Review: Pachamama House (Surry Hills)

Pachamama means “Mother Earth” in Quechua and Aymara, two of the main languages spoken by the aboriginal people of my country. Ancient Peruvian cultures, like many others in the world, treated the land (the world, the universe) with care and respect because they knew that life depended on it.

That’s why Pachamama House is, in my opinion, a terrific name for a restaurant. A brand new Surry Hills restaurant owned by Peruvian Chef Danny Parreno (from La Bodeguita del Medio, and many others).

Entrance

Danny describes his new adventure like Modern Australian cuisine with Peruvian and Japanese influences (his blood, like mine, has both). I’d dare to say that it’s mainly Peruvian, but Latin American could be a better classification. Which is not a bad thing, specially in the bar; Peruvian pisco is awesome but wine is terrible. Luckily, they have good reds and wines from elsewhere.

Bar

Board

We didn’t even look at the cocktails board and ordered pisco sours to start. Less thick and sweet (win!) than usual, tangy and refreshing. A mysterious red/pink substance stained the froth instead of the traditional dash of bitters.

Pisco sour

Pisco sour ($16)

For the rest of the meal, we chose the 2010 Misterio Malbec from Argentina that was not bad at all.

Malbec

2010 Misterio Malbec ($9 a glass)

The top section of the menu contains five kinds of cebiche (correctly spelled!): classic, a la piedra (hot, with seafood), Nisei, Jalisco (Mexican-style), and tiradito. We wanted one of each but thought that two would be a good number to be able to try more dishes. The chosen ones were the classic: snapper, lime, green chili, coriander, and sweet potato chips, and the Nisei (meaning children of Japanese parents born overseas): grilled octopus, yuzu dressing & yaki onigiri.

The classic cebiche was excellent: the fish had been cut tiradito/sashimi style, the lime was very sour (the way I like it), and the chips provided sweetness and crunch. Minor bad news for heat lovers and/or big eaters: the chili wasn’t noticeable (a saucer with rocoto would be a nice-to-have feature) and the portion was very small.

Cebiche classic

Cebiche classic ($15)

The Nisei cebiche was very different to all other Japanese-influenced cebiches/tiraditos I’ve had, in a good way. It was the most tender octopus I’ve ever had. The dressing, while subtle, had a chili kick to it, and this version of yaki onigiri (with potato starch, as we were told by the waitress) rounded off the dish texture-wise. I enjoyed this cebiche as much as the other.

Cebiche nisei

Cebiche Nisei ($15)

The other two dishes arrived a bit too early but didn’t suffer too much from sitting at room temperature. First was the seared wagyu rump, roasted okra & anticucho sauce, a Peruvian interpretation of the classic beef tataki that worked very well. Gladys declared this her favourite dish.

Seared wagyu rump, roasted okra & anticucho sauce

Seared wagyu rump, roasted okra & anticucho sauce ($16)

Next came the Chilean sea bass, roasted scallops, yucca & panca sauce (ají panca is a dried red Peruvian chili that is the base of many traditional dishes). The fish and scallops were perfectly cooked, the sauce was delicious and moreish. It was my favourite dish of the night.

Chilean sea bass, roasted scallops, yucca & panca sauce

Chilean sea bass, roasted scallops, yucca & panca sauce ($27)

Four dishes later we were still hungry (and we thought we had ordered too much!). We opted for the salchipapas: smoked frankfurter, roasted potatoes & ají amarillo mayonnaise, a more refined rendition of the classic fast food dish (fried sliced frankfurter and chips). Good sausage and potatoes, great sauce.

Salchipapas

Salchipapas ($10)

We didn’t sample the whole spectrum of dishes but found the ones we chose were consistent in quality. The downside? Portions are smaller than prices (call it “gourmet” food, if you like), specially for a full-time student like me.

Pachamama House
200 Goulburn Street
Surry Hills NSW 2010
(02) 9261 8799
www.pachamamahouse.com.au

Pachamama House on Urbanspoon

Interview with Danny Parreno (La Bodeguita Del Medio)

La Bodeguita Del Medio is an institution of Cuban food and drinks. Since it opened in la Havana in 1950 has been recognised as the “home of the mojito”, and now has restaurants in the most important cities in the world, such as Prague, Macedonia, Miami, San Francisco, London, Berlin, Beirut and Mexico City. Recently, its Sydney restaurant was launched with Peruvian Danny Parreno as executive chef, and in a few weeks has become a huge success.

La Bodeguita Del Medio

Dishes like tiradito de vieiras, codillo de cerdo con naranja, and empanadas de conejo con pebre show the influence that Danny and Nelson Burgos, the Chilean head chef, have on the menu. In an environment that perfectly recreates the bohemian vibe of old Havana, surrounded by wood, dark brown leather, photos and Latin music, Danny told me about his previous experience and his work in La Bodeguita.

La Bodeguita Del Medio

I know you were in Slip Inn before coming to work here.

Yes, I was there basically helping out, I had just arrived from Miami, I was working there, in no particular restaurant, but when I arrived in Sydney obviously I quickly found myself a workplace, which was Slip Inn.

Danny Parreno, executive chef

Always trying to organise Latin things I made that Peruvian festival called The Pescador Platter. It was a success, we had about 250 people that night and it was really good, everything obviously with seafood. We had a show with big octopus cooking them on the barbecue with anticuchos chilli and all of that, everything based on Latin things, on Peruvian things. Then I went to work to Prague with people of this same business, with this same company for 2 months, I came back to Australia and basically straight here with them. I got this job practically from that festival, the owners were to that restaurant and said “this is the kind of food that we need, this is the kind of vibe that we want”.

How does it work? Because the Bodeguitas in other parts of the world have different menus…

To explain what I do: what I work with is fusion, I don’t mess around too much, what I do is to incorporate indigenous ingredients because obviously being Peruvian I use a lot of Peruvian things, but keeping the Cuban identity. What I do in the kitchen is more focused in flavour, presentation obviously is very important in what we do but I like to combine a lot and understand the flavours. I am very conscious of the ingredients that we use in a dish, in how we will do it and how it will sound, how it will be described in the menu.

La Bodeguita Del Medio

How many years have you been outside of Peru?

I left when I was 15, but before that I lived 3 year in Venezuela, also in Colombia, my father worked as a musician, so since I was a kid I was always travelling, I was in Chile, traveled around South America, Central America. I was in Miami recently, my mother has lived in Miami for many years. I always go to Miami, I have just arrived from there, I was around 2 years there, in Canada, Toronto, Cuba. I’ve worked in French restaurants, I’ve worked with Michael Lambie, who worked with Marco Pierre White, I’ve worked with Achatz, with all those people who have been a big influence in what I do.

And in Australia?

Living in Melbourne I was in Taxi, Upper And Lower House, that also belongs to Michael Lambie, then I worked for The Supper Club that is also a good restaurant, I worked as executive chef in Waterfront in Melbourne, with seafood. In all of those restaurants I’ve worked with key people, obviously learning a lot from them.

I’ve been working in kitchens since I was 17. I haven’t had the opportunity of working overseas in many restaurants that I would have liked to but my work is based on research and learning.

Danny Parreno, executive chef

Do you go back to Peru once in a while?

I was in Peru in 2003, I’ll go back this year. When I just arrived there I had a baby girl so we couldn’t travel too much, we stayed in Lima, but this time we’ll travel around and eat, because I know that things have changed there so much food-wise. It’s incredible and that’s what I love, and Peruvian food obviously is delicious.

Do you use any Peruvian ingredients?

Many, obviously ají amarillo, ají panca, huacatay. To get huacatay, because the only way of getting it here was in jars, I went to see some horticulturists and they told me that here is considered a weed but it grows, then they showed me where to look for it, in the Blue Mountains, and I have a friend who gets me some branches and I show them to the guys in the kitchen. I keep some jars just in case because sometimes it’s not in season. And I have friends who grow ají amarillo and they give me some. I buy Peruvian ingredients in Tierras Latinas in Fairfield. The head chef is Chilean and he brings aachiote, pebre, Chilean ají, merkén, and we combine the ingredients.

Every element that we add to the dishes has to work, even the parsley or the coriander that is added in the end.

What we want to do with Latin fusion in Australia is similar to what Longrain did with Thai and Asian food, they made it as close as possible to traditional food but more modern in a way that the customers can understand it, and that definitely works.

About the guys in the kitchen, are they all Latin American?

Just one, Nelson, a Chilean, he has a lot of determination in promoting Latin American food, he worked in French restaurants, in top quality restaurants during his career, and I have worked with him for many years. Being Chilean he understands Latin American food. Then we have a pastry chef who is a Brazilian girl, who won a prize in Le Cordon Bleu and has been working in patisserie for a long time. Key people in the kitchen are Latin American because they have to understand the cuisine, but the rest are Australians and one from Estonia.

Kitchen

Can you see a future for Peruvian cuisine in Australia or for Latin American food as a whole?

I think that Peruvian cuisine can definitely work. I think that if it did, it would be in Melbourne first because people there like things that are unique, many people there understand food, they’re alternative, they like to try different things. I think that something like a peña from Lima would work, without being too traditional. I can imagine that there are Peruvian restaurants in Lima that could bring here what is not available yet. The only drawback is that obviously the products, the ingredients are not very accessible, which I think is the key. Especially with food, the freshest, the better. But the concept is what could be Peruvian, with a bit of fusion.

I think that we have arrived to the climax of Asian cuisine and there has to be something different, especially with Peruvian food that is so similar to Thai food because it has the same fresh elements like lemons, limes, chillies, rice. Obviously I thank Peruvian chefs in Australia who are doing what they can to contribute.