HOUSE OF CHARRED
PORTEÑO’S OWNERS HAVE TURNED ITS CAPACIOUS VENUE INTO AN EVENTS SPACE AND FIRED UP A SMALLER ONE DOWN THE ROAD.
When chefs Ben Milgate and Elvis Abrahanowicz walked the streets of Sydney to find the perfect venue for their first restaurant (they didn’t own a car), the pair got a few knockbacks. “One lady told us ‘you are not opening some psychedelic rock’n’roll BBQ joint in my building’,” Milgate recalls. This lady was probably right in her description of some of the restaurants the duo have ended up opening, but is probably also regretting she didn’t in fact allow them to do it in her building.
Milgate and Abrahanowicz are speaking to WISH in their fourth restaurant, located on Holt Street in Surry Hills, after moving their renowned Argentineaninfluenced psychedelic rock’n’roll BBQ joint, better known as Porteño, from its first home just up the road on Cleveland Street.
The duo, connected by Abrahanowicz’s brother-inlaw Joe Valore, have kept the original venue and turned it into an events space. They also run Latininfluenced tapas bar Bodega down the road (their very first venue and subject of the aforementioned disparaging comments) and Bodega 1904 in Glebe’s newly refurbished Tramsheds.
“When we first started it was me and Elvis in the kitchen, Elvis’s old man was doing the dishes and helping us do food. Joe was on the floor with Elvis’s wife Sarah and her sister Rachael. It was a family affair. I think there were maybe two staff that weren’t related,” says Milgate. “They were good times. It is very different to now when we have way more people working for us. But we are still here and still working.”
And that includes Abrahanowicz’s “old man” Adan, who still is responsible for stoking the wood fire that heats the oven, the chargrill and the fire pit that is at the very heart of the Argentinean food they serve. “Everyone still has a finger in the business,” adds Valore. “That is probably the reason behind the longevity, I think. And we still love seeing the guests enjoy themselves. That’s what we get the buzz from.”
The new Porteño space is a much more intimate venue; it seats 90 as opposed to 120 at Cleveland Street, which also fits another 150 in the upstairs bar. “It’s more Porteño in a Bodega space,” says Milgate of the Holt Street restaurant. “It was very hard for us when we made the decision to move – we were worried what people might think, because [Cleveland Street] is an amazing location,” Abrahanowicz adds. “It is so grand. So it was always a risk to take. But everyone has been walking away saying they like it more.
“And you can still have them both. You can always go back to Porteño on Cleveland Street: you just have to get married or throw a bar mitzvah.”