Monday, 22 August 2011

Restaurant Review: Porteño, Surry Hills

It feels like I'm one of the last people in Sydney to visit Porteño in Surry Hills. Ever since I first saw photos of whole lambs and suckling pigs being roasted over an open fire pit I knew that I wanted to visit. Bringing an Argentinian style asador to Sydney was a genius idea.

I visited Porteño last Wednesday with three friends from the running group. We started with a drink in the upstairs Gardel's Bar while waiting for our table. The upstairs bar is dark and intimate, while downstairs is larger, louder and more open with big marble tables. The fire pits are along one side of the wall and I couldn't resist popping over to inspect the action.

I was already having a good evening enjoying catching up with friends and having a glass of Malbec. When the food arrived it was placed in the middle of the table to be shared. Oh my. I was expecting to be bowled over by the meats, but it was actually the side and vegetable dishes that excited me the most. There were so many great flavour combinations that tasted damn fine. It was funny to see the jaws drop of my dining companions as they tasted things for the first time and various "best I've ever tasted" remarks were made.

During the evening the service was friendly and warm which helps you forget the worries of your day and relax. However, just because the service was friendly it definitely wasn't casual. I was pretty impressed with how they remembered my name and dealt with every detail of the evening. It was a fine dining level of being looked after in a more relaxed atmosphere. The couple of (small) slip up that did occur were met with genuine apologies.

The venue is good, the service is admirable, the concept awesome and the food memorable. Up until now I've rated Billy Kwongs as my favourite Sydney restaurant due to having had three fantastic evenings there. Porteño could be about to take that crown. I really did enjoy it that much.

The only down side is their reservation policy that they politely but firmly apply. You can only book tables for groups of five or more. Smaller groups have to turn up and wait and you will only be seated once all of your party arrive. Because the restaurant is so popular it means that you can have quite a wait before being seated.


The smokey eggplant was served cold. There was a subtle kick of chilli and a blend of spices. I don't think North African harissa has made it to Argentina, but it was that type of vibe. One of the stars of the evening.

CALAMRES ASADO BBQ Calamari with Chickpea Sofrito, 
Preserved Lemon & Watercress

The calamari was another winner and my expectations were beginning to severely heightened by the quality of the first two dishes. The chickpea sauce was rich and had a sweet smoked paprika flavour. I didn't taste any preserved lemon.

 CORDERO A LA CRUZ 8 hour Woodfired Free Range Lamb

The lamb and suckling pig are the two reasons you go to Porteño, so I was pleased my dining companions were happy to order both dishes. The meat of both was very tender and the skin crispy. (I don't think I've ever had crispy lamb skin before?)

CHANCHITO A LA CRUZ 8 hour Woodfired Free Range Suckling Pig

If there was a disappointment with the meat it was that there was no discernible smokey flavour flavour from being cooked over wood. The meats were also dominated by the excellent tomato salsa and chimichurri accompaniments we were given (both stars in their own right). 


POLENTA A LA TABLA Polenta with Provolone Cheese

The only dish of the night I wouldn't order again. The polenta was a bit too over cheesy for me.

REPOLLITOS DE BRUSELA FRITO Crispy Fried Brussel Sprouts 
with Lentils and Mint

Brussel sprouts are something I avoid at Christmas time, but hearing it was a signature dish I decided to give them a go. The crispy sprouts are served with lentils. The lentils tasted a little bit French like those I'd expect to be served with duck. That's not a criticism as it worked as a combination.

POSTRE CHAJA South American Style Pavlova

Not really a pavlova the dessert was pretty sweet. A nice way to round off the meal.

Good friends, good food, good times.

358 Cleveland Street,
Surry Hills,


Porteño on Urbanspoon


  1. Looks like I'm still one of the remaining few to have not been there. Sounds like a fab experience, and glad to hear you like the crispy lamb skin. Love the stuff!

  2. As one of the dining companions I couldnt agree more with you Rich. I am placing Porteno as one of Sydney's yummiest eats. I was initially a bit miffed by the bookings policy (for 5 or over)thinking "How ptretentious!" but the atmosphere and food was anything but. It was the perfect protein and carbo load for our half marathon on Saturday! Just wish I hadn't drank quite so much of that delicious Malbec wine...

  3. i still haven't been either and your post has me drooling at the suckling pig yum!

  4. I've heard quite a few good things about this place, so it was good to see some pictures of the dishes.
    The top eggplant has my name!