Situated among Southbank’s big city brands like Burberry, Louis Vuitton, Sake and Rockpool, a quiet achieving Argentinian-inspired eatery has popped up amongst the glam. It’s the new flavour of the month and we’re mighty pleased to be dining here. Uncomplicated, cleverly thought-out menus offer a great choice in tempting and deliciously flavoured, aromatic starters and sides. But the hero here at Asado Melbourne is unmistakably the meat… or so we’re told.
The showpiece of the restaurant’s kitchen is the custom stainless steel asado fire pit – a device traditionally used in Argentina to barbeque, usually outdoors; and the charcoal parrilla – a flat grill over coals. As one might expect the asado fire pit (for foodies) is one of the first things to admire upon arrival – to marvel at an entire beast stretched and tied across its metal grill bars, its fat slowly dripping over hot coals, the meat flame-licked and slow roasting and producing rich umami flavours enhanced with an aromatic smokey goodness. We wait anxiously to taste tonight’s Western Plains pork. But first we are seated upon cow hide-upholstered dining chairs, and handed an impressive wine list.
Asado’s offers a surprising selection of rare, and often award-winning wines, imported from South America, France and Spain; including some high quality by-the-glass choices. A quick glance at the wine list confirms the need for assistance – as deciphering winery names, locations and varietals is most certainly a learning experience for the uninitiated.
Thankfully however, our sommelier is more than up to the task. Knowledgable words are passionately spoken of the wine growing region of the Humberto Canale, colonial era high altitude Argentinean winery, with its Rose ‘Rio Negro’ product – a wine name that loosely translates to ‘black river’– a province in northern Patagonia, which at its heart features a massive wine region flanking the river.
Another wine name catches our eye: Alta Vista ‘Terroir Selection’ Malbec. No this is not the defunct pre-Google search engine. This is the very winery that pioneered the single vineyard concept in Argentina. It owns various vineyards in some of the best areas of Mendoza, 800kms or so north-west of the Rio Negro. The ‘Terroir Selection’ is a blend of several of these.
Our sommelier recommends the high altitude, mountain grown Piattelli Cafayate Grand Reserve Malbec ($75), as a match for our mains. Piattelli is the label name and Cafayate is the name of the valley in which the vineyard is located: inside Salta – the provincial mountainous capital of northwestern Argentina. Here grown at over 5,890 feet in elevation, this wine promises a full bodied palate coupled with a silky mouthfeel layered with a mix of stewed plums and bramble fruits. We later discover that this is somewhat linear in approach (not overly complex), but proves exceedingly well balanced, and with a texture and mouthfeel that makes it a perfect match to BBQ meats.
First we begin our meal with Piattelli ‘Torrontés’ Riojano ($14/$70) – Torrontés is a fresh and highly aromatic Argentine wine grape variety. This wine is also grown in the Cafayate Valley high altitude vineyard, and features stunning musk aromas with touches of orange blossom citrus. Its mouthfeel is creamy and delicate, yet balanced with a fine acidity. It’s a class act that we’d happily enjoy time and again.
Asado’s tapas/pintxos menu features a range of well-presented classics including simple combinations like sweet corn, manchego and pepper Empanadas; and seriously moorish Croqueta: salted cod croquettes served with pickled fennel and sour cream. Mejillones: fried smoked mussels in escabeche with pickled cucumber and garlic mayonnaise tease the palate further, also introducing the element of cooking with fire. This fine group of starters clearly sets the scene; immediately winning us over with a range of authentic flavour profiles.
Next up, a ceviche of swordfish, pickled corn, charred spring onion and yellow peach is yet another a taste sensation. It’s vibrant, fresh and light, and features wonderful charred-smokey elements that combine well with its dressing of tangelo juice, fresh chilli and olive oil. For this dish alone Asado is well worth the visit.
Parrilla-grilled meats like the firm-textured, yet still moist and succulent O’Connor’s premium pasture fed flank steak with salsa verde certainly hit the spot; however our attention was also firmly focused on the seafood, vegetables and sides which continuously wowed us. These we feel form a group of star contenders that elevate the share plate dining experience even further.
One such example not to be missed is the insanely good traditional pre-asado Provoleta – a dish containing hot provolone cheese baked with raisins soaked in oloroso sherry, then topped with dried oregano and chilli flakes. It arrives at the table bubbling hot and with killer aromatics rising from its baking dish. Similar to a Greek saganaki, the provolone’s salty tang is offset by the sweetness and richness of the raisins. This offering and others like Zanahorias: chargrilled carrots, pumpkin seeds, goats curd and black cabbage cream, were highly unexpected killer plates. We’d go as far to say that for vegetarians, Asado is possibly the best meat-lovers restaurant in the state; if not of course for the ‘aromatic’ taint of charring, melting and grilled flesh.
While we completely understand that Southbank, Melbourne has evolved into an extended shopping mall containing posh brands and big name restaurants aimed at luring people inside the hideously uncool nearby casino; we’re more than pleased to have discovered an authentic diamond in the fluff. Asado Melbourne effortlessly manages to serve up impeccable plates of food with the help of highly-trained wait staff who make dining an absolute pleasure. As a riverside establishment designed to deliver wow factor food in a jiffy, Asado Melbourne is sure to remain on our radar.
6 Riverside Quay, Southbank, Victoria