Pastuso

Pastuso features a dedicated ceviche bar.
Pastuso features a dedicated ceviche bar. Photo: Paul Jeffers/Getty Images

Acdc Ln Melbourne, VIC 3000

View map

Opening hours Mon - Sun 12 Noon–11pm
Features Accepts bookings, Gluten-free options, Licensed, Wheelchair access, Bar, Business lunch, Romance-first date, Events, Vegetarian friendly, Private dining
Prices Expensive (mains over $40)
Chef Alejandro Savaria
Seats 180
Payments Diner's Club, eftpos, AMEX, Cash, Visa, Mastercard
Phone 03 9662 4556

It's surely one of the coolest addresses in Melbourne: down the end of AC/DC Lane, just past Cherry Bar. Even cooler though, Pastuso - the new modern Peruvian restaurant occupying said real estate - has landed with admirable, enviable confidence. So well has it settled into the neighbourhood that it avoids coming across as the Latest Hot Thing (though it will almost certainly be one for a while) and feels - and looks - like it's been chilling down the end of the lane forever.

Pastuso (Paddington Bear's original name when he arrived in London from "darkest Peru") sprouts from the same family tree as San Telmo, the Argentine grill in Meyers Place. But where San Telmo has a certain box-ticking Argentine theme park feel to the decor, Pastuso is more fully realised; thoroughly at home in Melbourne but still sporting a distinct Peruvian accent.

The restaurant occupies a large space outfitted by architects SMLWRLD in collaboration with the owners.

Go-to dish: Pollo a la braza (Peruvian roasted chicken).
Go-to dish: Pollo a la braza (Peruvian roasted chicken). Photo: Paul Jeffers/Getty Images

There are three bars - a sleek copper-topped number that dispenses drinks (including a decent list of Peruvian and Chilean pisco), a marble-topped ceviche bar with ringside seating on to chefs marinating raw fish in citrus juices, and the main kitchen bar, where diners sit watching all the sparking, flaming, smoking meat and veg-cooking action of the grills and coal-fired slow cookers.

The rest of the room is divided into smaller dining areas, and one raised area with massive padded booths. There are nods to Peruvian culture but the most powerful Peruvian presence comes with the food.

Chef and co-owner Alejandro Saravia is a Peruvian. His take on Peruvian cooking is more modern than traditional; a decision informed not only by the difficulty in sourcing or importing some traditional Peruvian ingredients into Australia but also by his CV, which has included stints at Heston Blumenthal's Fat Duck and Sydney's Pier.

Ceviche Peruano is marinated in 'tiger's milk' and scattered with charred corn.
Ceviche Peruano is marinated in 'tiger's milk' and scattered with charred corn. Photo: Paul Jeffers/Getty Images

His menu is reasonably lengthy but not unwieldy. It gets started with single bite snacks ("piqueo") like the rather good tangle of smoky char-grilled whitebait on toasted cornbread dressed with a slightly spicy lemon and rocoto chilli vinaigrette.

Giving the ceviche a crack is a no-brainer and not just because the ceviche bar provides some of the best seats in the house.

Some of the ceviche, particularly the selection of "tiger's milk" marinades (an acidic lime-based marinade that's considered a hangover cure), come across as harsh and unbalanced. But flamed Crystal Bay prawns with pickled radish, turnip puree and white miso and superb swordfish loin with a lightly spiced aji amarillo sauce are so well adjusted and beautifully textured you might find yourself contemplating seconds while still chewing on firsts.

Swordfish is also a hero among the anticuchos, this time grilled on skewers and served alongside skewered beef heart. A take on Afro-Peruvian street food, the terracotta-coloured sauce (red wine and cider vinegar, various Peruvian chillies) and tumble of slightly caramelised corn, potatoes and zucchini sitting beneath the skewers make this a crave-worthy dish.

Similarly fine is the Peruvian chicken, slow-cooked after a lengthy bath in a brine-like sauce (a fusion lover's delight of cumin, soy sauce, red wine vinegar, coriander and Sichuan pepper), so that it arrives moist, full of peppery goodness with a slight backbeat of heat. There are alpaca ribs too, slow-cooked in stock and served with an attractive savoury chocolate sauce.

Any South American restaurant worth its salt needs a condensed milk caramel dessert and Pastuso doesn't let the team down.

Theirs is a toe-curlingly sweet, flan-like caramel in a jar studded with cubes of poached apple and PX sherry-macerated currants and topped with meringue, which you're encouraged to smash into the caramel to provide texture. You should. Factor in a theme-conscious, reasonably priced wine list, a page of pisco-based cocktails, personable service, a buzzy room, that laneway address, and it wouldn't be dim-witted to check out Pastuso, even if you weren't hungry. That the food kicks goals is further reason to get thee to AC/DC Lane.

THE LOWDOWN
The best bit The palpable buzz generated by both the room and the food
The worst bit A disappointing dearth of South American beers
Go-to dish Pollo a la braza (roasted Peruvian chicken), $24

michaelharden@bigpond.com