Sometimes it feels like there are so many new Perth restaurants popping up that you’re at a loss for which one to try. Well, as ever, foodie cravings is here to help. And having visited El Asador, I strongly suggest you make room for some Argentinian barbecue.
I know, dear reader – you may feel a touch burnt out with BBQ. The ongoing trend for US-style “low ‘n slow” cooking has thrown up some great food, but it’s also given rise to a lot of sub-par pulled/smoked/glazed gloop. Ditto the explosion in towering burger stacks, which sacrifice standards for Instagram-focused visuals.
So, when I heard that meat took pride of place at what is reportedly Perth’s first parillada, I was curious but not entirely convinced.
Still, first impressions were good. Opened in April, the restaurant was kitted out in six months by husband and wife team Max Pineiro and Emily Deleuil. They put much of the place together from second-hand stock, and the re-used wooden panels and tiles make for a relaxed but appealing interior. There’s covered outdoor seating too, which looked like an ideal spot to while away a warm evening over meat and Malbec.
We sat at the bar on our visit though, and were instantly presented with some croquetas and mozzarella empanadas. For me, this type of appetiser is often a forgettable stodge of cheese and an absence of real flavour. So I was very pleasantly surprised when a croqueta’s thin, crisp shell gave way to a sumptuously smooth centre, spiked with chorizo chunks and a hint of spice. The empanadas also deftly sidestepped one usual pitfall – too much grease – and instead combined light, flaky pastry with a fresh, herby filling.
After admiring the home-made decor and starters, we then learned Max also built the centrepiece of the restaurant: the parilla. Suspended by chains, this metal grid can be raised and lowered above hot charcoal, which is shoveled from a side furnace to control the grill’s temperature. I was told this was typical of designs in Argentina, an assertion I was in no position in dispute. What I could assess was the result.
And it was superb – the best barbecue food I’ve had in Australia. Max and Emily spoke about the importance of sourcing quality meat (down to specific cuts), and that consideration really came through on our mixed grill. Each element was distinct and flawlessly cooked, meaning the loaded “Completo” board was a meaty masterpiece.
The morcilla was the very opposite of cheap black pudding that’s occasionally added to a dish as something “a bit different”. This version involved a secret South American herb, and I think it could win over many who don’t usually plump for the underappreciated “blood sausage”. A second, similarly well spiced snag brought a contrasting flavour, while seasoned chicken was unusually moreish, far from the marinade-drowned wings that can be employed to add weight to a plate.
A generous chunk of mouthwatering (and I mean that literally) lamb oozed flavour, and was perhaps my personal favourite. But it was closely followed by beautifully tender rump steak, which itself was matched by smoky beef rib. In another contrast to an increasingly common approach – where ribs arrive with meat falling off the bone and often with a lot of fat attached – these had a firmer, cleaner texture that I think would appeal to many diners.
At $40, I thought the Completo represented rare value. There was an abundance of food – make sure you and at least one mate are properly hungry – but not a hint of quantity over quality. I would’ve been happy to have a larger portion of any item as a main dish; to try them all in one sitting was a delight. The green chimichurri was an ideal compliment, as its clean freshness worked well with all the meats. (I think the chefs made the right call in toning the dressing down from the Argentinian standard, which is apparently oilier.)
One Argentinian attitude was directly reflected though, and that was seeing salad as a garnish rather than a side. (Obviously, this probably isn’t the ideal restaurant for your vegetarian friends. But that would be like taking someone who dislikes cheese and carbohydrates to your favourite Italian joint.) Dressed lettuce, onion and tomato was zingy, but very much served to enhance the animal attributes, rather than to take up valuable stomach space.
Speaking of which, after the mixed grill I thought I was done for the evening. But that was before the sweet option appeared. I’d never heard of an “alfajor”, but I’ll be keeping an eye out for this delectable dessert from now on. Light, crumbly shortbread was sandwiched around gloriously sweet dulce de leche, with the biscuits then dipped in coconut. Team one with a coffee and you’re absolutely set.
I’m not sure if El Asador’s alfajores are currently stocked elsewhere, but the restaurant’s chimichurri and other products are available to buy in Perth shops. Emily and Max have sold stuff this way for some time, and you may have seen their food truck at events over the last few years. Listen to them, and it’s abundantly clear how passionate they are about their business and the cuisine they create.
And having tasted El Asador’s food, I think the permanent premises will be an excellent addition to Perth’s menu. I believe some breakfast options will be on the cards shortly, and there are plans for a small bar on site. Either way, the current offering was different, distinctive and delicious. Highly recommended.
El Asador (324 Bulwer Street, Northbridge) is open Tuesday to Saturday 11am – 10pm. The restaurant is BYO and offers takeout.
Disclaimer: foodie cravings was invited as a guest of El Asador. See disclosure policy for further details.