in onion rings.
If you’re not shallow breathing and meat-blind by now, you haven’t done it right. But then, it also means you can order up the cheesecake sundae with the surprisingly refreshing and not-too-carroty carrot ice cream.
Bodega remains as no-bookings-y as it ever has been, apart from one vital fact: you can book if you’re a table of five or more. We’re big on either going early, or putting our names down and hammering a few cocktails at nearby Button Bar
This Surry Hills stalwart is firing on all cylinders – get down and tilt some glasses.