Porteño re­born

How’s it shape up in the new digs?

Time Out (Sydney) - - INSIDE - Edited by Emily Lloyd-Tait time­out.com/syd­ney

WHEN PORTENO FIRST opened in 2010, it shook the Syd­ney din­ing scene to its core. It remixed din­ner to a fre­netic rock­a­billy beat, fu­elled it with fire and sparked a Latin Amer­i­can boom that swept across the city like an af­ter­shock. It was also so achingly cool that six years later there were still queues for that 6pm sit­ting to en­sure you got the prime cut from the eight-hour lamb cooked over the asado. They made the hum­ble Brus­sels sprout a high fash­ion bras­sica at their Cleveland Street venue, with its vaulted ceil­ings, wrap-around mez­za­nine and in­door firepit. Ev­ery­one wanted to host a pri­vate event at Porteño, and ev­ery­one wanted to eat here too. So the so­lu­tion was to move the restau­rant into the long, nar­row digs on Holt Street in Surry Hills va­cated by MoVida, and do both. The new venue lacks some of the sparkle of the old but the good news is that you can now book ta­bles, even if you’re only a party of two. They brought their open char­coal grill and a demi asado with them, and you can eat up at the bar in the heart of the ac­tion.

They’ve taken the op­por­tu­nity to shake up the menu a lit­tle, and so the first thing they’ll tell you when you sit down is that the Brus­sels sprouts are gone. Calm your­self. You’re about to re­ceive a sting­ing flavour high five that will make you for­get all about those crisp, fried veg­gies. It starts with a fresh, light salad of tomato slices, cu­cum­ber, hon­ey­dew melon and fiery gar­lic, all made slip­pery with olive oil. We fol­low it up with spice-rubbed cala­mari ten­drils cooked over the coals and served on cu­cum­bers three ways – fresh, pick­led, sour – with an oys­ter cream that has a coy brini­ness to it.

The Wagyu skirt is as lux­u­ri­ously juicy as you re­mem­ber, with that deep, savoury flavour that comes from grass-fed cat­tle raised up in north Queens­land. Our bar­tender tells us that he only eats red meat twice a year and it’s this steak – we agree it’s meat worth cav­ing for.

The whole op­er­a­tion is a lot more com­pact here, so there’s only two whole pigs over the coals, and in­stead of a straight shot of pro­tein when you or­der the an­i­mal of the day they’ve gone for more com­posed dishes, adding al­mond cream and charred broc­coli for a com­plete meal on one plate.

We could do with a lit­tle more light and shade on the menu. The rich­ness of the sweet­breads, house­made mor­cilla and grilled meats makes you yearn for some­thing crisp and zippy, and un­less cheese is your life, a whole pan of salty, bub­bling pro­volone sprin­kled with sweet pep­pers and green onions might be too much of a good thing.

Let sweet lady booze be the punc­tu­a­tion be­tween dishes. You might want a soft, blush­ing, sparkling rosé that smells like meringue to cleanse your palate; a heav­ier hit­ter is a clas­sic Amer­i­cano. Or you can hit the re­set but­ton on your belly with a glass of Mon­tene­gro over ice with a squeeze of fresh or­ange. At this point if you can still move with­out a wad­dle you need to or­der the flan. It’s a per­fect baked cus­tard swim­ming in a dark caramel sauce – salt caramel and cream on top is re­ally just gild­ing the lily at this point. Bet­ter yet, get the bit­ter­sweet grape­fruit sor­bet served in­side the fruit skin un­der a lid of frozen amaro cream for ul­ti­mate re­fresh­ment.

You can eat up at the bar in the heart of the ac­tion

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