It’s not every day that Helen and I get asked to go to a Peruvian restaurant. To be honest, I had to do a quick Google search to make sure I knew which country it was from, Peru – yes of course. Our friend aka ‘The 3rd wheel’, invited us to go to Pastuso. Cool name, new restaurant and new cuisine for us, we were never gonna say no!
Located off Flinders Lane, Pastuso represents the classic Melbourne laneway experience. Nestled in the corner of the laneway, the entrance looks grand, yet it’s also low key at the same time. You would expect a place like this to be smack bang in the middle of the city. There’s a certain confidence which Pastusco emits, as if to say “you want us, come find us”. Or maybe I’m just overanalysing things again, it could be for the simple reason that the rent’s cheaper.
Walking in we were welcomed with funky colourful tiles and a beautiful bar with gold trimmings. Dimly lit lights complete the picture of an intimate and relaxed atmosphere. Being our eager selves, we arrived early and were escorted to the bar area for a quick drink while we waited for our table. Without much hesitation, I opted for the Pisco Sour while Helen got the Cucumber Chilcano. I’ve had Pisco Sours in the past but this one is without a doubt that best I’ve had!
We were handed the menus by one of the smiling and friendly staff and off we went. This menu was the gateway to our Peruvian food experience and I really liked what I saw, I wanted nearly everything on it! With us eating out so much, some menus are starting to look pretty boring. Brunch menus spring to mind, as most of them are roughly the same ingredients just repackaged. Pastuso’s menu in contrast was a whole new experience to what we’re generally used to. Ingredients such as marlin and alpaca captured my undivided attention. I had only seen marlins jumping out of the water on TV fishing shows, and alpaca… how many people can say they’ve tried alpaca before!?!
We found ourselves stuck in the ceviche section of the menu, and struggling to progress. Normally we’re lucky to get one ceviche on the menu, but they had six at Pastuso! Overwhelming as it is, we powered on and got the Corvina (lightly smoked black kingfish), salmon, and of course the Marlin Nikkei ceviche. The ceviche quality here was in a league of it’s own, and I would recommend coming here just to try some of these out. Instead of tasting just like lemon or lime juice, the ceviches here all had their very own distinct and unique characters. I couldn’t really fault any of them, but the one that stood out had to be the Marlin Nikkei. For such a huge fish, the texture was never going to be soft or mushy. It had a bouncy texture and was just the perfect fish for a ceviche. The braised shitake mushrooms and rice wine vinegar dressing worked its way in beautifully with the fish. Who could resist the pronounced mushroom flavours which shiitakes bring, the soft and subtle acidity of the rice wine vinegar to round it off. Thoroughly deserving of the best dish of the night award. My only criticism was that for such a massive fish, I was kinda expecting a bit more!
The Carpaccio de bife was also another highlight dish, it’s a shame that it’s from the specials menu so will most likely not be there next time. I would have loved to see this dish featured permanently. Now onto the meat which I had looked forward to the whole night – the alpaca ribs! These were 8 hour braised ribs with a honey glaze. I had all these perceptions on what I would think it would taste like, but it ended up being different to what I had ever imagined. Well basically it tasted like…. nothing. The meat itself didn’t have any character and was highly dependent on the sauce for flavour. I soon learnt that alpaca is a really lean and healthy meat which is low in fat and cholesterol. I was expecting a more gamey flavour. The honey glaze was not too sweet and just lightly coated each rib. I was very happy that I had the opportunity to try a new meat.
To be honest, after all the food we ate, dessert was an absolute blur to me. I felt like I was just going through the motions and I guess I should have left more space to really appreciate it. Oh well, over ordering is still something we’re heavily working on! The service at Pastuso was flawless. All the waiting staff were friendly and had a smile on their face. They were attentive and always down for a chat. They also showed great professionalism and always demonstrated their ability to take a joke, in response to our sometimes inappropriate conversations amongst ourselves! All it takes is a frown or judging eyes from the waiting staff to kill the mood, but these guys were really cool.
I highly recommend Pastuso for a special night out or anyone looking for a new food experience. Their food and flavours are uniquely different and will most likely leave a lasting impression. I know we’ll certainly be back especially for the ceviches. Now I do mention it’s best for a special night out because I did feel that the food was a little pricey, and the portions could be bigger. However, I do feel as though the food is high quality and the service is outstanding. An alternative would be to have a cheaper dinner elsewhere and come for the ceviches to finish off, best of both worlds!
Approx $70 AUD per person
Address: 19 ACDC Lane, Melbourne VIC 3000
Phone: +61 3 9662 4556