The popular South American joint rises from the ashes
Update: After a fire that caused extensive damage to their building in Surry Hills, Porteño and Gardel's Bar will reopen on Tue Apr 21 with a new menu – grilled queso fresco, seasonal vegetables and chimichurri? Yes, please! – and new charcoal grills. "It will be the only one in town," co-owner Elvis Abrahanowicz tells Time Out. "It's the ultimate grill." As for Gardel's? "It's still going to be all about our house-cured cold cuts and cheeses, but there's some new drinks on the menu." Check back for our updated reviews of Porteño and Gardel's Bar in the coming weeks.
Smoke; meat; salt; fire; beers; rock'n'roll and a tonne of Brylcreem all mingle in pursuit of the ultimate good time. And who better to deliver than the dudes behind Bodega? In the kitchen, co-chefs/best mates Ben Milgate and Elvis Abrahanowicz work the grills, so quoiffed and tattooed they look like they've just stepped out of an especially stylish 1950s prison kitchen. Maitre d' Sarah Doyle runs the floor in platinum pin curls. Sommelier/co-owner Joe Valore could easily take you for a spin around the dance floor while pouring you a glass of wine. They all want you to have a blast.
Call it Rockabilly Bar and Grill. Call it the new lounge room of the cream of Sydney hospitality. Call it the best South American restaurant Sydney's ever seen. Just don't call it Bodega. If you go in with the expectation of a maxi-version of the original tapas restaurant you may be disappointed. Here's how to get the most out of the joint: hit the bar upstairs (if you've arrived past seven you'll have to anyway - tables here are hot property) and order one of Gardel's bar manager Julian Serna's cocktails such as the Palermo Hollywood (tequila, apple juice, vanilla, cinnamon, sage) or kick back with an Estrella beer, which they have on tap. Either stand at the bar and chat to the crack team making your drinks or take a seat in the huge, opulent lounge area including - wait for it - an antique foosball table. Si!
Then head downstairs and smash the snacks. It's all about how you order here, and like at Bodega, how many people you bring to the party to share your food. We'd suggest six so you can book a table (they don't take booking for smaller parties). Start with the house-made bread served with the rough-and-rich pork pâté as a set up for some of the empanadas. There's beef, which you may have tried at Bodega and a new one - broccoli and ricotta. Get some of each.
It's in dishes such as the barbecued calamari where you start to see Milgate and Abrahanowicz flex some generously inked muscle. Tendrils of calamari legs wrap around pickled green tomato pieces bound lightly in citrus and olive oil. The boys' take on ceviche is a winner too: a jumble of cured kingfish is bedazzled with sweet potato crisps and hunks of corn. It's the sweetness and acidic crispness and that slight sticky starchiness from the raw corn that all work together so well in this elegant take on the rustic dish. And while it's possible to visit this restaurant without hitting the serious meat, you'd be missing out on the sweet-as-a-nut veal sweetbreads. These chubby, light-yet-rich clouds of thymus are as tender as only a young calf's glands can be.
You can't come to Porteño and not order something from one of the whole beasts cooked over a fruitwood fire on a metal brace that looks like a medieval torture instrument. This, folks, is the asador - a hangover from Argentina's cowboy days. Try a bit of Suffolk lamb shin or some of the amazing crisp-skinned suckling pig. Or can we sway you to order the suckling pig head? Use your fingers and pick out the meat from behind the jaw, not to mention all that rosy scorched skin. Break up the festival of meat with the potato salad with preserved lemon and halves of sunset-yolked boiled egg. Oh, and don't leave without the crisp-fried Brussels sprouts, all sweet, sticky and crisp.
If you haven't keeled over in a food coma, have the postre chaja - Porteño's version of a pavlova with pieces of sous vide mango, dulce de leche, peanuts, sponge cake and broken up bits of meringue. It's the pick of the desserts for us, though you might give the burnt milk custard with cumquat jam and chocolate ice cream a whirl.
Porteño has set the pace. Let's see if other restaurants can keep up.