366 Bridge Road
Richmond, VIC 3121
I’m a big fan of South-American food. I love the fresh, festive flavours, and the communal spirit it evokes. So it came as no surprise that I was super keen to try out El Atino, the new home of Latin American food on the Richmond block.
But El Atino is so much more than just a restaurant. The outer half of the space is a dedicated grocer of gourmet Latin goods, and events and classes are frequently run, with the goal of educating the masses on how to cook and enjoy authentic South American food. The space reflects that; furnished sparsely with blonde wood and decorated with food and flowers, El Atino is the quintessential pantry-styled eating house.
The new drink special – the Sandia Slushie ($10) – was made for the sun and sand. It was sweet, cold, and refreshing, the combination of watermelon underscored with mint and citrus liqueur absolutely delicious.
To whet the appetite, each table was served an appetiser of Columbian Tamale. This delicious and beautifully presented little parcel set the tone of the entire meal. The creamy base of corn held tender chunks of beef and beef, as well as pieces of carrot and egg. It wafted with a complex array of aromatic spices, with cumin at the forefront. It was sheer scrape-the-plate-clean goodness, especially with the tangy lime aioli.
The Endive and Orange Salad ($7) looked stunning, and tasted wonderfully unique. The shells of crisp, bitter endive held juicy yolks of sweet orange segments, and the entire salad was garnished with chilli lime salt. The combination of salt, spices, and citrus inevitably brought the margarita to mind – it is a fantastic summer salad for sure.
The Mystery Taco ($7ea) was, very literally, a complete mystery. And I mean that in the sense that not even the chef knows what it’s going to be – he just makes it up on the spot! What I got was a soft corn tortilla, topped with the most beautifully firm chunks of snapper marinated in Peruvian chilli, and a cigar of crumbed palm heart. The flavours in this taco were bold and delicious, and I especially liked the dips of chipotle and olive-infused mayo. Forget mystery, this should be on the main menu!
The Grilled Octopus ($20) was a South-American take on the traditional French dish of parmentier. The disc of mashed potato is still creamy and rich, but it has been infused with flecks of coriander. Sitting on top are pieces of octopus, grilled in charcoal-infused oil for a hint of smokiness. Unfortunately I did find the seafood a bit dry, even if it is simultaneously meaty and fragrant. All in all, this is a nice little crowd-pleaser that should keep the whole family happy.
The Lamb Cutlets ($22) on the other hand are a total show-stopper, both appearance and flavour-wise. Each cutlet was rubbed with salt and spices, and then grilled until they were succulent with charred edges. Accompanying it were fried dumplings stuffed with a fluffy mixture of potatoes, peas, and mint.
I was pretty full, but I always have room for something called Chocolate Sweet Sin ($12). This is meant to be a gluten-free brownie, but it’s really more like a rich slab of fudge, sandwiching a layer of dulce de leche. On the side was a scoop of house-made dulce de leche ice cream, and the entire confection was sprinkled with spice-infused toasted coconut flakes. Best of all, although this dessert was rich, it wasn’t overly sweet, and the two of us happily polished this off.
One thing that really impressed me about the menu at El Atino is the fact that a large proportion of it (70% in fact – I counted) is gluten free or can be made gluten free, without feeling like they’re sacrificing on creativity or flavour. Despite having tried a good section of the menu, there are still many more delicious options that I wanted to try. Maybe next time I’ll just go for the Feed Me option, then sit back and wait to be delighted.
Rating: 15/20 – el ovely.
This rating reflects my personal experience at the time of visit.
Sweet and Sour Fork dined as guest of El Atino.