Our punishment was not being able to order one of the paellas simply because of the time required to put out a quality product. Not to be disappointed though, we compensated by starting off with 30g of jamón ibérico de bellota ($40.50) which was very rich and savory. The finest ham which is from free range pigs that roam oak forests along the border between Spain and Portugal that eat only acorns (bellota) which are ultimately slaughtered and the ham is cured, in this case for 48 months. Served with slices of bread and matched with the 2011 El Pajaro Rojo Bierzo Mencia which was on "special" according to the blackboard ($44) and certainly complemented the rich and wonderful taste of the jamon. Mencia is a red Spanish grape varietal found mainly in the Bierzo, Ribieria Sacra and Valdeorras appellations of northern Spain. Bierzo is a remote area of Galicia, a cool province bordering that Atlantic Ocean. That is where the next dish was influenced from so the wine was a natural segue.
One of the restaurants "signature dishes" being Pulpa de Galicia - marinated octopus Galicia style served over paprika potato with chilli, spanish onion and black garlic ($20) was just amazing. Although you could easily drink the wine on its own, is flavours were enhanced by the pairing of these neighbours. The octopus was so soft and the flavours so pronounced that I could have been satisfied just having this dish and the jamon and have gone on my merry way but fortunately the goodness did not end there.
A selection of pequenos or sharing dishes were then ordered. Crispy pork belly served over almond and garlic puree ($6 each) acted as a bridge before we continued with very large piquello peppers stuffed with spanner crab along with a fish and dill mousse ($7.50 each) which were bold enough to take on the rich flavours of the wine. These peppers were huge with an equally large portion of spanner crab and I loved them.
Not to be outdone on the enormity of the tastes and sheer volume of spanner crab, the jamon-wrapped king prawns ($8 each) were just as huge. I really enjoyed the prawn being wrapped with the jamon and the whole of the prawn being served on a mixed leaf salad. The size of the prawns were almost daunting and when we originally placed the order, the server raised her eyebrow thinking that we were being ambitious with the amount of food required and I can understand why.
Whilst enjoying the shared dishes, we supplemented the flavours with an order of patatas bravas - crispy potatoes dusted in smoked paprika with a spicy tomato sauce and aioli ($13) which were especially nice when paired with the tortilla del dia - a spanish style fritter with onion jam ($6) and when washed down with more wine rounded out a very bold and exciting dining experience.
Head chef Aaron Whitney certainly has a winner on his hands. This is an exciting menu full of comfort with an attentive and cheery staff. There is minimal dining space on both the ground level where you have the ability to watch the kitchen in action but there is also seating upstairs in a loft type setting. I really liked this experience and when the bill came, I was pleasantly surprised.
Given that we wore out our welcome by staying nearly all afternoon, it was suggested that we go to the adjoining bar next door, which is also owned by Portello Rosso, called Murmur. It had just opened for business being 4:30 PM, and we happily obliged. A quick trek up a flight of stairs and you enter an attic space with high ceilings and a really cool fit-out. This is one of the reasons why I love Melbourne so much - finding spaces like this, almost like hidden gems which quickly become popular with the after-work corporate crowd. There was a wide variety of beer available and the barkeep was actively making cocktails for the lovely ladies who appeared whilst I was distracted when I was catching up on e-mail after being in dereliction of my afternoon duties, but that is nothing that a Brunswick Bitter can not solve. This is certainly a bar worth frequenting regardless if you visit Portello Rosso and I am looking forward to returning to both of them soon.
Portello Rosso + Murmur Bar
Value For Money: 4.25/5
e-mail: epicureanofsouthbank (at) gmail (dot) com
At the time of this post, 89% of the reviewers on Urbanspoon also like Portello Rosso. A further 92% of the reviewers also like Murmur Bar.