Monday, 8 April 2013

Piqueos - Of This Burning Heart

It seemed fitting to visit a restaurant in Carlton before going to the MCG to see the hapless Blues clash with the mighty Magpies. Although I was effectively in the territory of the enemy, Piqueos on Rathdowne Street opened their doors to four rowdy and enthusiastic blokes who demanded some alcohol but more importantly the literal translation of the restaurants name, small bites of food but with a huge amount of taste influenced by the cuisine from South America.

Whilst the various warm bodies arrived on their own time, bottles of the locally produced 3 Ravens ($9) quenched our thirst as we conveniently languished in between the front corner of the bar and the table nearest the window and told tall tales. When we finally were all together and seated like gentlemen, service was happy to explain the menu, which interestingly also includes a degustation option for $60 for ten items. Being mindful that we really only had two hours to enjoy the hospitality of this eatery, we instead quickly moved from beer to the 2009 Terrazas de los Andes Cabernet Sauvignon ($69), a bold red that hails from the shadows of the Andes mountains in the Mendoza wine region of Argentina.

Before the red arrived, we finished our beer by complimenting it with two orders of Piqueos (small things) being the Viera - grilled scallop with aji rocoto ($5.50/each) and Tiradito - locally caught Kingfish with lime, red onion and aji amarillo ($7.00/each) both items being full of flavour and soothing to the palate. The scallops were plump and with the addition of the rocoto, a South American red pepper that grows on the slopes of the Andes, certainly made for a great taste sensation and pairing. Sourcing the amarillo, a yellow pepper that also is from the Andes, and adding it in moderation to the Kingfish gave it a kick and certainly another welcome explosion of flavour.

Empanadas (baked pastries) arrived with the 2009 Terrazas. There were three different types (all $4.50/each) on offer and we sampled the whole gamut. The Pollo - chicken and char-grilled corn was perhaps my favourite, but that is not to discount the flavours in the Queso - cheese potato and char-grilled onion or the Carne - beef, olive and egg which matched very nicely with the wine.

Raciones (a form of tapas) followed. I had earmarked the wine to be matched with the Mollejas ($15) being char-grilled beef sweetbreads and the Anticucho de Corizon ($15) the bold grilled beef heart with red onion and aji rocoto mayonnaise. Why people are not more adventurous with cuisine is beyond me and once one mate overcame his fear of eating the heart, he agreed with me that it was brilliant. A suitable match for the wine, as were the sweetbreads although I was left with the lion share of these tasty morsels of organ meat as the texture is not something that agrees with everyone. Personally, I loved them.

Two menu items were ordered from the Parrilla (grill) which is also curiously translated as a method of torture. I was experiencing a self-imposed period of flagellation as my dining comrades greedily ate the Pescado ($27) - the locally caught fresh fish with chimmichurri and lime. I was not left with any since I enjoyed the bulk of the sweetbreads. Thanks guys.

The Cordero ($25) - 250g of Poon Boon lamb rump, I did have the opportunity to enjoy though. It was very nicely grilled on the outside and suitably red in the middle which once again went well with the wine and was another one of the highlights of this eclectic meal. The Ensalada (salad) de Quinoa ($14) - red and black quinoa, pomegranate and radicchio accompanied the lamb and provided a suitable yet tasty filler to finalise our journey around South America.

Throughout our two hour adventure, service remained cheery and attentive. Presenting a South American Churrasqueria-like ambiance where strangely the lights leave the biggest impression on the overall design, the place is relaxed and given the professionalism of the staff, time absolutely flew and despite getting a taxi on the street almost immediately after leaving, we were a few minutes late to the big game. Sacrificing a few minutes of live sport for Piqueos is certainly a worth-while trade off and overall this was a memorable experience for all of the right reasons.

Piqueos, Carlton, Melbourne

298 Rathdowne St., Carlton North VIC 3054
(03) 9349 2777
My Rating: 14.5/20
Service: 3.75/5
Ambiance: 3.5/5
Quality: 4/5
Value For Money: 3.25/5

Twitter: @epicurean3006
e-mail: epicureanofsouthbank (at) gmail (dot) com

At the time of this post, 91% of the reviewers on Urbanspoon like Piqueos.

Piqueos on Urbanspoon Rating: 3.6