The first time you visit Palermo, you might get a weird sense of déjà vu. That’s because you’ve probably been in here before. Everyone has. This used to be The Apartment—a sticky-floored dive bar which clung grimly to life, despite not turning a profit since Rhianna released Umbrella.
We loved the old place, for all its faults (the less said about the bathrooms the better), but it’s nice to see the building get a new lease on life. This time as something pretty special: a sultry Argentine bodega.
Palermo is the latest project from the team behind Pastuso and the CBD’s other Argentine steakhouse, San Telmo. And you can see the similarities. This place is pitched at the dinner date crowd—a classy late-night venue where you can splash a bit of cash, or just drop in for a punchy glass of Malbec. The aesthetic is bang-on too. Plenty of mood lighting, low leather booths, dark timber, retro black and white tiles, plus a huge mural the team discovered during renovations: a Tuscan hill-scene from a previous tenant, Marchetti’s Tuscan Grill.
Running the pass, you’ve got head chef Ollie Gould (ex Stokehouse) who’s put together a seriously cool menu.
“Palermo’s menu style can be best described as progressive primal, with a European slant,” Ollie says. “Along with the open fire pit and parilla grill, we will pay tribute to the important influence
Spanish and Italian cultures have had on Argentinian cuisine. Think of it as a modern spin on 500 years of culinary history.”
The asado fire pit is the restaurant’s big drawcard. It’s a huge, spark-spitting construction, set up in full view of the restaurant floor. This is where the magic happens. Gould will be roasting huge cuts of Gippsland-sourced lamb and Western Plains Pork suckling pig (known as Cochinillo a La Cruz – Spanish for ‘piglet of the cross’). We can confirm the meat is tender, juicy and pull-apart delicious. You could eat it with a bloody dessert spoon, it’s that soft.
The menu has a definite Argentine kick, just like San Telmo, but there’s a European influence as well. Which is why, along with fried beef, green olive and egg empanadas (a crusty, meaty sensation), Gould is also serving up oysters with a chardonnay and shallot dressing, plus beef tartare with pickled cabbage and fried capers.
Personally though? We’re here for meat. Rich, sticky, perfectly cooked meat. Steak lovers have to try the Entrana: a grain-fed skirt steak from the Ranger’s Valley. And the Vacio flank steak is another dead-set winner, served just under medium with a dollop of garlicky chimichurri. Take our advice and load up with a side of Papas—crispy fried potatoes that you’ll want to hog all to yourself. And for dessert? It’s gotta be Gould’s Dulce de Leche crème caramel with salted peanut praline.
Where there’s steak there’s gonna be wine, and the team have sourced some kickass Argentinian producers, including Ruca Malen (from the Mendoza region) and Humberto Canale (from the Rio Negro), plus a rotating selection of European and Australian favourites. There’s also a range of Euro-style digestives if you need something to settle the meat coma. Our fave is the Ilegal Reposado Mezcal from Oaxaca in Mexico.
So who’s going to like this place? Melbourne locals who want to impress their Sydney mates. Professionals hunting for a classy corporate lunch. Date night couples who want something with a bit of swagger. And anyone who’s got a soft spot for slow-cooked, flame-grilled, Fred Flinstone-style meat. We’re guessing that’s most of you, yeah?
Want to learn more about Palermo? Check out our Directory page.
Image credit: Annika Kafcaloudis