With Melbourne’s Winter closing in who wouldn’t want a quick trip to Argentina? Piqueos in North Carlton provides just that. Meeting some girlfriends there on a chilly Saturday night for dinner the glow from the restaurant with its shiny copper tables and dangling filament light bulbs spilled out onto the street. Inside the temperature was certainly more South America than Melbourne with a full restaurant and a blistering log fire in one corner.
Piqueos is a “small plates” place with everything served to share but it somehow all works. To start shiny golden empanadas perfectly formed and mixing textbook short pastry with a robust minced beef olive and egg filling ($4.50 each).
Like any self respecting Argentinian restaurant the star of the show here is the parrilla hidden away in the kitchen. This is the Argentinian version of a barbecue and it’s put too good use at Piqueos. The Little Creek sirloin steak ($32) has a great crisp and smoky charred crust coating the juicy meat.
For a BBQ joint it is some of the non meat dishes which are the most impressive. The parrilla is put to good use again to grill a fat fillet of pearly white fish ($27) drizzled with chimichurri and a squeeze of lime. Delicate and tangy, a ceviche adds ($15) balance made with sweet corn, and John Dory ‘cooked’ in lime curing liquid and char grilled octopus ($15) is both smoky and sweet.
Simple vegies shine like the sweet blackened carrots with a dollop of goats curd ($9) and a salad of radicchio leaves serving as a bowl for red and black quinoa studded with pomegranate seeds ($14).
Ordering dessert is non-negotiable thanks to the addition of the caramel like dulce de leche to just about everything. “‘Dulche de leche’ is the chimichurri of Argentinian dessert” my friend Clare quipped. I wasn’t complaining though when it came to the alfajores outrageously short cornflour shortbreads sandwiching dulche de leche and even better the dessert empanada served hot and oozing with more of that delicious dulce de leche. The wine list is also an adventure, all Argentinian, but I loved the 2012 Tapiz Torontes ($11) with its citrus and floral flavours. Since I won’t be off to Argentina any time soon (sadly) dinner at Piqueos was a pretty good substitute.
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Details: Piqueos, 298 Rathdowne St, Carlton North 3054 (Ph 9349 2777) Open: Tue-Thu 5.30pm-10pm, Fri-Sat 12-11pm; Sun 12-10pm.