I first tried Peruvian food at Panca in New York City and I enjoyed it very much. It has become one of the new food trends in Melbourne, following on from the Mexican trend. By chance I noticed the menu for a new place called Picanteria on a laneway wall off Exhibition St just south of the corner of Collins St in the Melbourne CBD recently and was intrigued, so I returned a couple of days later for lunch.
Previously the home of the short-lived Mexican-Chinese fusion La Chinesca, Picanteria is in the basement of Harley House and is accessed from Strachan Lane off Exhibition St. It’s new and quietish for lunch, but I imagine it packed at night for food and drink, at least once it becomes known. See Instagram for some pictures and Twitter, which suggests that Picanteria only started trading last month.
I started with a causa con pulpo ($8, above). A causa is (in unflattering terms) a stack of items with a mashed potato patty at the base. But what a base. So light and fluffy it could easily be mistaken for dough. The mayo contains aji amarillo, a mild chilli that also gives it its colour. It was topped with avocado, cherry tomatoes and tender smoky octopus tentacle.
Next I had a and a sanguchon con chicharron ($16, below). A pulled pork sandwich, well stuffed, including with crackling, red onion and aji amarillo mayo. Divine. And perfect chips.
The space combines a raw concrete floor and pillars with a mixture of French bentwood and Danish mid century chairs around various sized tables, booths and bar stools. The art on the walls is by Vincent Fantauzzo (a co-owner), whose portrait of Heath Ledger won the 2008 Archibald people’s choice. It’s at the far end of the room. Eery.
Picanteria seems effortlessly cool. New York style basement meets trendy Peruvian food with extraordinary art on the walls. I’ll be back with friends in tow very soon.