37 Little Collins Street, Melbourne CBD
Monday to Thursday at 11pm – 12pm,
Friday and Saturday at 12pm – 1am
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Tucked away at the quiet end of Little Collins Street is Bar Lourinha – a kitschy bar serving Spanish-Iberian fare and endless tempranillo and chianti
We hit the cosy bar on the most romantic day of the year, Valentines Day, to get a taste of their limited Menu Amor which sampled some of Bar Lourinha’s best.
From the street, Bar Lourinha subtly stands as a tapas house lined with greenery across its doorways – a restaurant overwhelmingly adorned with vintage chattels, hanging chillies and garlic and sultry leather seats. As you step inside, the well-known warmth and comfort of Spanish-Iberian culture hits you, immediately kickstarting your appetite.
With diners spilling out the door in hope of winning a seat to enjoy Bar Lourinha’s luscious and diverse Menu Amor, it seems that the eatery has all types of diners: regulars, after-work crews, families and of course, loved-up couples. On a typical night at Bar Lourinha, diners can choose from tapas (small share plates) raciones, Spanish for rations (medium plates) queso or cheese plates featuring French, Spanish and Italian aged cheeses and lastly, dulce plates.
Alongside a generous dash of gin and a couple of beers, our six-course dinner began with bacalhau toast – a lemony, garlicky heartwarming taste of what was to come. Following closely were four freshly shucked natural oysters with a squeeze of lemon – a dish not commonly on Bar Lourinha’s ever-changing menu. The oysters cleansed the palate, helping us prepare for their legendary yellowtail kingfish “pancetta”: thinly cut albeit generous servings of gravlax kingfish with Spanish onion and lemon oil.
It’s worth noting that although Bar Lourinha sits just 45 people, it is spread across two levels – the bottom favouring bar-goers and the top favouring larger groups and diners truly wishing to experience the venue’s beautiful dishes.
Moving onto a glass of their recommended tempranillo – S. C. Pannell’s 2015 Tempranillo Touriga, we began to move into the heavier courses of the night. Whisked quickly from the kitchen was roasted marron with tastings of saffron and lemon. The hearty dose of warm seafood and the fun of cracking the miniature crayfish’s claws meant we were soon moving onto meat of a different kind.
The hero of the night soon arrived on our table – crispy chicken with watercress and salsa picante. Following the series of shellfish, crayfish and sashimi, the chicken was a drastic but extremely welcome change to our palates. The pesto-like salsa picante, threads of watercress and perfectly marinated and cooked chicken was complimented by a plate of heirloom tomatoes on a bed of ink and basil oil which were so good it would have made haters of tomato fall instantly in love.
A ‘dulce’ dish to complete was perhaps the most simple, healthy and sumptuous dessert I’ve ever encountered: organic berries sprinkled with pistachio atop a few spoonfuls of sweet and tangy labneh – a humble, modest way to complete a generous Valentine’s feast.
So what makes Bar Lourinha so good? The pokey diner was opened in 2006 by Melbourne’s famous three culinary brothers, Matt McConnell and his partner, Jo Gamvros. With over ten years of service behind them, Bar Lourinha has cemented itself as a house of tapas and raciones in Melbourne after it struggled through a short lease. Dreamed up after an inspiring trip to Spain, McConnell wanted to challenge the typical three-course dining format we know too well by spreading out more taste, more ingredients and more time to enjoy the food over four to six smaller courses.
Next time you’re in Melbourne’s CBD, don’t make the mistake of missing out on Bar Lourinha. The venue is a gem amongst the hubbub of Little Collins Street and represents the homeliness and warmth of European fare us Aussies don’t often get to enjoy.
(Featured Image: Sorrel Wilson/Broadsheet Melbourne)