There are two of them. One is friendly and welcoming while the other is reserved, dark and mysterious.
This could well be the contrasting personalities of two sisters but I am talking about Barrafina Tapas Bar and its sister restaurant.
Barrafina on Blight street is bright with its doors opening onto the al fresco dining area in the sun. It’s the sister with a friendly smile, the one that loves frolicking in her summer dress among fields of gold. And because I so thoroughly enjoyed my lunch with her a couple of months ago, the good folks there have again invited me to bring some friends to meet her sibling just around the corner on Bent street.
Contrabando is the sister that prefers to be in a t-shirt and casual blue jeans. This evening, I bring my friends Thelonious, KC and Molly to sample some of her South American-inspired cuisine. Think asado roasts, rotisserie meats with whole suckling pigs on a BBQ pit, shared tapas plates and you’ll get the Latino feel about this sibling.
On first meeting Contrabando, you’ll instantly notice her evocative tattoos in the form of graffiti on both sides of her entrance.
Unlike her sister who is welcoming on Bligh street, Contrabando’s personality may seem distant initally because she is very slight on Bent street. Walk a little faster and you might miss the entrance to her basement location altogether.
But don’t be fooled by her cool and nonchalant facade because as you go down into her tunnel, you would soon discover she is just as warm and friendly like her sister.
There are no windows in this basement dining room. Instead, the walls are adorned with colourful art decor by Anne Arnold.
The beer list comes entirely from Central and South America so I settle on a full flavour Red Pig ale from Mexico.
The house beer is Salvados from El Salvador, a pale ale on tap served with fresh lime.
I am delighted because our waitress Camila who took such good care of me during my lunch at Barrafina is again looking after us tonight. All the way from Buenos Aires in Argentina, she is friendly and knowledgeable in explaining the intricacies of a one-page menu that seems to hold so much deliciousness.
She brings us a hiramasa kingfish ceviche served on their signature black slates. Dollops of vanilla and apple puree is gently sweet with an equally gentle tang from pickled baby cucumber and matchstick green apples.
A few Chargrilled corn on the cob comes with smoky aromas. Chipotle mayo and grated queso fresco make each bite a little more creamy and flavoursome.
Each chicharrones or pork scratching is crispy and comes warm with a delicious and scruffy layer of artery-clogging fat. The faint-hearted might want to pick tasty lean meat that easily falls off each piece of scratching.
The mild chilli salt in these chicharrones is going extremely well with my beer and I could easily come back just for this combination.
There are two mini chorizo in each choripan laced with slivers of Spanish onions, habanero and mustard.
I am expecting the habanero to be spicy but they are rather mild instead. No fork and knife here because the only way to stuff each tasty hotdog into your mouth is by using your hands.
True to its Latin spirit, the wine list boasts of wines entirely from South America. Varietals of white include riesling and gewurtztraminer from Chile, torrontés and chardonnay from Argentina as well as an albariño from Uruguay.
A 2009 Catena Malbec from Argentina has dark berries on the nose and showing good maturity with soft tannins. It opens up more as we progress with our meal.
Pigs tail croquetas with king crab mayo arrives golden brown from the deep fryer.
The stringy and piping hot pork meat inside each croquette strikes a good taste and temperature balance with the cold and creamy crab mayo.
Anticuchos are grilled ox heart skewers redolent of mint and spice.
Offal lovers enjoy its slightly chewy texture but the clever combination with chilled, pickled mushrooms and creme fraiche provides a tangy and creamy mouthfeel. An exciting array of ideas for my next home BBQ is running through my head as I chew on each bite.
Tomatoes and cheese is probably the most iconic combination perfected by the Italians in their pizzas.
But combine fresh ripened heirloom tomatoes with goat cheese, tequila lime vinaigrette and you have a simple yet zesty and refreshing salad.
Our first asado dish is a huge platter of Kurobuta pork slices with fresh tomato salsa, tomatillo salsa verde and avocado salsa.
I find this pork a little tough because it is cooked in slices rather than individually sliced off a whole roasted shoulder.
A platter of Cootamundra leg of lamb is more tender and tastier than the Kurobuta pork shoulder though it could do with a little more seasoning, which I easily fix with a few sprinkles of salt.
I didn’t detect much beefy flavour in patatas fried in wagyu beef fat although salt is the magic ingredient here again.
Chunks of roast pumpkin is soft with pepitas or pumpkin seeds and yoghurt. These so-called entremés is hardly finger food because the portions are fairly large and they appear more as sides for the asado and rottiserie meats.
A 2012 Alamos Malbec tastes very much like our 2009 Catena Malbec coming from the same wine-growing region in Argentina.
Although I find this wine bolder and more toasty upfront, the finish is not as elegant as the Catena.
Semi freddo is rather Italian but this white chocolate semi frozen mousse is laced with Spanish cava not that the most discerning wine buff would ever detect it.
Topped with raspberries and diced peach, it’s a refreshing summer dessert.
Sweet potato doughnuts are pillowy and pineapple slices add more sweetness to the end of our meal.
Although Contrabando is darker and more mysterious, she turns out to be just as charming as her sister and it might be a tough decision to choose one over the other.
So dear readers, what is your favourite Spanish dish?
ChopinandMysaucepan dined as guests of Contrabando. Prices are included for readers’ information. All views and opinions are our own.
Basement level, Noble House
21 Bent street
Sydney, New South Wales
Tel: +61 2 92310049
Opening hours: Lunch Mondays to Fridays, Dinner Tuesdays to Fridays