Where: Portello Rosso, 15 Warburton Lane Melbourne
What: A parent-friendly restaurant where the food is as good as the acoustics
Who: Mama Whatever Floats Your Bloat, Papa Whatever Floats Your Bloat
Bloat score: 1 – Had to loosen my belt a notch
It’s hard work choosing a parent-friendly restaurant when yours are a) hyper critical Asian parents who think they can make whatever it is they’re eating at a restaurant themselves and b) averse to not being able to hear themselves above the din of people, which means most Melbourne restaurants are out of limits. Thankfully I’d taken them once to Portello Rosso, a Spanish restaurant tucked away in an alleyway off Little Bourke Street, and they had approved, so it was where we went to celebrate Papa WFYB’s birthday.
Portello Rosso is split into two levels and we got seated on the ground level on this occasion, with mood lighting more suitable for a sultry date than a date with parents who can barely read menus, but Mama WFYB saw to it that we were transferred to a more illuminated table. While I inwardly chastised her finicky nature at the time, I was glad to be somewhere brighter so I guess the apple didn’t fall far from the tree.
Mama WFYB and Papa WFYB ordered a carafe of sangria to share between themselves because their sad intolerance-addled daughter can no longer drink wine, and delegated the ordering of food to me. Armed with a loose mandate to follow my low-histamine intolerance, I noted that all the tinned seafood was off limits as were the preserved and cured meats, such as Jamón Ibérico and chorizo, as well as anything with prawns in it. You would’ve thought this would leave me with a handful of dishes, but there was still a lot I could eat.
Portello Rosso had two types of fritters (one with salt cod and one with yellow split peas) and a fetta and saffron rice bomb on its menu. These three dishes fall into my favourite category of food – deep-fried parcels of goodness that range from croquettes to arancini – and I was severely conflicted on which one to order. Thankfully Mama WFYB made the decision and we went with the salt cod fritters (though I’ve since found out I can’t eat salted fish), which I greatly enjoyed. These thinly battered oblongs of mashed up potato and fish topped with a rich and creamy saffron aioli were comforting with well-balanced flavours.
I’m not typically a fan of pork belly as I find the cut slightly too fatty and unctuous, but the richness of Portello Rosso’s perfectly crisp pork belly was more than offset by the garlic and almond yoghurt-based dressing that it came with. A re-examination of Portello Rosso’s menu says the pork belly comes with a pine nut gazpacho, but the white dressing our pork belly came with didn’t resemble a gazpacho, which is lucky because I can’t eat the main ingredient in it – tomato.
The salt cod fritters and pork belly may have been Mama WFYB’s preferences, but the next one was strictly mine. Seeing many Spanish mainstays were off limits to me, I ordered the Greek-inspired saganaki drizzled with molasses and topped with cubes of pink grapefruit and spirals of candied zest. The fleshy, sour bits of pink grapefruit were the perfect textural counterpoint to the springy yet sturdy salty saganaki, while the sugary threads of caramelised zest were perhaps my favourite element in this dish. This was a highlight.
We have a tendency as a family to over-order, but on this occasion we did well. After the three smaller entrees, we went with two bigger dishes – the fish of the day and the grilled lamb chops – and a side salad.
The fish of the day was sole cooked in a tomato reduction (oops) speckled wit chopped up coriander, bits of chorizo (double oops) and more diced up tomato (triple oops). I was careful not to eat any of the tomatoes, but couldn’t resist having a few diced up chunks of chorizo, which added a bit of heft to an otherwise light and refreshing dish. We enjoyed this.
The grilled lamb chops were blanketed in a silky red wine sauce with pomegranates and flaked almonds. The tenderness of the melt-in-your-mouth lamb chops was complemented by the treacly sweetness of the sauce – despite my dislike of pomegranates, I enjoyed this dish as well.
If I could have got any side, I would have got the patatas bravas (topped with spicy tomato relish – a strict no-no) or the carrots with smoked eggplant and honey dressing (the second and third elements strict no-nos). So we settled for the broccolini with whipped feta and baby capers, although ‘settled’ can hardly be used because it was so delicious. The saltiness of the whipped feta – one of the few cheeses I can have – and the baby capers cut through the richness of the lamb, with the broccolini a much needed injection of verdant greenery.
Ever the dessert person, Mama WFYB insisted on ordering churros that came with white and dark chocolate sauce – everything I can’t have on a plate. I tore off a piece of a churro to sample it for the purposes of this blog; it was everything a good churro should be – crisp on the outside, pillowy on the inside.
Portello Rosso is an ever-reliable source of tasty Spanish food and a more parent-friendly CBD dining option than the perennially cool Bar Lourinha and the slightly more upmarket MoVida outposts. My restraint with the churros and the likes of canned fish and preserved meats was rewarded with one bloat. Maybe this intolerance thing isn’t so bad after all, I say after one of the few times I feel okay after a meal.
Portello Rosso is open from 5pm to 1pm on Saturday, Tuesday and Wednesday and from 12pm to 3pm and 5pm to 1pm on Thursday and Friday.