Pastuso, Melbourne

Over the last few months, I’ve had the privilege to get to know a fellow colleague from the United States, who has been working in Melbourne on a short-term secondment. Throughout the course of a recent long lunch at San Telmo, I learned that Naseer hadn’t had the opportunity to discover some of Melbourne’s new and exciting restaurants. With only a few days left before he was heading off home to Houston I thought we could both try something new and experience San Telmo’s sister restaurant, Pastuso.

Located in AC/DC Lane, Naseer and I arrived promptly at 7pm and were seated at a table for two near the open kitchen. The restaurant has an eclectic feel with one wall covered in vibrant neon colours and the remainder of the dining space finished with gold edging, marble topped tables, dark wooden furniture and panelling, industrial lights, concrete pylons and geometric tiles. With such an open space, the ambient noise level escalated considerably as more diners arrived.

After a very quick look at the menu, we decided to be adventurous and try the “Feed Me” chefs selection option for $59 per person. Naseer doesn’t drink alcohol but I thought I would complement the South American cuisine with the only Malbec available by the glass of from the famed Mendoza region. Being from the US, Naseer was looking for something familiar in the form of French fries, so we ordered some Yucas or Cassava Chips as an additional side dish.

Literally as soon as our order was taken, three starter dishes and the chips arrived simultaneously and engulfed our small table for two. The dishes were beautifully presented and looked delicious, but I couldn’t be certain whether it was the noise factor or one of our server’s extremely fast explanation of the dishes, however I had no idea of what had been deposited in front of us without looking back over the menu after the meal.

The El Choro Chalaco (Port Phillip Black Mussel, Chalaca Salsa served on a Seaweed Crisp) was delicious with a mix of textures and flavours, particularly with the fresh salsa being a standout on the palate. The next dish was the Ceviche Peruano (New Zealand Snapper with Caramelised Sweet Potato, Cancha, Leche De Tigre) was exceptional and tasted divine although Naseer wasn’t excited by cured fish which left a little bit more for me to enjoy. The beef skewers which was served in haste and a mumbled explanation, were relatively tasty but not all that memorable. Ironically the Cassava Chips which we ordered in addition to the Feed Me menu, was a standout in terms of flavor, texture and quantity and I couldn’t stop myself from devouring them. Mmmm … the ultimate comfort food!

Naseer and I made short work of the entrée dishes expecting a flurry of new plates to arrive momentarily, however after thirty minutes had lapsed without seeing our waitress, we were then left wondering whether was that all there was. As if by magic, she then miraculously appeared and cleared our plates for the next course.

The main course for the evening was the Pierna De Cordero (Slow Cooked Lamb Leg with Seco Sauce and Peruvian Rice) which I was secretly quite pleased about as it was the one dish on the menu that had caught my attention, and because I hoping to persuade Naseer on the virtues of beautiful, slow-cooked Australian lamb.

Served with the rusticity that accompanies Peruvian cuisine, the lamb had been cooked in a Cilindro Peruano (Peruvian Smoking Chamber) so it had a distinct but not obtrusive smoked flavor. The accompanying Seco sauce is made from coriander and beer, and was quite thick in texture and rather plentiful. I rather enjoyed this dish but I suspect that Naseer probably tolerated it on my behalf.

Our evening seemed to gather a bit of momentum and the third and final course arrived not long thereafter. We were treated to two desserts to share – Tres Leches (Traditional Latin American Sponge Cake soaked in three kinds of milk, served with Roasted Pineapple Ice Cream) and Un Clasico De Mazamorra Y Arroz Con Leche (Peruvian Style Rice Pudding, Purple Corn Gel, Poached Pineapple and Apples).

I gravitated to the sponge cake first and then immediately wished that I hadn’t. The outsides of the cake had been grilled in an effort to caramelise the exterior layer which unfortunately hadn’t worked as it ultimately left me with a sharp burnt or charred mouthfeel, something akin to a campfire. The parts of the cake that hadn’t touched the grill were moist and mild in taste but the saving grace was the roasted pineapple ice cream to soften the blow.

The rice pudding was delicious and silky smooth in texture and taste. It was served with a large piece of meringue that needed to be crushed up and served on top of the pudding but I enjoyed each element separately.

Our allotted two hours seemed to fly by after an intermittent start and the Feed Me menu certainly left me completely full and saved me from making hard decisions about what to order. I was excited that I got to experience somewhere new to eat with a friend who also enjoyed a memorable food adventure in Melbourne, however it was a little unfortunate that Pastuso didn’t quite live up to the hype.

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