I am a little breathless as I type these words to you tonight. My cheeks are flushed, the tips of my fingers are tingling, and I am feeling the need to take slow sips of water. I have just returned home from a fabulous meal. A meal that finally lived up to all that ‘new Melbourne restaurant’, ‘all hail the food of South America’ hype. You know the group behind Melbourne meat lover’s heaven San Telmo? The spot that woos you with strips of beef dripping in juices and then leaves you in a pool of your own meat sweat? They have teamed up with Peruvian born superstar Alejandro Saravia (of Fat Duck and Morena heritage) to launch the colourful, sexy and supremely satisfying ‘Pastuso’.
My friend and I visited Pastuso on a Wednesday night to see what all the fuss was about. To be honest I was expecting just another city restaurant with modern fittings and a so-so menu. Instead, we were greeted with something more akin to a foodie fun park. Patrons watched on from the marble ceviche bar as chefs tossed fresh cubes of coral coloured salmon in sour orange and lemon juices. Those perched at the pisco bar enjoyed premium access to the booze, with bartenders whipping up foamy pisco sours in front of their eyes. There’s even a smoke chamber (or cilindro peruano) roasting legs of lamb, pork shoulder and the odd Alpaca limb. It’s fun for the whole foodie family.
The menu is designed to take you on a journey of Peru and we began on the coast with a procession of colourful ceviche dishes.
Delicate crystal bay prawns were a cracking start served with radish, turnip puree, ponzu and white miso. I was surprised that the prawns had been lightly char-grilled but that subtle smoky flavour together with the citrusy accompaniments was a divine mix. A fantastically balanced dish of pillowy prawns that simply blew us away.
The king salmon ceviche was much more gutsy with thick, meaty cubes of salmon tossed in a heavy sour orange and lemon dressing. I usually adore raw or cured salmon but the tart dressing in this dish was just too severe for my taste and stole the attention away from the beauty and freshness of the salmon.
The slow cooked pork belly was a standout dish, served with a pickled daikon salsa, sweet potato and orange puree. A crunch through the ultra-crisp exterior gave way to an eruption of silky fat and salty sweet pork meat. It was truly luxury on a plate. Decadence on a dish. Eat without a thought to your arteries. It’s worth it.
Pastuso’s mains celebrate rustic, back to basics dining with simple meats and fish roasted or grilled. We opted for the pork shoulder which perhaps wasn’t the best idea given we had just devoured the pork belly. But it didn’t matter. The meat, which had been roasted in the smoke chamber, was brilliantly cooked and fell apart at the slightest touch. The meat didn’t have a hint of smokiness which I thought was surprising, but it was a generous serve (more than enough for two), and accompanied by a wholesome, home-style rice dish with vegetables – a satisfying end to an impressive evening.
Yes Pastuso is new and yes it is very much ‘on trend’, but when a restaurant works it works. Bright, zingy and fun, there is a reason South American cuisine is having a moment. We enjoyed every minute at Pastuso and can’t wait to return to try more of those ceviche dishes and maybe even a leg of alpaca. It’s so wonderful to have found a new player in the CBD that lives up to all the hype and is only too happy to take your booking for two (woo hoo)! So tell your friends you have it on good authority – Pastuso is awesome.