High Street is the mammoth thoroughfare that cuts a path through all the up-and-coming suburbs of Melbourne's north, and out where the rents are low and the produce fresh, some of the best under-the-radar new eateries are opening up. Thornbury's new Spanish restaurant Chato is one such place, but we can guarantee it won't be under the radar for long.
The atmosphere of Chato is warm and inviting; even on a cold winter's night you're sure to find the place full of content and merry diners indulging among welcoming decor, comfortable seating and soft mood lighting. The best way to start a night at Chato is with the eponymous chato, a small glass of wine that was made to be paired with a bite-sized tapa. While Chato boasts an impressive and thematic cocktail menu, the wine (expertly paired by the staff) is the way to go for an authentic experience.
What sets Chato apart from the competition is the menu which caters to all kinds of diner, even (despite Spain's love affair with cured meats) vegetarians. Sharing plates are the way the food was meant to be eaten — small, salty and perfectly balanced mouthfuls of cured meat, veg, olives and cheese shared with friends over a glass of wine (although be sure to book ahead for large groups).
To really experience what Chato is about, we recommend the Chato tasting board — five tapa of your choosing and five chatos to pair. The combination also highlights the harmony of the menu.
Dishes are generally available in two sizes: tapa, which serves one, or racion, which serves 2-3. For the omnivores among you, we recommend the albondigas de mi madre, or "my mother's amazing meatballs" which pretty much sums it up (tapa $3/racion $11.50). Or try the flamenca tart — tomato and chorizo ragu with egg and crispy serrano ham in a delicate pastry tart that literally melts in your mouth (tapa $4).
Vegetarians, we recommend the pimientos de piquillo, which are sweet, tender peppers filled with creamy goat's cheese ($4.50/$12.50) alongside a big serving of coliflor rebozada (deep-fried cauliflower in saffron and manchego butter). It will change your life and may well replace fries in your register of best items to deep fry and dive into. A $3 tapa serving of aceitunas rehogadas (small, flavoursome Mount Zero olives in fresh oil and herbs) are a perfectly flavoursome accoutrement and palate cleanser for between courses.
Chato is a beautiful, warm and welcoming place to pass an evening with your closest friends, and while they're still working out some out some logistical kinks, the service is warm, the staff are knowledgeable, and the food will keep you coming back.