242-246 Como Parade West Parkdale, Victoria 3195
|Opening hours||Tues-Sat 5.30-10pm|
|Features||Accepts bookings, BYO|
|Prices||Moderate (mains $20-$40)|
|Payments||AMEX, Mastercard, Visa, eftpos|
|Phone||03 9587 8002|
There are two attention-grabbing pieces of information about Peruvian food. One is that it's been tagged as a future food trend. The other is that the staple meat - raised in many Andean households - is guinea pig. While there's undoubtedly no relation between the two, it raises the intrigue level for first-time diners of Peruvian.
Mi Peru d' Carmen, Melbourne's first all-Peruvian restaurant, doesn't sell guinea pig but its traditional dishes can still have an exotic edge for those of us yet to trudge the Inca Trail, even though many of the base ingredients may be familiar.
Potatoes feature a bit; an entree potato salad consists of layered slices of boiled potatoes under a thick, feta cheesy salmon-coloured sauce humming with amarillo chilli. It comes on an iceberg leaf and planted with slices of hard-boiled egg. It's totally moreish.
Seafood is a speciality. The specials board is where it's at, including a few ceviche dishes like the ''mixto'', a massive fish-shaped plate of raw chunks of snapper, whole prawns and calamari rings ''cooked'' by the acidity of lemon juice, with crushed garlic and red onion, tossed with chopped coriander. It's terrifically tart, so when the waiter says that Peruvians drink the ceviche juice he may as well have said Peruvians eat guinea pigs. The dish's lemon and garlic power is relieved by a sweet hunk of clove and honey-roasted sweet potato, a few mixed leaves and corn on the cob.
Most Peruvian food is cooked in ceramic, and it gives the food an earthiness. Aji di Gallina (chilli chicken) is tender shreds of chicken in a creamy, mustard-yellow amarillo chilli sauce made with parmesan and walnuts, thickened with quinoa and served with rice. It's straight-up rich, deep and comforting.
Sometimes dishes may arrive out of sync and there may be a wait (for a menu, for drinks, for dishes), but the all-Peruvian staff are enthusiastic.
Open for four months, Carmen Barra, the restaurant's namesake, is in the kitchen from 6am preparing for each night's service. She's a grandmother (of eight) and went back to Peru in 2010 to gain her cooking qualification, rack up training hours, and to import ingredients you can't buy here.
After staking out the restaurant site ''an hour or two every night for almost two years'', she opened Mi Peru (My Peru) and fulfilled the dream she dared to utter 34 years ago after landing in Australia.
What does she think about her beloved cuisine becoming a hot trend? ''I'm just very happy Australian people like my food.''
Do … Book at least a week ahead
Don't … Miss trying a chicha morada drink; made from purple corn (powder) it's sweet, clovey and beguiling
Dish … Aji di Gallina
Vibe … Warm local