Chef Matt McConnell and his partner Jo Gamvros signed up for the Little Collins Street site that became Bar Lourinha without even having seen it. It was while they were on the Greek island of Samos in 2005 researching for the little bar they had in mind that the perfect spot came up.
"It was the early days of the internet and was quite funny looking at real estate in a really bad internet cafe using the slowest dial-up ever," says McConnell.
Five months later, after giving the place a quick spruce-up, they were slinging drinks and bright, gutsy dishes, drawing on recipes they'd tucked into their backpacks as they trekked through Spain, Italy, Portugal and Greece.
Their new cookbook, Eat at the Bar, documents their travels and the recipes that have helped keep Bar Lourinha on Melbourne's must-visit list since it opened in 2006.
Here Matt McConnell shares some of his favourite party-friendly dishes.
Don't skimp for this recipe – it's so simple, but it relies on you using a remarkable anchovy. We've always used Ortiz or anything from Cantabria on the Basque coast, which are caught, filleted and salted straight away. A lot of the really good ones are hand-filleted, so it's a pretty intensive process and the prices reflect that. To make party preparations easier, the bread can be grilled beforehand and flashed through an oven when you want to serve. Always add the anchovy afterwards so not to cook it.
⅔ loaf square sourdough, preferably at least 1 day old
100ml garlic oil (see note)
5g fine salt
12 fine anchovy fillets, preferably Spanish
1 tbsp olive oil
1 tbsp thyme leaves, to garnish
1. Using a sharp knife, remove the crusts from the loaf and slice the bread into soldiers, about 10cm × 1cm. Douse the bread in the garlic oil and salt and place on a hot grill or in a hot char-grill pan. Grill all four sides until evenly charred, then transfer to a serving plate.
2. Using a sharp knife, make an incision down the length of the bread fingers – being sure not to cut all the way through – and insert an anchovy fillet in each slit. Finish with a splash of olive oil and garnish with thyme leaves.
Photo: Mark Roper
Mushrooms and garlic cream
We first had this in Sydney in a funny little tapas bar we used to go to called Capitan Torres. When we were in Spain we discovered that it was a staple of most traditional tapas bars. We liked the fact that you could use a plain cultivated mushroom and turn it into something with so much flavour. The mushrooms take only a little time to cook so make sure you have prepared all ingredients in advance and cook just before serving. If serving at a cocktail party, a Chinese spoon would be a perfect way serve allow the delicious sauce to be eaten with out mess or fuss.
2 tbsp olive oil
300g baby button mushrooms
pinch of salt
2 garlic cloves, sliced
1 golden shallot, sliced
2 tbsp torn flat-leaf (Italian) parsley leaves
125ml (½ cup) dry white wine
125ml (½ cup) thickened cream
freshly ground black pepper, to taste
1 tbsp toasted fine dry breadcrumbs
1. Heat the olive oil in a heavy, cast-iron frying pan, then add the mushrooms and salt, making sure the mushrooms are lying flat on the base of the pan. Cook on a very high heat, turning frequently, until golden brown. Add the garlic, shallot and parsley and fry until starting to soften.
2. Take the pan off the heat and add the wine, cream and pepper, then return the pan to a high heat and reduce and caramelise the sauce (this can take about 4-5 minutes). When the sauce has thickened and is bubbling, pour the mushrooms and sauce into a bowl and top with the toasted breadcrumbs.
Note: Garlic oil is simple to make, just add 1 crushed garlic clove to 100ml olive oil.
Tinto Verano (centre). Photo: Mark Roper
Tinto Verano is fantastic served in a punch bowl or jug. The orange can be substituted with any fresh seasonal fruit such as watermelon, white peach, strawberries or even a combination of all.
60ml ¼ cup) Liquor 43
60ml (¼ cup) freshly squeezed lemon juice
½ orange, cut into 5 wedges
15 mint leaves, torn
ice cubes, to serve
lemonade, to serve
1. Build all the ingredients in a large glass serving jug or punch bowl. Top with ice and fill up with lemonade. Stir well before serving.
Edited extract from Eat at the Bar by Matt McConnell, published by Hardie Grant Books, RRP $50.