La Boca is a barrio, or neighbourhood, in the Argentinian capital Buenos Aires. Here in Adelaide we are lucky enough to have our own little piece of Argentina at La Boca Bar and Grill on North Terrace. La Boca Bar and Grill is an authentic Argentinian grill house that specialises in barbequing meat over an Asador grill, or fire pit. The Asador cooking style utilises an Argentinian handcrafted grill along with Australian red gum and Argentinian charcoal which deliver the smoky grill flavours to the slow-cooked Asador meats. Speaking of meat, La Boca sources local 100% grass-fed meat from the Coonawarra region. Whilst I have had the pleasure of dining at La Boca Bar and Grill previously and enjoyed the succulent Asador meats for dinner, I haven’t had the chance to try more of their extensive menu. Luckily for me, Adelaide Food Central was invited to sample La Boca’s newly updated menu, which includes the likes of picadas and cocktails. A picada in Argentina is traditionally a selection of finger foods artfully arranged for everyone to share served in the lead up to a main meal. All food and drinks were provided free of charge.
The first thing you notice about La Boca when stepping inside is the warmth generated by the large Asador fire pit, which just so happens to be the focal point of the open-plan restaurant. Surprisingly for such a large ‘barbeque’ there is no sign of smokiness inside. This is probably aided by the large open frontage overlooking the buzz of North Terrace. The fit-out is reminiscent of a Western saloon owing to the timber finishes and polished concrete floors. La Boca offers multiple seating options, from large communal benchtops at the front, to more intimate booths and smaller tables at the rear of the restaurant; all of which are covered with brightly coloured cow cartoons.
We started our lunch with a cocktail each from La Boca’s extensive list of more than fifteen different cocktails. You may think lunch and cocktails don’t mix, but on a Friday they certainly do! I chose the Porn Star Martini which was a mixture of Passoa (passionfruit liqueur), vodka, passionfruit and vanilla syrup with a shot of bubbly. It was wonderfully sweet and tasted as you would predict, of passionfruit. The shot of bubbly afforded a perfect amount of fizz to the cocktail.
Mr L opted for his trademark, the Espresso Martini, a blend of vodka, Kahlúa, espresso and sugar syrup. The espresso was freshly brewed with just the right amount of strength. There was subtle sweetness from the syrup and they certainly didn’t skimp on the vodka. Served with fresh ice in a chilled glass, it was almost perfectly executed. The only thing missing from this cocktail according to Mr L was the ornamental coffee bean on top.
Next we were presented with an assortment of picadas beautifully arranged on wooden boards. No one was going hungry today! The best thing about La Boca’s picada (entrée) menu is that you can choose one or many to share, with prices ranging from $6-8.
To begin with we sampled the crumbed mushrooms with prosciutto and truffle aioli, or Hongos Crocantes. These tasty morsels were delicious and my personal favourite. I happened to take a bite prior to looking at the menu and was pleasantly surprised when there was a mushroom inside and not meat… I guess a ‘meatball’ for vegetarians, well minus the prosciutto. The mushroom was juicy and complemented the crunchy outer coating and creamy aioli. On the same board were the smoked scallops with sweet tomato pesto (Vieiras Ahumadas) and Chorizo a la Parrilla, a homemade pork sausage. The sausage was cooked to perfection and had a lovely chilli kick on the palate. The last picada on this board were the grilled prawns in lemon, garlic and smoked paprika sauce (Langostinos a la Parrilla); another of my favourites. The flavour of these prawns was ‘finger lickin’ good’ so to speak; however, it was a tad tricky to navigate yourself around the prawn shell.
Next was the provolone and homemade dry chorizo (Provolone Dulce y Chorizo Seco). Again I was quite surprised when I dived into the dish to find cheese and not chunks of garlic as I originally thought. The tiny pieces of provolone cheese were soft and sweet, whilst the chorizo was intensely flavoured and quite hard. The two opposing textures worked well together. Also on this board was a giant Empanada de Carne Fritas, or translated a traditional Argentinian deep fried pastry stuffed with meat. The empanada pastry had a good crust and the meat filling was well-seasoned. I found the amount of olives in the filling, however, a little on the overpowering side.
The last board comprised a very generous serve of in-house cured olives and caperberries (Aceitunas Caseras), in-house cured thinly sliced pork scotch (Bondiola de Cerdo) served with freshly sliced red onion and capers and last but by all means not least, the Tamales Norteños con Cerdo, a traditional corn cake with chimichurri pork. This picada was served wrapped in the corn husk and almost resembled a corn cob itself. Inside there was a warm, doughy cake mixture packed with whole corn kernels layered upon shredded pork. The corn and pork flavours worked brilliantly together and I liked the way you could add your own amount of heat by adding a slice of fresh chilli that was decorating the top of this picada.
We finished our lunch with a tasting platter of Argentine postres (or desserts) to share. First up was the Chocotorta, described on the menu as a ‘coffee, caramel and chocolate cake’. These three flavours are exactly what your tastebuds met with. The dessert was rich and indulgent and similar to the classic tiramisu. This was my favourite dessert of the day. Next was the Budin de Pan served with raisins; the Argentinian version of a bread and butter pudding, followed by Almendrado, an almond praline popsicle covered in chocolate. This was Mr L’s favourite as it tasted just like a Magnum ice cream. The last dessert on the tasting board was Tarta Tibia de Anana, or warm pineapple tart. This dessert tasted similar to my Grandma’s shortbread biscuits that she makes at Christmas time, with a subtle hint of pineapple. All in all, the Argentinian-inspired desserts were a perfect finale to our meal.
La Boca Bar and Grill are certainly onto a winner with their truly Argentinian experience given that they have very recently opened a second restaurant in Sydney and have their sights set further abroad next. Do yourself a favour and pull up a stool at La Boca and kick back and relax with some picadas and cocktails whist you watch the hustle and bustle of the city passing you by below. You never know you may just want to hang around for a main course from the Asador!
Adelaide Food Central would like to thank the staff at La Boca Bar and Grill for their hospitality.
Words by Kelly Betterman
WHERE: Stamford Plaza Adelaide, 150 North Tce, Adelaide