La Puerta translates from Spanish to ‘the door’ and without a doubt guests who step through the doors belonging this particular latino infused restaurant tucked away just off Military Road in Neutral Bay will instantly feel themselves immersed in the vibrancy, passion and warmth Head Chef and Colombian native Oscar Espinosa had intended.
South American restaurants which focus on local cuisine are a rare find, they usually oscillate between brazilian style ‘churrascarias’ or more classic spanish tapas eateries. It’s intriguing to come to a place that aims at showcasing more of the lesser known fare of Cuba, Peru and Argentina (as well as Colombia) in Sydney with a modern twist, as well as bringing an authenticity to dishes by using ingredients not readily available elsewhere.
Walking in from the bitter cold, visitors are greeted by tones of red and black, rich wood, set off by two iconic murals that spell out the restaurant’s latin roots, a sensual portrait of two dancers in the midst of a tango and an image of three rifles with roses stuffed down their barrels against a sunburst backdrop. Heart shaped light features hang from the ceiling enhanced by soft lit tables and a backlit bar, all contributing to the eatery’s cheeky sultriness.
Espinosa’s brother mans the small but elegant cantina mixing up some pretty exciting cocktails including a sweet, tangy Blackberry Sangria (jug $35), a must try flavoursome Basil Passionfruit Caipirinha ($15) and a savoury take on a classic Chimichurri Margarita ($18). La Puerta’s wine list features mainly Argentinean and Chilean wines, Mexican and Colombian beers as well as the odd local drop. Defying ‘Dry July’ the bar will celebrating the Month of Pisco with a whole bunch of Pisco infused cocktails, including a traditional Pisco Sour ($18).
South American staple Cassava makes its way into entree Pan Latino – cassava flat cheese bread with smoked butter ($10), for those unfamiliar, this root vegetable similar to sweet potato is also available throughout the pacific and caribbean islands. The smoked butter heroes this dish, instantly melting into the dense rich bread. Another common theme to the menu corn serves as a wholesome pastry encasing a delicious spicy beef filling of house made Empanaditas ($5), served alongside a tangy sour Goat’s cheese ‘Aji’ dip.
Popular main Tiradito a Peruvian specialty of thinly sliced marinated king fish ($6) with ají Amarillo (yellow chilli sauce) and red sorrel vein leaves ($6) is delicate with a kick of Jalapeno heat, whilst another bout of homesickness is triggered by sweet fragrant coconut rice accompanying mini fillets of Hāpuku fish ($30) smothered in Changua sauce (usually a cilantro based breakfast soup turned sauce).
Espinosa’s careful treatment of his ingredients and experimentation with technique are apparent when his Chicharron ($26) dish makes its way to the table. The star of the dish a crisp pork belly takes 3 days to prepare starting with a 24 hour brine, a 6 hour compressed slow cook and an unconventional skin side down grill to achieve ultimate crackling. Topped with a chorizo crumb it’s complemented nicely with fresh lime soaked avocado and thick sweet potato purees both folded through with native herb ‘Ajiaco’ (gallant soldiers leaf), making it a standout menu item.
Lomo Peruano – Peruvian beef saltado ($28) is not a typical slow cooked dish but rather rapidly stir fried in a thick reduced soy based sauce complemented with fresh tomato and more of that aji Amarillo. Fluffy, crispy cassava croquettes are at the ready to soak up the lovingly prepared sweet yet salty gravy.
Even with groaning bellies it’s hard to turn down dessert and patrons will be absolutely spoilt for choice in this department, however leaving this decision to the head of the kitchen is wise and the reward is possibly perfection. La Puerta’s Pastelito’s ($13) are absolutely essential and take ten minutes to make mainly due to the fresh baked to order pastry which sits between the crunch of a mille feuille and the sponginess of a croissant. Injected and covered in a decadent yet not overly sugary (not even sure how this is possible) home-made dulche de leche the whole wondrous thing is accompanied not by the usual vanilla bean ice-cream but a refreshing sorbet made from Lulo a native south american fruit much like a kiwifruit.
The extent of hospitality shown by our hostess and Espinosa is overwhelming and the small family run business exudes a friendly atmosphere that’s just as inviting as the hearty food offered up. La Puerta’s new Winter menu is definitely worth the trip especially for those looking for something different generously served up with a lot of love and care.
Address: Shop 5, 2A Waters Rd Neutral Bay
Contact: (02) 9953 8367
Opening Hours: Tuesday – Saturday: 5:30PM – 10:30PM, Sunday: 5:30PM – onwards, Closed Monday