Back to basics: Misky Cravings puts the focus on flavour. Photo: Brianne Makin
This might just be the world's greatest use of leftovers. Forget the British with their shepherd's pie and bubble and squeak. Meet leche de tigre, a Peruvian potion made from the juices left after ceviche is marinated. It's a tongue-lashing soup - aptly, the name translates to tiger's milk - of fresh lime juice, chilli, sliced onion and small pieces of white fish, served chilled in a glass with a small spoon. It's billed as both an aphrodisiac and a hangover cure (two birds, one spicy stone).
It's a Saturday night and we're beginning our meal with this bracing brew at Misky Cravings, a family-run Peruvian restaurant in Fairfield. Since Carmita and chef Julio Ruiz opened it in 2011, it has become a favourite with expats and fans who trek here from all over the city.
Tucked away in a nondescript shopping arcade, it's easy to miss. With its brown-and-tan colour scheme, linoleum floor and Latin music videos on a wall-mounted flatscreen, this is a restaurant that doesn't rely on slick decor to attract its devoted clientele.
Tangy: Jalea (deep fried seafood with onion salad). Photo: Brianne Makin
We arrive at 7.30 to find the restaurant has already served most of its customers for the night and is preparing to close at 8.30. Go early.
Peruvian food centres on corn, potatoes and chilli, and draws on influences from all corners: Chinese to African and Spanish, Japanese to Italian. With the most expensive item on the menu just $22, and the dishes arriving from the kitchen as they're ready, rather than in any particular order, it's best to order generously and to share.
Tonight, we've followed the leche de tigre with a few quieter entrees: papa a la huancaina, sliced cold potatoes covered with a blanket of banana-yellow cheese sauce with a touch of chilli, which is a little bland, and thick planks of deep-fried cassava served with a similar sauce. The menu offers ceviche with white fish or mixed seafood. We choose the fish version, which is as good as its ''leftovers'' suggest it will be: firm pieces of white fish cured in lime and lemon juice, with garlic, coriander, chilli, and sliced red onion adding heat and flavour. Like sushi, this dish depends on the quality of the seafood, and tonight's fish is beautifully fresh (though we're not sure what it is; ''I don't know'', the waitress says when we inquire). It's served with the traditional accompaniments of steamed sweet potato, corn, lettuce and roasted corn kernels. Presentation - like the service - is no-nonsense, with the focus on flavour, not frills.
The menu lists three ''chef's specials - weekends only'', but we're told they're only made on certain occasions, and posted by Carmita on Facebook when they are. Instead, we order the signature dish, lomo saltado: smoky strips of beef fried with sweet, blackened onions, fresh sliced tomato and thick potato chips, stir-fried with soy and chilli, with white rice. With its slightly charred flavours mingling with spice, the sweetness of tomatoes and an umami hit of soy on top of the irresistible pairing of steak and fried potato, it's the dish of the night.
We've also ordered aji de gallina, a stew of shredded chicken in a creamy sauce made with the Peruvian aji chilli, served with another double-carb hit of boiled potatoes and rice.
Misky Cravings is BYO but it's worth ordering a jug of chicha morada, a refreshing, sweet and slightly tart non-alcoholic drink made with purple corn, fruit and spices.
To finish, we settle on torta tres leches, a moist white cake made with, as the name suggests, three types of milk - evaporated, condensed, and cream.
By avoiding trends or flourish in favour of rib-sticking, homestyle fare, Misky Cravings reminds us it's the essentials that matter.
Leche de tigre, ceviche, lomo saltado, chicha morada.
3.5 (out of 5 stars)
- 02 9726 4771
- Cuisine - South American
- Prices - Entrees $6-$12; mains $12-$22; dessert $5-$8.
- Features - BYO
- Chef(s) - Julio Ruiz
- Owners - Julio Ruiz, Carmita Ruiz
- Opening Hours - Wed-Thu, noon-6pm; Fri, noon-9pm; Sat-Sun, 9am-9pm (kitchen closes 8.30pm)
- Author - Georgia Waters