Tuesday, September 28, 2010
Attention has been magnified on 358 Cleveland St, Surry Hills, for a long time. We'd all been keeping watch on Porteno, the new venture by the folks behind the beloved Bodega tapas bar. My friend Al proved to be a great deployer of Porteno updates, texting me handy info whenever he came across some. He was highly keen about the place long before it had even opened – I think we were all Porteno enthusiasts, much before we even knew what it would really be like.
So Porteno opened a fortnight ago, Al was there from the first evening and I very much enjoyed his reviews of it. As he said to me, "you'll love it, but," addressing Will, "you'll love it more!" And there it was – as a vegetarian, I wasn't sure how to graduate my excitement about the opening of an Argentinean barbecue place. Full-grind enthusiasm wasn't likely, but I do love Bodega, and, ironically, really good vego food can be found in places you least suspect (eg Rockpool Bar & Grill – I still think about its Oven-Burnt Pumpkin in Garlic Yogurt).
I rang ahead to find out if Porteno offered any vego content at all, and, was quite pleasantly told that yes, there was, as one of the folks involved in the restaurant was a vegetarian (not something you'd expect at a South American grill house!), it was important that the menu accommodated that. In the bar, where you can switch between a lavender-adorned cocktail or the monster strength of something absinthe-powered, you can grease your fingers on Vegetable Fritters with Aioli or Corn & Mahon Cheese Croquettes* ($10 each), or if you get a seat in the dining area, you can stripmine the menu for excellent Broccoli & Ricotta Empanadas, or, if you like dill, Goat's Cheese, Zucchini & Squash Tortilla or Potato & Preserved Lemon Salad (the herb plays a not-so-silent-partner role in both dishes). And there's the surprise cinnamon-spiced flavour of the Borlotti, Chickpea, Green Bean and Tomato Salad (which I liked). Sure, you wouldn't expect a zillion vego choices at an Argentinean grill, but credit to Porteno for having thoughtful options on offer.
The biggest deal for me, though, was the South American Pavlova, which Al had tipped me off about. Mango cheeks, meringue, crushed nuts + the caramel-sweetness of dulce de leche = a lovely, multi-flavoured equation. When I asked the waiter about it, he told me how you could make your own dulce de leche by boiling a can of condensed milk – but do it with care and leave it to cool, or else it will explode, he warned.
Porteno might need the same cautionary label; we went on the first Saturday after it opened and there was an hour-and-a-half wait for a table. (That's an observation and not a complaint; the bar kept us happy, as it imagine it will for a lot of people.)
Porteno, 358 Cleveland St, Surry Hills, (02) 8399 1440, www.porteno.com.au
*If cowhide furniture causes some level of offence, though, this may not be the place for you
Wednesday, September 22, 2010
Even though the warmer spring weather we're hoping for seems to be running behind schedule (like a band going through a spectacularly long sound-check), there's one consolation – the Passionfruit Meringues ($5) at Bourke Street Bakery. These started to appear, about a month or so ago, in the counter displays of the Marrickville branch. The plan was: they would later join the line-up at the other stores if they became popular. Luckily, the pastries passed the audience awareness test and you don't have to make the pilgrimage to Marrickville if there's a closer Bourke Street Bakery to you.
The Italian meringue topping flares up like a comet-tail – lighter than light and all soft, aerated ruffles. Bringing it down to gravity is the zippy passionfruit bavarois, cased in a pastry shell that crumbles perfectly on bite – the easy landing you're after. If spring would play temperature catch-up with the actual calendar, this could be my favourite flavour of the season.
PS This also appears in the Bourke Street Bakery cookbook, if you feel like getting out your sugar thermometer and measuring cups.
Bourke Street Bakery: 474 Gardeners Road, Alexandria NSW (02) 8339 1001; 633 Bourke St, Surry Hills NSW (02) 9699 1011; 2 Mitchell St, Marrickville NSW (02) 9569 3225.
Tuesday, September 7, 2010
One of the nicest surprises I've had as a food blogger has been this – getting asked to be part of the review team for the latest Sydney Morning Herald Good Food Guide. The book has just had its hot-pink debut – it was launched just a few hours ago at the Good Food Awards, an evening full of honours, surprises and, as the hours passed, impressive demolition of many wheels of gourmet cheese.
15 new restaurants landed one-hat status – including Bodega, Cafe Sopra, and – surprisingly – Golden Century. "This represents a true democratisation of good dining in this city," says co-editor Terry Durack in today's Good Living.
During the two-hat announcements though, the endless clatter of applause came to a dead stop when Tetsuya's (a perma-three-hatter) was named. You could actually hear the "could-it-be?" intake of breath. Tetsuya's down in the two-hat ranks! I noticed on Twitter, there have been a few "hats don't matter"-style messages; nevertheless, in Good Living, co-editor Joanna Savill says, "We don't take any of the decisions lightly. Tetsuya's, for instance, had at least five review visits." This turn of events could explain why there was no one from Tetsuya's to collect the People's Choice Award (as determined through reviews on the Guide app) it had won earlier on in the night. (Or, maybe that's a conspiracy-theory over-analysing of it.)
You can read a list of honours here, with the full list published in the Guide and Good Living. As someone who is probably a little too devoted to good toast, hash browns and the lottery of early (and sometimes not-so-early) morning sides you can order, I was most interested in the cafe awards. Nice to see Le Monde take out the Favourite honour in that field, but given all the great eggs+toast options that have appeared in the last year or so (hello Baffi & Mo, Clover, Fouratefive, Bangbang, Luxe in Newtown), I was surprised to see the Favourite Breakfast award go to old-timer Cafe Giulia. That said, I was very happy to see Bentley take out Favourite Vegetarian Menu, Bloodwood land Favourite Bar With Food and Alon Sharman, of Restaurant Arras, win Silver Service Award.
Writing for the Guide was a one-of-a-kind experience – a mixture of fun, adventure, research galore and sometimes organisational stress (like when you're meant to review a place, only to find out it's closed due to fire damage). There was a lot of hiding out in the toilets to take notes, thinking up fake names to book under, and other behind-the-scenes work that means it's not really a case of "you're getting to eat out for free!" (as some people understandably think it to be). And gold stars to co-editors Joanna and Terry, regional editor Angie Schiavone and production editor Paul McLean: herding under control a book with more than 950+ reviews – as new restaurants open and current ones swiftly close or change owners – is no easy thing. Getting it to book shelves and making it a much-read guide is even more impressive.
And sure, as much as I'm excited to be part of this iconic book that's been guiding people's appetites and evenings out for more than 25 years, what I'm most buzzed about is actually reading it – there are more than 30 new restaurants in the 2011 edition, and so many names I don't recognise but would love to sit down at a table with and get to know much better.