Shop 18, Harbour Plaza, 11 Thompsons Road Patterson Lakes, Victoria 3197
|Opening hours||Wed 6pm-10pm; Thu-Sun noon-10pm|
|Features||Accepts bookings, Business lunch, Family friendly, Gluten-free options, Groups, Licensed, Long lunch, Lunch specials, Romance-first date, Views, Wheelchair access, Bar, Vegetarian friendly, Outdoor seating|
|Prices||Moderate (mains $20-$40)|
|Payments||eftpos, AMEX, Visa, Mastercard|
|Phone||03 9772 5111|
No, this can't be it. Surely not. This open-air car park with easy access to beauty salons, banks, podiatry practitioners and pet supplies looks a fine place to pull in for the daily necessaries but it doesn't feel like somewhere I'd head for fine dining.
That's until you walk through an arcade and find Puerto, right on the water, serving really good Spanish food in a large dining room that's been decorated with offbeat opulence and an eye on the long game.
The restaurant has been here since December overlooking the twinkling water of Patterson Lakes' Inner Harbour Marina. In fact, if you have a boat and an appetite you can berth for lunch and putt-putt off again, living the dream.
A glass wine cellar show-ponies on one side of a cleverly demarcated space; couches and banquettes soften the interior and offer fine perches to gaze at the view. The glam look is thanks to designer and darling of Armadale, Jean-Pierre Heurteau.
Chef Antony Henare managed the opening for owner Gavin Werner, a Ferntree Gully car dealer and erstwhile Patterson Lakes resident with a passion for Spain. It's Werner's first restaurant but Henare has three decades of experience in Queensland and Victoria, including two stints at Noosa's well-regarded Palmer's Restaurant, which also had a Spanish skew.
Everything on the long menu sounds good. I dug deep and it paid off: the flavours are true and there's old-school finesse.
Sweet, sticky dates and bacon are slowly, gently poached in olive oil, making for a sexy Mediterranean take on the old key-party favourite, devils on horseback.
Seared quail is tossed with plump red grapes and slicked up with rosemary oil.
Beef cheek is slow-cooked then grilled to serve, giving the perfect contrast between crisp and melting.
Fat Mount Martha mussels are dressed with celeriac puree and itty-bitty broad beans.
If I wanted to quibble, I'd talk about the lack of complimentary bread (the house offering is a delicious potato and muscatel roll but it's $6) and the desserts, which don't quite match the sophistication of the savoury dishes.
Building a great service team anywhere is hard; 35 kilometres from the city it's that bit harder but Puerto's excellent maitre d' is giving it a good crack with a young crew.
Overall, Puerto opens the door to delicious Spanish tastes in an unexpected location. If you live nearby, you're lucky; if you're heading up or down to the Mornington Peninsula, it's a great pit stop for cars and boats; and if you're looking for a new Melbourne take on Spanish eating, it's worth a drive.
Rating: Three and a half stars (out of five)