Cholo's Restaurant. Photo: Elesa Kurtz
What makes a truly great eat street - that place you look for when heading out, without too much idea of what you want, somewhere with lots of choice, an eclectic mix of simple, cheap eats, fine dining, lots of bars and strange people, a place you would go if you have but one day to take in this city?
I know that on a global scale Woolley Street in Dickson isn't high on the list, but it's all we have, so that's where I am.
In that pre-dinner high-anticipation mood, we walk, my growing boys and I, through the streets to find something different. While I love Chinese, almost as much as Prime Minister Tony Abbott does at the moment, I want something else.
Ceviche of ocean perch is a treat. Photo: Elesa Kurtz
''Check out all the choice, boys,'' I say. ''Just about every food in the world is here.'' Chinese, Japanese, Malaysian, Vietnamese, Italian, Ethiopian and those weird vegetarian places that make sculptures of food in the window.
''Sure, dad,'' the older and more cynical chimes in. ''They have Pizza Hut and Domino's.''
Sure there's them, too, but walking past lots of restaurants, you do get the point.
Pescado a la chorrillana, pan fried dory fillet with caramelised onion. Photo: Elesa Kurtz
I have to admit to knowing little about the food culture of where we are heading. I'm thinking they would eat a lot of meat, since it's pretty well all mountains and jungle and what is not is probably the Amazon.
Cholo's is the place and Peru the country. This family-run business is fairly new to the Canberra food scene and I would hazard a guess that it's the sole purveyor of Peruvian food here. That is reason enough to visit. Peru, yes, I'm with you - I know it's in South America and they speak Spanish. After that, I'm pretty well out of my 20 questions on Peru and its people.
The restaurant is simply fitted out. In fact, besides a few posters and beads, it probably has not changed much from what was here previously. So it has heavy wooden tables and chairs, a place to eat, rather than hang out.
A family affair: Chef-owners Chester and Luz Franchini. Photo: Elesa Kurtz
The food is quite heavy on the meat larder, with lots of grilled dishes served with the local vegetable cassava, also known as yuca, a range of chilli-boosted condiments and rice. This is the strange part. Maybe the Chinese place that was here before left a heap of rice behind.
There is a reasonable range of South American booze and it's fairly cheap, so everything points to a neat little place if you feel like all the above.
Central to the menu is the parrillada platter for two. Indeed, it's a huge platter of marinated meats and sausage served with chilli sauce and chimichurri ($65), which would feed four adults as a main or two teenagers. On the platter are brown lamb chops, steak and chorizo. There was meant to be morcilla as well, but sadly tonight it is not there. All are full flavoured, charred, well grilled and meaty.
I can't say whether the meats are reminiscent of any culture, other than the condiments.
A pile of yuca chips, which must be the most dense, high-calorie vegetable you can eat, adds a certain richness to the already full-on platter. I make a mental note to have an oat bran shake tonight. It's going to be a rough one digesting all this.
I did ask about vegetarian options, which is basically leaving out the meat on anything you want. I don't think this is a highly sought-after diet in Peru, where you have to climb, wade or hack, respectively, your way through mountains, rivers and jungle to get out the door.
I reckon the local dialect would translate vegetarian to something like alpaca or llama. There are plenty of vegetables in the form of yuca, rice, onions and beans, but don't come knocking for some delicate meat-free option.
We try other dishes apart from the meat platter. The two entrees are both decent, hardworking dishes. The anticuchos - ox-heart skewers with aji panca, yuca and green chilli ($16.90) is a revelation. This dish shows the potential of beef heart, surely one of the best skewered meats around. Firm yet giving, it has a full-on taste, the smoky and green chilli giving excellent flavour lift, and the omniscient yuca chips the glue.
A ceviche of ocean perch with onion, celery and coriander served with sweet potato and corn ($19.50) is very much like the Hawaiian poke - lightly cured fish with lots of lime juice and chilli, quite delicate, fresh and zesty - a treat really.
Pescado a la chorrillana ($22) and frijoles nortenos ($25.50) are two specials tonight. The first is pan-fried dory fillet with caramelised onion sauce, rice and yucas. It is a local seashore favourite and nice simple way of serving fish. Again, the rice worries me slightly, but I don't think I can digest any more yuccas.
As far as cassava goes, I have had my fill.
The other special, frijoles, is cannellini beans and chicken thighs served with lime, chilli and coriander, another dish to eat before going mountain climbing, just in case you get stranded and need good reserves. It is hearty, to say the least.
And we are done. The service, which was pleasantly haphazard, has all but disappeared, which I take as a sign that we won't need dessert.
The feeling at Cholo's is of a simple place to enjoy the rustic, high-calorific-value food of Peru. There is not much competition to compare it with, but the feeling is good here. It's a nice family-run business.
- 02 6248 8648
- Cuisine - South American/Caribbean
- Features - Licensed, Wheelchair access, BYO
- Chef(s) - Chester and Luz Franchini
- Owners - Chester and Luz Franchini
- Cards accepted - Cash, Mastercard, Visa, EFTPOS
- Opening Hours - Lunch and dinner Tues-Sun.
- Seats - 50
- Author - Byran Martin
Cholo's at Dickson
Pescado a la chorrillana from Cholo's. Photo: Elesa Kurtz