Great places do not get old. They have a personality. Like people, some personalities wear thin after many years, and some become old friends.
While I’ve been many times, it wouldn’t add up to once a year since opening. I’m pretty sure the staff have turned-over in their entirety several times. Yet, there is something about this simply furnished restaurant with a dominant bar, that stays fresh.
At the time Bar Lourinha opened, it was a trend setter. Spanish tapas was not new, but it was waiting for a further push. Add to this novel concepts of the time like “no bookings”, the unusual location on Little Collins Street, and that added ingredient of intrigue, and you have a recipe for a hot restaurant.
It has now been open for over a decade. While Bar Lourinha is no longer the trend setter, it is now part of a restaurant culture that makes Melbourne one of the best CBDs in the world to eat in. It is a part of my personal restaurant folklore, and I’m sure many other Melburnians.
Tonight it is yet another meal here, spending the evening with friends after a performance by Stephen K Amos during the Comedy Festival. Natalie is a pescetarian and there are heaps of non-meat options so we are covered. Her other half, Jason, thankfully chooses one meat dish after I twist his arm!
We share several plates that include some Merimbula oysters, fritters of salted cod (bacalau), kingfish, mussels, pumpkin, mushrooms, and chorizo. The Merimbula oysters are fantastic; but the fritters are a bit too dominated by the potato, to fully appreciate the flavour of the cod.
In a flash we have one of my long time favourite dishes here. The kingfish is simply plated, but always has a glorious flavour, like they get access to some of the best cuts. At the time it became a signature, you would not find kingfish on every second menu, and incredibly it is no less special here. The mushrooms are the other “everytime” dish. Sitting in a garlic cream sauce, they are always beautifully cooked, keeping firm and juicy.
The mussels were recommended by one of our several waitpersons. Funnily, one of them was always about 20 seconds behind another one, sounding like a round musical composition of “row your boat”. We were asked for water twice, given the specials twice (which was fun trying to remember the ingredients), and eventually the entire system broke down literally. It seems they couldn’t catch a break as when we asked for the bill, they asked for us to wait a little (please). This does not mean the staff were bad, it was actually decent service, but there was a lack of coordination.
Back to the mussels, and the sweet paprika (pimenton) with burnt butter, and they are superb. A terrific recommendation, and a special dish. Like most tapas you are left wanting more. On the flip side, the heirloom pumpkin dish just didn’t work for me, even with some texture from the freekeh and chestnuts. A return came with the chorizo which was served as two sausages and a tenderly cooked potato. While the potato was nice, it was more of a filler, but the chorizo had the richness that we all love it for.
With some great wines on both the by the glass and the longer list, we ordered a bottle of the Vinho Verde from Portugal by Quinta do Ameal. Catherine and I had come in for a drink the week before (which is where we got the idea to return for dinner) and this is a wonderful white wine with great mouthfeel and balance. I also tried the cabernet franc by the glass which I’d had my eye on the week before, and I’m keen to try some more!
Not quite completely full, we shared a cheeseboard and some churros to finish. The cheeseboard featured some gorgonzola, manchego, and a softer offering that I can’t recall. It is great to enjoy some cheese while still having an appetite. The churros on the other hand don’t require an appetite. I could keep going on these expertly prepared doughnuts in dulce de leche until the restaurant runs out.
I call Bar Lourinha an institution. That might be wrong, but to me it feels like one. I feel comfortable here and everything is familiar and fantastic. Sure, if this were my first visit it might not have that same exact character, but to me it is a favourite.