Food afficianado, S, was horrified to hear that I had not dined at Bar Lourinhas. My excuse was that there are just too many restaurants and not enough time or stomach space (a common Melbournian dilemma). However, even I have to admit that this particular miss was poor form. So Thursday night saw us making a beeline to the Parliament end of the city after work for some tapas (and a bonus lesson in blogging for me :P I have to credit the comments below to a much more experienced restaurant-goer).
The tiny restaurant on Little Collins Street is just old-school cool, decorated with an assortment of seemingly random items that, for some reason, just seem to work together. The wall is particularly impressive, adorned with a collection of brass and copper dishes, pots, cans, framed artwork, mirrors, pistols, plastic chillis and garlic, fans, a collector’s dream. “It used to be bare but we just keep adding stuff to it”, said the waitress when she took note of my wide-eyed excitement (I’m a bit of a hoarder). We were seated at the beautiful, dark timber bar, the best vantage point for scoping out the deco as well as catching a glimpse of the action in the kitchen. There are a couple of communal tables for larger groups as well as some very comfy looking couches at the front of the room.
We started off with drinks whilst we perused the menu – a glass of 2009 Chambers Fiano and OJ & Campari.
The menu is quite small, comprising a selection of smaller starters (spiced almonds, banderillas, croquetas and the like), cold meat plates and larger sharing dishes. Everything sounded quite interesting and the choice was made more difficult by the many specials described to us by the waitress (who had an incredible memory given the extensive list of ingredients). In the end, S chose a few dishes on his ‘sure-win’ list and we also selected one of the specials.
First up was Yellowtail kingfish ‘pancetta’. Thin slices of silky, salty, cured fish, paired with fragrant lemon oil; ‘complimentary flavours and textures’ and a perfect starter according to S. This was served with some dense, chewy bread for mopping up the oil. The bread bowl was generously replenished throughout our meal, required for more delicious sauces to come.
The next item was a dish of roasted mushrooms. Looked simple but boy did this pack a punch. Bite-sized champignon mushrooms slathered in a garlic cream sauce with an occasional flavour punch delivered by a dusting of sharp parmesan. Pure comfort food. Just give me this and a bowl of bread and I’d be happy.
Mushrooms were followed by a dish of spiced chickpeas and spinach (my, weren’t we healthy?). The wilted spinach picked up all the intensely flavoured sauce but still had some bite and the chickpeas were soft and floury, both perfectly cooked. This was probably one of my favourites of the night because the flavours reminded me, strangely enough, of a delicious Chinese dish of roast pork braised with pickled mustard greens that Mum makes.
Next came the special – a Portuguese peasant dish of roasted pork, morcilla and bread. This was incredibly rich; smokey, creamy, thick slices of morcilla, all crispy around the edges, fatty morsels of shredded pork and crispy croutons that had soaked up all the fats and flavour released by roasting the meat and sausage. Delicious, but this definitely needed something light and fresh as an accompaniment to be able to eat much of it.
Dinner at Bar Lourinha was a very enjoyable affair and now I know why S was so horrified at this missing piece of my Melbourne food experience. This small restaurant oozes casual charm and elegance and the brilliant service makes dining here such a breeze that it doesn’t seem small at all. The staff are knowledgeable and interested in your opinion and food comes out quickly but orderly so that you’re not playing tetris trying to fit all the plates onto the table. The food looks deceptively simple but is really done well; I’d go back just for the vegetables. And with the beautiful private room upstairs, Long Table Dinners to come and a massive wine list to explore, I’ll definitely be making the time and stomach space for some repeat visits.