15 Faraday St, Parnell
(09) 379 0277
Tapas $5; dishes $9 (bread) - $30 (scotch fillet)
It was waterfront land once, this part of town. There was a St George's Bay, named for the English settlers' patron saint, now reclaimed for straddle carriers to hump containers around on. Buildings that once served maritime needs are now mainly the snazzy offices, of architects and the like, but this new Latino-inflected bar (a five-day operation, 7am to 9pm) is tucked in a corner at the end of a tree-lined side street and should be easy to spot because with luck it will be emitting a bit of barulho.
The word is Portuguese for a racket, in the sense of a noise associated with good times (though like the English word, it has something of a negative connotation for those of a sensitive disposition; if you're the kind of person who bellows "Turn that racket off!" at the kids, you will get the picture).
It's small, about the size of a decent garage, though there are two levels, but it's not really the sort of place where you settle in for a long evening (or a romantic dinner a deux).
When we turned up, raising the cool factor several notches with our electric bicycles but yanking it right back down again with our high-vis vests, they seemed a bit surprised to see us, which was fair enough because it was still technically afternoon, but the Professor and I always dine early at places that accept no bookings: there's nothing more dispiriting than making a trek across town only to be told that there's a 45-minute wait for a table.
The proprietors, Sarah Ginella and Nico Mendez, are the couple behind Maldito Mendez, which was an early
fixture in Ponsonby Central though it impressed me only as ordinary and overpriced. But reborn on the other side of town, they have seriously lifted their game.
The menu is short, which is always a good sign (as a general rule, the longer the menu the worse the food): six main dishes (three of which came in entree size), platters of bread or cheese or charcuterie, and a board-full of tapas.
And, ah, the tapas. The blackboard, which looked well-smeared from constant rewriting (another good sign) offered pork and fennel sausage, which came curled like a snail-shell atop a crisp and oily slice of Wild Wheat sourdough, and topped with a fantastic green chimichurri (the parsley-garlic-chilli sauce of Argentinian origin). Grilled prawns (wild-caught, not farmed; Australian, not Asian) were equally well-treated, bearing the marks of the flame, but still sensationally succulent, and lifted by a romesco sauce whose garlic component made the knees tremble.
A roasted cauliflower soup, drizzled with musty truffle oil, came with a big blob of smelly gorgonzola in the middle, which we shared only reluctantly, though the tepid piece of cheese toast that came on the side seemed unnecessary.
Gnocchi were . . . a gnocchout: made of ricotta and walnut and delivered in a creamy sauce with slivers of exotic mushrooms, and we were glad the kitchen had overlooked our order for a fish main dish: that will have to wait for a return visit, which will be soon.
Instead we finished with a selection of alfajores, florentine-like biscuits that are popular throughout the non-Andean countries, including Mendez's native Uruguay: mine was like a raspberry mallow puff on steroids, though those based on peanut butter or dulce de leche would put one at risk of a diabetic coma, I fancy.
I hear that the alfajores don't last, so get your dessert order in before you sit down here. But sit down you should, as soon as you can.