Photography by Holly Hawkins
Hidden down an enchanted alleyway off Bourke Street lives an authentic Argentinian barbecue eatery – and older sibling restaurant of Palermo.
A little piece of Buenos Aires in Melbourne, it’s possibly the cosiest fine dining outfit in the city.
San Telmo’s owners have noticed the current Melbourne trend of industrial, minimalist chic and decided heartily against it for their South American hideaway. The walls are adorned with cowhides, dark woods, and a glass bottle chandelier hangs near the kitchen pass.
The open kitchen adds to the intimate atmosphere, where chefs cook meat upon the parrilla – a traditional Argentinian charcoal grill.
The lunch time crowd at San Telmo sneak in the chance to gulp down the signature red (a Ruca Malen malbec from Mendoza) and to indulge in the smoky, salty flavours of a medium-rare, slow-grilled flank steak – juicy and pink in the middle with a thick, salted black crust on the outside.
It’s just as good as it sounds, paired with two traditional Argentinian condiments: a classic salsa made from tomato, onions and olive oil, and the lesser known chimichurri – parsley, garlic, olive oil and chilli in a paste. If you choose the asado set menu, the flank is served with a side of papas: crispy potato, garnished with a mix of cornichons, shallots and parsley – all topped with dollops of garlic aioli.
The salad – lechuga – is light and deliciously tangy. Cos lettuce and shallots with horseradish dressing basically makes this main a fancy Argentinian version of a humble steak, potatoes and salad. It’s simple and delicious, perfect with the malbec (which is smooth and easy to drink).
Your stomach will be more than ready for the hearty main fare after the light starters. Chapa (a salty flatbread served with pickled eggplant), empanadas (made with beef, olives and egg), tender chorizo and the highlight of the entire selection: the ceviche. Lemon-cured rudderfish that comes in a colourful liquid, strong in citrus and coriander aromas, served with chilli, cubes of sweet potato, onion and micro herbs. It’s light, refreshing and completely different to the rest of the meat-heavy set menu.
If you’re not too full to finish off your San Telmo experience with a dessert, the asado menu concludes with a dulce de leche–filled Argentine cookie called an afajor – which, as mouth-watering as it is, is no substitute for San Telmo’s signature crème caramel flan.