Disclosure: I was invited to dine as a guest of the restaurant
Slipping off Russel Street on to a dark and quiet laneway, through an unsuspecting door and down a set of stairs; in Melbourne you would probably expect to be met with loud music, slightly sticky floors and the firm vibrations of the bass bouncing off the walls.
But La Chinesca is a surprise. Yes it’s a bit dark, and yes it’s stripped back, a bit edgy, with a mix of brick and concrete walls, but fortunately the floors aren’t sticky…yet. There’s also a definite sense of luxury, with lovely leather booths, a plush sitting nook up on the wall and Laurent Perrier lining the shelves of the bar.
I’m definitely okay with this.
La Chinesca is somewhere I never got around to for the longest time, as before, they were toting a Chinese and Mexican fusion menu, and although I like both cuisines perfectly fine, I was a bit sceptical of the two together.
However, they’ve decided to do an overhaul of the menu and play to chef Daniel Salcedo’s real strengths, who not only helped make a seriously good argument for South American cuisine in Carlton with Piqueos, but is a native of Lima himself.
But first, let me briefly tell you, the cocktails are wicked. Wicked. Wicked. I rarely do cocktails anymore, having fully embraced my love of gin (and less calories in my alcohol habits), but goddamn. I wanted to have everything on that cocktail menu! I loved the Jungle Gin with choc chai gin (I KNOW!), Pimms, lemonade and mint. Although the chai and chocolate didn’t come through too strongly, the otherwise very refreshing cocktail did have a nice little bit of depth.
Although we did stay on the Laurent Perrier for a while as well, do ask for wine recommendations. I don’t quite remember what I had (oh, that’s the alcohol talking…), but there were one or two glasses of Spanish or South American wine that was just fascinating, and delicious.
But ah. We’re here for the food too. And although the Mexi-nese had some not so favourable reviews floating around, don’t worry, La Chinesca has gotten serious and Daniel Salcedo is only giving us flavour.
The Cebiche de Carretilla Limeno, local white fish, squid, lime, red onion, corn, lettuce and chilli was a snappy way to get right to our palates. With a nice dash of heat, and plenty of zing and zest, this is not a mild dish by any means to start! Very fresh. Loving it.
Grilled scallops were a perfect mouthful, only just cooked through, the way it should be.
Where Daniel is really doing some good work though, is the Los Anticuchos, also known as the Peruvian Grill. From chicken, to beef heart (I managed to convince everyone to get into it!), all of the proteins are marinated in panca chilli, potato’s and buttered corn (swoon). All of the meat is still beautifully juicy and tender, with a lovely char, and a touch of spiciness. Was very hard not to ask for more.
And then there were the hand cut chips. With mayo and ranchero sauce. Golden, short, crispy, crunchy. Again was quite difficult not to just mow through them… They really could do with slightly bigger portions of these now don’t you think? Or maybe that’s just the glutton in me talking…
Everything that was brought out to us smelt simply amazing, and I was honestly surprised at the quality of the food that was coming out, since it might be quite easy just to label La Chinesca as a bar. Take this beautiful short rib, tender and smoky.
To finish we got to have the ‘King Kong’, fig jam with Manjar Blanco, purple corn candy floss and shortbread. Oh man. I was freaking out over how short the shortbread is. You touched it and it crumbled, on the tongue it just dissolved into air almost. It was amazing, with the richness of the jam wedged between, and the sweet, but not overly, candy floss to add another flavour profile.
By this point, the little basement had gotten pretty loud, as gorgeous salsa dancers got the floor into the mood, with a live band and a whole lot of fun. Although I used to go to live local band gigs with Brad since he was in a band before, live Latin music is so much more fun.
La Chinesca has honestly surprised me, in the best way possible, and although I haven’t popped back yet, I certainly think it’d make a great spot for a quick drink, which could lead into a much longer night, with a whole lot of King Kong’s! I definitely left a little bit more stumbly than I expected to be on a Thursday night…
Harley House Basement
71 Collins Street