For the 18-or-so years I've lived in this town Surry Hills was always one neighbourhood that was constantly changing, seemingly much more than any other postcode. Flash new eateries came and went along Crown Street in the 90's as they still do in this century yet there was always that underlying staple of long-running Middle Eastern and Indian restaurants and take-aways down along Cleveland Street to keep it real.
About a year ago a Brazilian bloke by the name of Fabricio decided to set up a little joint that reminded him of home, a traditional boteco (say bo-tech-ko) that can be found all over Brazil, a place where locals kick back with a few companheiros, small plates of food, some booze and an energetic beat. For a part of Cleveland Street that was only known for pide and pakora, a Brazilian boteco adds a different spice to the mix so when I learned there was pisco on the drinks list (yes I'm a year late) I got there quick smart. The only memories I have of pisco are hazy to say the least, but what I do know is that it involved many pisco sours, a very long lunch and waking up the following day with local art that nobody remembers buying on a visit to Lima, Peru.
The drinks options at Boteco cover wines from Argentina and Chile, some beers and a shining list of unique cocktails. The refreshing and moreish caipirinha is mixed using cachaça (fermented sugarcane juice) and the pisco sour comes in a fancy martini glass with the expected layer of foamy egg white dotted with bitters. They're just too easy to drink and go down a treat. I reckon we need some food, or should I say petiscos?
Chef and owner Fabricio is originally from Brasilia, the nations capital, and eventually moved to São Paulo where he began his food journey at a technical school. Five years ago he made the move to Sydney to further his food studies at Le Cordon Bleu Institute, he worked at Doltone House as well as Café Sydney before opening Boteco. Talk about drive and determination.
Thanks to Fabricio chucking in his major in finance we can all enjoy something he is much more passionate about. The menu at Boteco is relatively brief and has a bunch of petiscos that are big enough to share and small enough to order more of. My first taste of ceviche was somewhere in Central or South America and while I'm not sure where it was I do remember I was instantly enamoured. There's no disappointment with the one they serve up at Boteco. Snapper fillet that's lightly marinated in lemon juice and coriander, mixed with red onion, chopped tomato, capsicum and tapioca "caviar". The flavours are amazingly fresh with the tender cured fish and the saltiness from the tapioca comes by simply soaking it in soy sauce.
The crumbed and snap-fried silken tofu served on a deliciously stodgy bed of corn and jalapeño chilli beans isn't as spicy as I thought it would have been but it did leave a nice tingle on the lips. Heart-warming and perfect beer food. I reckon a bit of bread would have gone down a treat, to mop up the beans.
One of my favourites, the chorizo, comes pimped up with ribbons of briney white anchovies, boiled quail eggs, chimichurri and tumble of salsa criolla. This, too, has a nice and mild chilli bite and is a tad on the salty side, but nothing the vinegary anchovies can't mend.
A specials board featuring pork belly just couldn't be ignored and thank god we didn't. Unlike a male pig that has those generous layers of fat on its tasty belly, this is a sows belly and is much meatier. The thick strips of melt-in-the-mouth belly are draped over one another before being scattered with vinaigrette-infused black beans. Divine. And I'm in love with the simple seared kale that's mostly hidden beneath the porcine heffalump.
The meat-fest continues with a simple plate of picanha, a medium-rare splay of grain-fed beef rump that's flavoursome, juicy and perfectly cooked. Any more time on the grill and it just wouldn't do the dish justice. The salsa criolla is a nice touch but to be honest all that matters is the meat.
My final choice of cozido wasn't needed but I'm glad I went with it. Beef cheeks braised for four hours in Portuguese port, sat upon cassava purée and sauced-up with a few juices. This is not one for the faint-hearted. Beef cheek fans would rejoice at the tenderness yet others may find it supremely rich, thanks being slow-cooked in fortified wine. After everything the two of us ate I've got to say I was struggling. As a youngster I was always told that if I didn't eat everything on my plate it would rain the following day, and you know what, it actually did. The beautiful cheeks defeated me.
However ... there is always dessert. As I allowed my stomach to do a tetris for a few minutes, enough room was made for a not-so-Brazilian 70% cocoa chocolate brownie that's served with homemade coconut and tapioca icecream. Chocolatey, creamy, sugary and the last thing my body could possibly take.Boteco421 Cleveland StreetSurry Hills 201002 9318 2993Tues-Sat 6pm-midnightboteco.com.au