They say that good things come to those who wait so given our 6.45pm arrival, and the unavailability of a table until 9.30pm we are expecting something pretty spectacular from Porteno this evening.
You would think that after operating for over two years now that the shine would have come off this Argentinian restaurant with Sydney diners shuffling to the newest food fad or alternative shrine to meat. Plainly the duo of Ben Milgate and Elvis Abrahanowicz are on to a winning, long term formula as Porteno is still packing ‘em in and on this Saturday night a mixed bag of carnivores are asserting incredible patience at this restaurant.
If you must wait for a table, the Gardel Bar at Porteno is a pretty good place to settle in for a couple of quiet hours. The wine list can take you on an adventure through the vineyards of Spain – no passport required – and the bar list will stem the hunger pangs so you’re not all ‘crazy eyes’ by the time you’re table as ready.
It’s with this in mind that we order the Pumpkin & Feta Empanadas and Chicken Wings to accompany the almost raspberry red Rosado to tied us over for the first leg of ‘the wait’. Both of these are smashing. The empanadas are fried, tasty little morsels. The bottle of vinegary, chilli sauce accompanying the chicken wings is so good I’m wanting to slip it into my handbag. First 45 minutes waiting – so far so good.
You really wouldn’t want to come to Porteno on a first date or people that you aren’t sure that you are going to be able to talk to because two and a half hours waiting for food will be a strain for the closest companions. Thankfully tonight I’m in the company of two fabulous girls including my gorgeous cousin who frankly can talk under water.
In the second hour of the ‘wait’ we order a Pinot Noir from Mendoza and accompany this with some Pickled Octopus – something smallish so we wouldn’t risk spoiling our appetites. The octopus is not as big a hit as our first snackettes. Super sour and vinegary it’s vaguely reminiscent of a dish that my parents love around Easter time, Pickled Fish, which is a bit of an acquired taste. Really vinegary, really sharp – almost eye squintingly so. Note I was also a little delirious/drunk at this time so completely forgot to take a pic of this one.
Half a bottle of Pinot Noir down, some discussions about travels through South America, some people watching, some gossiping and lord have mercy – our table is ready! Seriously by the time the waitress comes to let you know that they are ready to seat you, you’ve pretty much forgotten what you’re doing there.
Settling into our spot next to Porteno’s handsome looking wine cellars we quickly lose our cool, calm demeanour and are like a pack of hyenas to order our mains. This isn’t purely hunger driven, but moreso due to the fact that there have been at least two occasions where after waiting a number of hours for a table we were told that the 8 hour lamb and pork were sold out (it was enough to make a grown man cry – true story).
We got in on time to get the 8 hour Lamb, Fennel, Dried Apricot & Olive Salad and the heaven help me, Chorizo. We ambitiously wanted to order the 8 hour Pork but that would have been pushing the envelope for three girls out for dinner. We are probably the only people in the history of diners who haven’t ordered the Brussel Sprouts.
Our wait was rewarded. The lamb is everything you are hoping for – plentiful, moist mounds of tender lamb with beautiful flavour of olive oil and herbs. The Fennel Salad is a fantastic compliment. The chorizo is so good it’s criminal. Juicy, fat and porky with the tangy sauce accompaniment. It was fantastic.
The great pork sacrifice of 2013 was purely for the purposes of leaving enough room for dessert. Unfortunately, these weren’t a massive hit and we find ourselves wishing we opted for more savoury over the sweet.
We ordered the Burnt Milk Custard with Peach & Chocolate Ice Cream as well as the Apricot & Chocolate Tart, Familia Marguery Muscat & Crème Fraiche Ice Cream with Vanilla Chantilly. Both of these dishes marry fruit with custard or chocolate and we weren’t really in love with them. The chocolate ice cream on its own was rich and delicious but the popcorn (rosemary scented?) and peaches it was served with didn’t really do it for me.
The massive mound of cream on this tart was a little confronting and at this stage of proceedings more then we are up for.
So the next time your iron levels are low, you are in the mood for exerting extreme patience and are feeling like a long, leisurely catch up with someone who’s company you seriously enjoy, head to Porteno. This restaurant is still going strong, well worth the visit and well worth the wait.
358 Cleveland Street, Surry Hills | +61 2 8399 1440