Review: La Bodeguita Del Medio (Sydney CBD) – Closed

Last week, after interviewing La Bodeguita Del Medio’s executive chef Danny Parreno, he introduced me to head chef Nelson Burgos and they kindly prepared a few dishes for me to sample.

Completely immerse in the Latin vibe as I had never been before in Sydney, I sat down and got into the vibe. The salsa music coming out of the speakers didn’t feel unnatural at all, and if it wasn’t for the English-speaking waitresses I would have sworn I was somewhere closer to home.

To start the meal, I was offered a bread roll. Olive and quinoa were the options; not surprisingly I chose the latter. The roll was warm and I couldn’t resist smearing it with the provided butter, but I did have a few bites without it to appreciate the naked flavour of the bread. White and red quinoa, as well as other seeds (not sure if poppy or chia), had been generously incorporated in the dough, giving the roll the nutty taste I’m so used to.

Quinoa bread

Quinoa bread

Quinoa bread

The first course was Tiradito de vieiras (sliced sea scallops, yellow chilli with prawn dressing). Tiradito is a Peruvian dish similar to cebiche, but in this case the raw seafood that is marinated in lime juice is sliced sashimi-style, and often covered with a chilli sauce. The sauce in this dish had Peruvian yellow chilli and prawns. An additional and unexpected ingredient was sesame oil, which worked extremely well with the sweetness of the scallop meat. The sauce was silky and delicious, although I suspect some people may find it a bit too hot.

Tiradito de vieiras

Tiradito de vieiras ($16)

A few minutes later my drink arrived. I’m not a big fan of Mojito and I’m certainly not a fan of cocktails in Australia (which tend to be very weak in alcohol content and expensive for what you get) but this drink changed my mind. With the strength of a proper cocktail and a perfect sweetness-bitterness balance, it showed why La Bodeguita is the home of Mojito.

Mojito

Mojito ($10)

Next to arrive was a dish that will be introduced in the winter menu and that was, hands down, my favourite of the night: Sopa de yuca con tierra de aceitunas y tamal dumplings (cassava soup with olive “earth” and tamales dumplings). The presentation was beautiful, the olive “earth” decorated with micro herbs reminded of a piece of land entering the soup as if it was an enormous lake. Texture-wise, the dish met perfection, too: the velvety soup didn’t become boring thanks to the crunchiness of the olive “earth” and the softness of the tamal pillows. Last but not least, the flavour was incredible. I’ve eaten yuca all my life but never pureed as the main character of a soup. It was starchy and slightly sweet. It screamed “comfort food”. The olives were salty enough to provide contrast and the little tamales had that South American corn taste that is impossible to get here. Truly, a magical moment.

Sopa de yuca con tierra de aceitunas y tamales dumplings

Sopa de yuca con tierra de aceitunas y tamal dumplings

The next dish is, according to Danny, one of the best sellers in the bar. The croquetas de malanga (taro croquettes served with ají de gallina sauce) came with a side of pickled strips of cucumber, with a sweet and sour freshness to keep things interesting. The croquettes were very starchy as expected, perhaps a tad underseasoned, but I can imagine they work perfect as morsels to have with drinks. The ají de gallina sauce was tasty and worked very well with the croquettes.

Croquetas de malanga

Croquetas de malanga – Taro croquettes served with ají de gallina sauce ($15)

The croquettes were followed by the most popular dish of the restaurant (they sell between 45 and 50 units per night). Inspired by the Mexican mole sauce, Danny decided to search for the best tasting chocolate he could find, loaded with spices, and use it in combination of a different bird (mole is usually paired with turkey or chicken). This is how Pato con chocolate (duck breast, sweet potato & spinach croquants with chocolate sauce) was born. Having eaten mole and some other savoury dishes with chocolate it was not a big shock for me. The meat was perfectly cooked and the flavours of both the chocolate sauce and the sweet potato puree complimented it well, thanks to the sweetness of both, but also of the spices used. I can see why so many people return to the restaurant to order this particular dish.

Pato con chocolate

Pato con chocolate ($36)

This impromptu degustation was coming to an end and I was falling short of stomach room. Fortunately, dessert was frozen, and as my granny used to say about ice cream: “it slips down the sides”. The waitress arrived at the table with the most spectacular dish of the night. A round glass contained the dessert and was covered by a conical glass lid that had a mint leaf in the middle along with that familiar whitish smoke coming out of it. Yes, liquid nitrogen. I was instructed to grab the leave and bite it. It was chilled and incredibly crunchy, but retained its characteristic flavour. Then the waitress poured the liquid nitrogen in the glass and told me to wait until the smoke vanished to start eating. Once it did, what resembled a beautiful Japanese garden or the bottom of the ocean appeared. It was almost too pretty to eat but I had to try it. The dessert is called Mojito… una vez más (which means “mojito… once again”, and consisted in lime granita, mint, rum & sherbet). With the fresh, distinctive flavour of the mint still in my mouth I proceeded to try the different components of this sweet end of the meal for adults. There was bitterness, moderate sweetness, crunchiness and silkiness all working together in perfect balance. Genius dessert.

Mojito... una vez más

Mojito… una vez más Lime granita, mint, rum & sherbet ($13)

Even when I normally avoid drinking coffee after lunch I felt I needed an alcohol-free drink to settle things down. An excellent macchiato closed this wonderful dinner.

Macchiato

Gaby @ lateraleating dined in La Bodeguita Del Medio as a guest of executive chef Danny Parreno.

La Bodeguita del Medio
125 York Street
Sydney, NSW, 2000
(02) 9264 4224
lbdm.com.au

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.