Palatable Porteno!

September 23, 2011 in Food, Reviews by pacejmiller

A good friend of mine had been raving about the Argentinian grill Porteno for quite some time, but ever since the restaurant exploded after being featured on Masterchef, it has been brutal trying to get a seat during dinner time.  Even on week nights it would not be a surprise to see massive lines pouring out onto Cleveland Street in Surry Hills, where waits of 2 hours or more was the norm for those without a reservation (and reservations are only for groups of 5 or more — or so we were informed).

Following weeks of planning, we finally managed to form a group of 5 and secured a booking.  We booked for 6pm and arrived 10 minutes earlier, and to our surprise there was already a bunch of people waiting outside.  Inside, Porteno is dimly lit, with an open kitchen where you can see the chefs preparing their famous grilled meats.  The decor is dominated by wood and waiters are dressed like extras from Boardwalk Empire, giving the entire restaurant a snazzy old-school feel.

The food is not cheap, but boy is it good (check out the menus here).  They do have set menus though you do get more variety and choice if you order a la carte.  I will let the photos do the talking but I must preface the gallery by saying that they don’t look anywhere near as good as they taste for two big reasons — they were taken by my friend’s camera phone (I was too excited and left my camera at home) and the lighting conditions were not conducive to producing pretty food photos.

I never knew brussel sprouts could taste this good!

Even though this didn’t come first, I’ll start with Porteno’s signature dish, and the ‘must have’ for every visitor — the brussel sprouts.  The initial reaction everyone has is, ‘What?  Brussel sprouts?’  Yes, it is brussel sprouts, and possibly the best ever brussel sprouts on this planet.  As demonstrated on Masterchef, the brussel sprouts are deep fried (and let’s face it, just about everything deep fried is pretty good) and mixed in together with lentils and mint, plus a special vinaigrette sauce that hits the taste buds in all the right spots.  I’m not a fan of any of the ingredients individually, but when put together this became a dish to die for.

Now I’ll go back to the starters, beginning with the spiced eggplant, one of my faves.  Yes, it looks like it’s drenched in oil but the flavour is magnificent, especially with those two condiments on the side — one is garlicky and the other is tangy.

There's broccoli and hot, fluffy ricotta in these

Second, the broccoli and ricotta empanada, which look like fried dumplings.  There’s also a beef version but we went with the vegetarian option because there was going to be a lot of meat coming up.  Again, the condiments came in real handy.

Third, an odd choice — the tortilla of squash, zucchini and goats cheese — this was like a whirlwind of flavours, very very nice.

Fourth, , the chorizos, or home made pork sausage.  Very succulent and juicy, though not a standout compared to the rest of the dishes we ordered.

And to round out the starters, the grilled tuna with asparagus, charred jalapeno and garlic dressing.  Sublime combination right there.

Then it was time for the mains.  The centrepiece was the 8 hour woodfired free range suckling pig and lamb (2 separate dishes).

I’ve put them together since they look so similar.  These are also their signature dishes and I could understand why.  A lot of meat but cooked to perfection — crispy on the outside, perfect texture on the inside.  If I had to choose one I’d probably go for the pig.

The baby chicken was awesome

Next, another dish that featured on Masterchef — the free range baby chicken.  There wasn’t a lot added to it other than oil and salt, but this was one sensational dish.  One of the best chicken dishes I have tasted at a Western restaurant.  Also in the photo is the red cabbage slaw, which was surprisingly good and a nice balance to all the heavy duty meats.

I’m not going to lie.  We were stuffed.  But of course we had to have dessert.  However, the photos were horrible so I’m not going to ruin your appetite.  We went with the burnt milk custard with orange jam and chocolate ice cream, the South American style pavlova and a special.  They were okay, though clearly not Porteno’s forte.  You’ll just have to take my word for it because the photos are atrocious and I refuse to post them.

The huge meal set us back a fair bit, but actually came under what I had expected.  I believe it was about $45 a head and all of us were struggling to breathe by the time we hoovered everything down.

I have to concur with the critics and say that Porteno is amazing.  I remember looking at the menu and thinking that I wouldn’t like the majority of the dishes, but I ended up thoroughly enjoyed all of them.  Most of their dishes are rather simple and rely on the meat/vegetable’s natural flavours plus excellent sauces and condiments.  Because the food is quite heavy, I don’t think it’s the type of place I would visit again in a hurry, but I would definitely recommend it to those who are wondering whether it is really that good.  There’s really nothing quite like it around here.

9 out of 10

Porteno
358 Cleveland Street
Surry Hills NSW 2010
(02)8399 1440
Open Tue-Sat 6pm-10pm; Sun 12pm-2pm