Bar Profile: Porteño

This Bar profile was featured in Bartender’s November issue.

358 Cleveland Street, Surry Hills
02 8399 1440


Just about everyone knows the drill at the now iconic restaurant and bar Bodega, Surrey Hills. Get there early, be prepared to wait and then ask for a seat at the bar and watch Elvis Abrahanowicz and Ben Milgate punch out an amazing array of food only inches from your over stimulated eyes – all while sipping on a glass of Sherry or an Argentinean white. This debonair duo entertains and amazes night after night looking sophisticatedly cool and only break late in the shift for a quick cheers and a cold beer behind the chopping board to celebrate another successful evening.

So when news got out that the team who put together the now cult like restaurant and bar were taking over a former Greek Bar and Discoteque to open another venue, complete with heavy marble and iron tables and a traditional Argentinean Asado and Parilla we knew something special was in the making.

After a grueling 18 months that saw delays in shipping containers from Argentina, and the ubiquitous presence of unforeseen costs, Porteño finally opened to a frantic public reception in mid September. “The name ‘Porteño’ is the name given to the locals of Buenos Aires because it is a port town,” says Joseph Valore – co-owner of both Porteño and Bodega. Valore took some time out recently to chat with Bartender magazine about the sometimes rocky road they took to get to where they are today.

“Slow cooking at Porteño involves an open fire pit and a contraption that resembles a mediaeval torture cage.”

“Elvis and Ben met working together at the Four In Hand where they discovered each other’s passion for South American food and lifestyle and even before Bodega they spoke of opening a restaurant or bar that would introduce this style of cooking and shared eating and drinking to Sydney.”

“The venue design was a collaborative effort between the three owners and Elvis’ partner Sarah Doyle. All four travelled to Argentina to collect treasures for the restaurant.  The exhaust and extraction system had to be very specific to meet requirement to remove all the smoke from the Asado and Parrilla – this took longer than anticipated – and there were structural issues that forced more lengthy delays.”

The main element behind the successes that the trio has shared comes from their unreserved passion for the South American republic and Porteño is enriched by the teams traveling experiences and family heritage; “Ben, Elvis and myself all share a love of Buenos Aires and all it has to offer in the way of wine, food and style. Elvis’ family is Argentinean and his parents often slow cook meat (often whole pigs or lamb) on an Argentinean style BBQ, called a Parrilla.”

This style of cooking is at the heart and brain of Porteño which features its very own Parrilla and Asada and Valore says, “that without them there would be no Porteño.” The Asada is a traditional method of South American cooking involving an open fire pit which enables the chefs to slow cook a whole animal, while the Parrilla is a flat grill that somewhat resembles a medieval torture contraption.

“The main focus is on the Asado and the Parrilla where the meats are cooked,” Valore states, “and there is a selection of different cuts with whole suckling pig and lamb cooked on the Asado.” Vegetarians and seafoodies need not shy away however – as the team offers a wide selection of options. “Make sure you leave room for the desserts!” Valore demands.

Now the other most important thing to come out of Argentina undoubtedly is their wine, and Malbec is one of those ‘so hot right now’ varieties that we are seeing called for throughout the Australian market. As travelers bring back the taste for the relatively inexpensive, but powerful flavour it serves up they go in search of a suitable wine list and Porteño has been able to put together a wine collection that has possibly the most extensive range of Malbec’s available in Australia. The crew at Porteño also have a serious selection of sherry: see ‘Sherry Picks’ for more.

“The wine list focuses on Argentinean wines, with the majority from various sub regions of Mendoza – the main wine region in Argentina – the list also includes some Spanish varietals,” says Valore who put the cellar collection together. There are also some special wines that are exclusive to Porteño, with the boys importing them especially for their own venue.

There is an ‘exhaustive’ selection of spirits available on the backbar and Julian Serna, from Pure Drinks Design, has pulled together an experienced bar team to execute a highly innovative cocktail list. According to Valore, the Evita, Mirimar and the Santa Rosa; a delicious mix of Aperol, blood orange and caramel syrup with a dash of grapefruit bitters – are the most popular cocktails at the moment. If you’re in the know, however, you’ll ask for the house-made amaro, the Sangria Soda or the Banana and Smoked Maple Syrup Old Fashioned featuring a banana fat-washed Jack Daniels.

So hustle up and bring your appetite with you – this little Argentinean beauty is getting set to take off.

Sherry Picks:

Sherry – known as vino de Jerez in Spanish – is a fortified wine made from white grapes grown in the Spanish region of Jerez. Sherry is a blended wine that is stored long enough for each of its individual components to loose their identifying characters – becoming a harmonious ‘whole’. Because of the strict modern day driving laws Sherry is often forgotten about as a wonderful way to begin a meal or finish an evening. Ranging in style, colour and flavour the Porteño team recommends that you try;

  • La Goya Manzanilla Pasada $7
  • Vina AB Amontillado $8.5
  • Añada 1964 Vintage Oloroso $25
  • Romate Regente Palo Cortado $8.5
  • Noe Pedro Ximenez Muy Viejo (30yrs) $19.5

Malbec:  Porteño’s got you covered

The great grape of Bordeaux’s Cahors region, through thought to have originated from northern Burgundy, Malbec produces vibrant wines often with a wonderful rich purple hue and fruit driven flavour. While the crops of Malbec vines were virtually wiped out in France due to the phylloxera blight, Argentina survived the aphid’s storm. Introduced in the mid 1800s, Malbec has since reaped huge rewards for the modern Argentinean wine industry (the fifth biggest in the world), which in the 20th century recognized the benefits of its export value to the worldwide wine loving community. While not as tannic as their French counterparts, Argentinean Malbec often displays an ability to age well and the texture is rich, fruit driven and ‘velvety’. The Mendoza region is renowned for producing great wines, and no matter what your budget you will often find value. Currently, Argentina has over 50,000 acres of Malbec vines planted.

Bartender’s Malbec Picks

  • 2008 Serrera Del Pecado Malbec Cabernet $12.5/ glass
  • 2007 Bodega Noemia $225
  • Don David $70
  • 2008 JED $49

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