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Monday, January 21, 2013

Porteño, Surry Hills

whole roast pig on the asado barbecue pit

Meat. And fire. The metal frames look more like torture instruments, but to a hot-blooded carnivore, the Argentinian asado barbecue pit offers a reverential appreciation for all things meat.

It's the promise of flesh that brings fervent diners to Porteño. Fifteen minutes before the doors open for dinner, the queue outside is consistently twenty people deep. Inside, the asado takes centre stage, an open charcoal pit that slowly roasts whole beasts for six hours or more. Each day, they cook two whole lambs and two whole pigs.  The unmistakeable smell of animal fat dripping over hissing coals weaves its way into every corner.

porteno dining room
Porteno dining room

Arrive early and you'll score one of the moody nooks and crannies littered around the central exposed courtyard. Skylights overhead drench the courtyard in natural light, but its noticeably louder too, with an echo that builds with each diner.

parilla charcoal barbecue grill
Charcoal grill

The open kitchen means it's worth taking a wander, if only to see your dinner before it's plated. There are flames licking wood in the parilla grill, beasts splayed flat above the asado pit and more tattoos in the kitchen than a season 6 episode of Top Chef.

butcher cuts of beef
Beef cuts

roast lamb
Lamb ready for carving 

The menu is larger than you'd expect, with plenty of dishes to keep any waylaid vegetarians satisfied too, including broccoli and ricotta empanadas ($6.50), barbecued eggplant with peppers, cauliflower and tahini ($24) and roast beetroot with witlof and housemade feta ($24).

pickled veal tongue
Lengua en escabeche $8
Pickled veal tongue

We start with the pickled veal tongue, wafer thin and enviably tender, elegantly draped in a pool of refreshing vinaigrette. Sure you can see the tastebuds, but for me, that's half the fun.

angus beef short ribs
Tira de asado $38
Pasture-fed Angus beef short ribs

Pastured-fed Angus beef short ribs are simply done, cooked over charcoal to a caramelised crust. It's not a large portion, with each rib costing close to $10, but the meat is rich and fatty, with an intensity of flavour that comes from pasture-fed beef.

A little pot of chimichurri sauce - parsley, garlic, olive oil, oregano and vinegar - provides an acidic lift. All that's left on our plates are little bones, licked clean.

8 hour wood fired lamb
Cordero a la cruz $46
8 hour wood-fired lamb

The wood-fired lamb and pork don't come cheap either, but when you consider the eight hours of tending required - the animals are rotated and moved constantly around the firepit - it doesn't seem worth quibbling.

8 hour wood fired pig
Chanchito a la cruz $46
8 hour wood-fired pig

Both the lamb and pig are succulent, hunks of flesh ribboned liberally with creamy fat. All the good bits are here too, like the crispy treats of lamb skin and shards of pork crackling that shatter with a resounding crunch.

crispy fried brussel sprouts
Repollito de brusela frito $14
Crispy fried brussel sprouts with lentils and mint

The crispy fried brussel sprouts are a house specialty too, known to convert even the most ardent brussel sprout hater. They're a little on the oily side tonight, but the combination of nutty fried brussel sprouts with lentils and fresh mint leaves is both nourishing and refreshing.

bbq octopus
Pulpo asado con chorizo, papas y alioli $26
BBQ octopus, chorizo, potato hash and alioli

We also find room for one more dish, tender barbecued octopus tentacles curled around dabs of intense garlicky alioli on a plank of chorizo. Golden towers of potato hash are a highlight.

south american style pavlova
Postre chaja $16
South American style pavlova

The postre chaja, described as a South American style pavlova, ticks the meringue and cream boxes. It even has a trail of passionfruit syrup. What it also brings is a turret of fluffy sponge cake, sandwiched with fresh mango, crushed nuts and a sticky puddle of dulce de leche caramel in the middle.

burnt milk custard
Leche quemada $16
Burnt milk custard with cherry and chocolate ice cream

But the knockout dessert is the leche quemada. The huddle of flan may look unassuming, but its silkiness will make your toes curl, a burnt milk custard that's slightly bitter, incredibly creamy and crowned with a thin veneer of blow-torched caramel.

Cap off your night with a glass of thirty-year-old Pedro Ximenez sherry ($19.50). It's like drinking raisins drenched in honey and golden syrup with a toffee chaser - guaranteed to end your evening on a sweet note.

View Larger Map
Porteño on Urbanspoon

358 Cleveland Street, Surry Hills, Sydney
Tel: +61 (02) 8399 1440

Opening hours:
Tuesday to Saturday 6pm til late

Related Grab Your Fork posts:
Bodegas Tapas Bar, Surry Hills
19 comments - Add some comment love

posted by Helen (Grab Your Fork) on 1/21/2013 01:06:00 am


  • At 1/21/2013 9:15 am, Blogger Mel said…

    I love the lamb here - the crispy skin and saltiness of the meat is so wonderful. And yes, as a brussel sprout hater from way back I have to say I enjoyed eating them here.

  • At 1/21/2013 9:37 am, Anonymous Hannah said…

    Oh good! I was worried at first that there was going to be no dulce de leche in this post.

  • At 1/21/2013 10:02 am, Blogger Tina @ bitemeshowme said…

    now THIS is some place I really need to get my behind too. Look at all those meats - I'm drooling! And those desserts, they sound so, sexy!

  • At 1/21/2013 11:03 am, Anonymous The Food Sage said…

    You lost me at pickled veal tongue, recaptured me at the beef short ribs, and had me hook, line and sinker at wood-fired pig. I haven't got to Porteno yet (shame on me) but i'm sure as hell going to get there, soon! Great post.

  • At 1/21/2013 11:57 am, Anonymous Tina@foodboozeshoes said…

    I am way overdue for a revisit... Love how that pavlova keeps changing form :)

  • At 1/21/2013 12:35 pm, Anonymous Eha said…

    Was not all THAT interested until you showed that superb veal tongue. Being Northern European by birth, this has always been one of my favourite meats [still cook it at least once a month: fab for sandwiches!], but I have never pickled it: shall try next time around1 May even visit the restaurant when in Sydney :) !

  • At 1/21/2013 1:30 pm, Blogger Ramen Raff said…

    Love the chanchito and the crackle! I didn't see the lengua on my last visit :( I would have ordered that too.

  • At 1/21/2013 4:07 pm, Anonymous Lisa said…

    I've never tried eight hour pig before but it looks amazing especially the crackling!

  • At 1/21/2013 4:15 pm, Anonymous Amanda said…

    Oh yes, perfect timing! I actually have plans to go here next Monday night with a friend who is visiting from Melbourne - I thought it might be something 'different' that he would enjoy. The octopus looks great, I think I'm definitely going to order that!

  • At 1/21/2013 4:41 pm, Blogger Sherrie @ Crystal Noir said…

    I've heard great things about Porteno! The promise of crunchy crackling skin and tender meat has definitely lured me in... Beautiful desserts too!

  • At 1/21/2013 5:14 pm, Blogger Jacq said…

    It's pork tv! I still haven't made it to Porteno yet (a travesty, I know) but those wood-fired meats look incredible!

  • At 1/21/2013 5:32 pm, Blogger Milktea Eats said…

    ohhh im drooling over my laptop! i was meant to come here for my bday but it didnt happen! i must rebook!

  • At 1/21/2013 7:28 pm, Anonymous Priscilla @ foodpornnation.com said…

    I don't know whether I should eat or kiss that tongue. Looks delicious!

    And that chimichurra sauce blows my mind!!! I even managed to score the recipe!

  • At 1/21/2013 9:27 pm, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    I was afraid Porteno wouldn't meet my expectations having visited Argentina quite a few times, but it did. I'll dream with the chanchito a la cruz tonight.

  • At 1/22/2013 8:09 am, Blogger Peter G | Souvlaki For The Soul said…

    I have yet to visit Porteno...and it's not that far from me either! Thanks for sharing Helen (and I just knew yo would say that about the veal tongue!!!).

  • At 1/22/2013 10:11 am, Blogger Vivian - vxdollface said…

    so much deliciousness! haha tastebuds.. but I'm it was quite dark when I went so I didn't even think about/see tongue bumps ^^" They've changed the pavlova, didn't look like that when I went

  • At 1/24/2013 1:24 am, Anonymous Sara - Belly Rumbles said…

    STILL yet to get here, sigh, will get to Porteno eventually. Is the not being able to book that puts me off (except for 5+).

    I am now pretty tempted to face the line to try the pork, wow that crackling looks mighty awesome.

  • At 1/24/2013 5:58 pm, Blogger Sarah said…

    Oh wow, wow wow!

    You're right, the lamb and pork seem a little pricey, but they look just divine!

    Must add this to my list for my next visit to Sydney :)

  • At 1/24/2013 10:18 pm, Anonymous Christine @ Cooking Crusade said…

    crazy meaty goodness! desserts look good too!


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