The first time my mum came to visit Melbourne she said to me 'no-one ever throws anything out here do they? They just gather it together and decorate the walls with it'.We were sitting at the polished wood counter at tiny Bar Lourinha, in Little Collins street. Looking at the walls crammed with paraphernalia from all era's and locations, I could see what she meant... the copper jelly moulds looked remarkably like some that my gran used to have... and the cabinet of souvenir teaspoons brought back childhood memories and thoughts of garage sales. There are horse shoes, portraits, ornamental deer heads and a huge string of chili's. From fans to fancy green wallpaper, the cosy space is chock-full of trinkets, bits & bobs.
It's got a 'collector's' feel to it- each individual item intriguing and distinctive, but working in with the display around it.
And the same can be said for the collection of dishes on offer.
Sharing-plates are the MO here, each dish distinctive and spectacular, but like the curious collection on the walls, they also work well in combination.
At a glance the menu does not appear to be huge, but the list of specials just about doubles what's on offer- and it's impressive every time the waiter manages to roll off a stream of them with hardly a glance at his notes.
From wagyu 'carne cruda' to grilled king prawn with chili salt and lime, you'll be glad of the chance to share the little Spanish inspired dishes and taste as much as you can. Most items can be ordered by the half serve if you really don't want to share... but it's so much more fun when you pass it all around.
Unless it's the lambs brains special. Then you'll be fighting to wipe the plate clean. The little fritatta arrives in it's own pan topped with thyme spiked aioli and laced throughout with shallot, all buttery goo and creamy, silky joy. It's an offal lovers delight, and smeared onto the accompanying hunk of hearty brown bread, it's a dish to dream viscous dreams about.
If you opt for the churros and dulce de leche dessert, be warned that when Spanish-doughnuts and chocolate sauce are this good, you might try to drink the left over sauce straight out of the dish. And Blanca's alfajores? Think shortbread, but not as you know it- filled with lemony caramel and dusted with coconut, they're little bombs of bright and sticky delight. Thank Blanca for sharing the recipe with chef Matt McConnell.
Apart from lunch bookings and special dinners in the private 'chapel' room, it's first in best dressed here. So be prepared to have a short wait at the bar on a busy night. Thankfully the wine list is long, so any wait at the bar can be great fun. With a glass of sherry,friendly chatty staff and a chill soundtrack gently pulsing in the background, you might even be grateful for the extra chance to appreciate the walls of thing-a-me-jigs.
It gave me a chance to ask about the terracotta 'half pig's'- apparently they are used for serving flaming chorizo sausage for Tuesday's 'Chorizo Diablo' lunches. Eh, who'd have guessed it?
With a regularly changing menu and it's tucked away collectors feel, Bar Lourinha is great fun for a wine filled, friendly sharing meal- just don't make up your mind until you've heard all the specials!
Name: Bar Lourinha
Address: 37 Little Collins Street, Melbourne
Phone: (03) 9663 7890