Ceviche is what happens when you cross a fish and a lime. Well, there’s a bit more to it than that, but usually it involves dicing raw fish and letting it ‘cook’ in a citrus acid (like lime juice), along with some garlic, onion, chillies or coriander. The citrus juices do their thing (we don’t want to get all technical on your ass, but technically they cause the fish proteins to denature) and the result is something that looks cooked, but isn’t. Pale, tender fish with a citrus zing a sweet finish.
No-one know who started ceviche exactly, but Peru claims the dish (with a certain Andean smugness, it has to be said). And when Peruvian restaurants stormed onto the Melbourne food scene back in 2014, ceviche naturally came along for the ride. Suddenly you could get it everywhere, and Melburnians were talking about ‘protein denaturing’ at dinner parties across the city. A few years on, here’s where you can find the best ceviche in town.
The grandfather of Melbourne’s Peru restaurant scene (although it opened in 2014, so it’s a pretty hip, sprightly sort of grandfather). If you’ve got mates in town and they’re craving ceviche, Pastuso’s is probably where you’ll go. They have a full-on ceviche bar, dishing up ruby-red snapper, kingfish, salmon and marlin. Our fav might be the Trucha de Rio: smoked golburn river trout with garlic flowers, fennel, dill and cool-as-a cucumber dressing. Seriously yum.
Rice Paper Scissors
Everybody’s favourite Asian-fusion restaurant in the CBD (one day someone will make a fortune by opening an un-fused Asian restaurant in the CBD). Rice Paper Scissors does a mean Koi Pla Thai ceviche. Think lime-cured kingfish on a delicate salad of mint and shallots, with a kick-ass chilli afterburner.
Mamasita is the restaurant that kind of started the whole queuing-for-forty-minutes-because-we-don’t-take-bookings thing, which would be annoying if their Mexican food wasn’t so damn good. It says a lot about the restaurant that there are STILL queues most nights, despite not being the trendy kid on the block anymore. Their ceviche, as you’d expect, is top-notch: rockling in lime with an exotic blend of mandarin, fennel and Mexican tajin seasoning.
Windsor locals know that Mr Miyagi is the bee’s knees when it comes to beautifully-presented, modern Japanese. Their menu is ambitious and delicious in equal measure (they do a mean salmon sashimi, sure, but if you’re coming here for ‘vanilla’ Japanese, you’re doing it wrong). Try the ceviche instead, the only one we know that’s served on a freakin’ coconut panna cotta. The yellowtail kingfish is fresh and amazing, and a mix of cucumber, grapefruit, and tangy ginger dressing keep the palate guessing.
Another Windsor favourite (must be something in the water down there). Saigon Sally is tucked down Duke St, not far from its sister, Tokyo Tina, and as siblings go, it’s the mature one. The menu is small and carefully curated, built around Vietnamese-inspired share plates. They do have a fantastic ceviche though: kingfish marinated in pomelo, instead of lime, served on a betel leaf with green papaya, shallots and a good chilli burn. The perfect pre-cocktail snack. Gluten free, too.
Kensington’s La Tortilleria is known for, you guessed it, its hand-made tortillas (in fact it claims to be the only place in Melbourne who makes them on-site, in the traditional way). You can actually watch Mexican-born chef Gerardo Lopez fire up the tortilla maker, grind lime-soaked grains into dough, and press them into perfect little discs. Its one of these famous tortillas that forms the base of the barramundi ceviche. It comes out topped with guacamole, fresh radish, carrot and cucumber. Not the most delicate ceviche on the list, but the crispy-fried base adds a fantastic crunch.
Mi Peru D’Carmen
Go where the expats go, that’s our motto. And you’ll find plenty of Peruvian locals at Mi Peru D’Carmen in Parkdale. The menu is usually geared more to Andean comfort food, hearty stews like aji de gallina, seco con frijoles and carapulcra, but it also churns out some of the best ceviche in Melbourne. Look out for the Tiraditos de Pescado on the menu: finely sliced fish, marinated in lime and served with Peruvian yellow chillies. Mi Peru D’Carmen is BYP, just FYI, so remember to bring your favourite Peruvian drop (the country turns out a mean Malbec or Cab Sav).
St Kilda’s famous fusion of food truck and fine dining, you’ll spot Radio Mexico pumping on a Saturday night as your drive down Carlisle St. Their house-made salsas are a tangy work of art (try the chilaquiles, thank us later) but the ceviche is known as a winner. It comes served with crispy totopo chips on the side, plus lime-cooked rockling, creamy avocado and ruby-red grapefruit. All you need to finish the picture is a classic St Kilda sunset and a bottle of Red Stripe. It’s the little things.
You had us at ‘Rum & Pisco Bar’. Built on a foundation of Latin American street food and neon swagger, Lady Carolina has become on of our favourite northside haunts. The atmosphere is fun, the pisco sours go down very smoothly, and the food is bang-on. Enter the ceviche: a selection of dishes, ranging from white fish with aji chillies, coriander and sweet potato crisps to a veggo option, served with cauliflower, avo, carrot and pico de gallo. Nexst time you’re on Lygon St and stuck for ideas, give Carolina a call. You’ll be glad you did.
You know what goes well with ceviche? Pisco Sour. Make it yourself with Pastuso's signature recipe.
Image credit: Pastuso