Now that ACDC Lane has its own lightning bolt — an actual, official lightning bolt affixed and approved by the City of Melbourne — it probably takes the title of coolest laneway this side of Swanston Street. The muffled music from Cherry Bar, cigarette butts and industrial rubbish bins only add to the overall charm (we assume). Its newest tenant, however, isn't so rock 'n' roll.
Pastuso sits at the end of the lane, lit up like a beacon. It's not grungy or even that cool; its signage is flamboyant and it certainly doesn't share clientele with its neighbouring late-night live music bar. But what this place lacks in edge, it makes up for in fun, convivial Peruvian feasting — after all, we're sure that's what this cuisine is all about.
This foray into Peruvian food has been toyed with a little in Melbourne — Piqueos, for one, comes to mind — but it's the San Telmo team that have given the cuisine its first standalone CBD restaurant. The coastal influence of Peru provides a point of difference to Argentinean fare, so come expecting some citrus-cured fish. There's snapper with caramelised sweet potato and 'tiger's milk', and salmon with sour orange — a perfect 50/50 split of fresh and tart (both $18). Hell, theres a whole bar dedicated to ceviche. Go nuts.
There are actually three bars: the cevicheria, the pisco bar and the grill. This makes the space quite diverse, and seating is crucial. Try not to get stuffed into a corner of the casual dining area, and edge toward the banquettes right up the back. The moody atmosphere is needed for dinner, but a business lunch could take place pretty much anywhere. All you need is a few spot-on pisco sours or a glass of some of the exquisite Argentinean pinot noir.
What you're really thinking about though, is the meat. And you can have a whole lot of it — lamb, pork shoulder, even alpaca — grilled, smoked or on the spit, but the menu requires some smart choices. We'd bypass the alpaca in favour of the Peruvian chicken ($24), and pair it with the butter lettuce salad with pureed palm heart and passionfruit dressing ($12).
Pastuso can be whatever you want it to be, but we think it works best as a drop-in. If you're up at the bar with a pisco sour, some ceviche and maybe a few big, fluffy beef brisket croquettes ($12 for two), you certainly won't be complaining. Even less so when you get to the dessert menu and realise there are sweet potato and pumpkin doughnuts with white chocolate mousse ($12). That's rock star, right there.