You'll find pisco cocktails and Peruvian street food at this Illawarra Road restaurant.
Marrickville's Illawarra Road now boasts a real deal Peruvian 'taberna', courtesy of long time local José Alkon (Marrick's Wines). Situated between two Vietnamese favourites, Hello Auntie and Eat Fuh, Pepito's is doing things old school.
"When I visit Peru, we hang out in tabernas — these 100-year-old family-run institutions that are stripped-back places to go for a drink and some food," Alkon tells Concrete Playground. "It's a really fun kind of vibe and I wanted to bring that back to Australia."
Pepito's follows the South American tradition of casual eateries that are equal parts bar and restaurant. Alkon sees a lot of parallels between Marrickville and his favourite Peruvian city, Barranco; much the way Marrickville is a melting pot of cuisines, Peruvian food is also a mash-up of cultural influences, including Japanese, Chinese and Italian.
Head Chef Jeffrey Forrest adds one more influence, too. Hailing from the USA, he has worked across Michelin-starred and other highly lauded restaurants in New York (including Bouley, Aldea, Zoe, Gotham and Le Cirque). While Forrest is not of Peruvian heritage, Alkon says customers have already said that Pepito's is the best Peruvian food they've had in Australia.
"Most Peruvians will tell you a non-Peruvian cannot make Peruvian food, but I think it shouldn't matter where you're from; it's about your passion and where your heart lies, and people can taste that on the plate," says Alkon.
The menu focuses on Peruvian classics, made using seasonal Aussie produce. Expect dishes like the causa de camarones, a layered potato terrine with prawn and avocado salad; and anticuchos ($15–19), a popular Peruvian street food that consists of different skewered and barbecued meats. Pepito's specialties include Nikkei-style quail ($19) — a term that refers to Japanese Peruvian fusion — and ox heart ($16) with panca chilli peppers and huancaina (a spicy cheese sauce).
There are also short rib-stuffed potatoes, olive and ham sandwiches, and plates of stir-fried beef. The menu changes regularly and seasonally, with rotating specials and around ten-to-12 dishes on the menu at any given time.
The booze selection, of course, focuses on pisco, but it goes well beyond the pisco sour. Alkon is working with small boutique producers from all across Peru, notably in the south. At Pepito's, you can taste sustainably produced pisco, as well as aged bottles dating back to 2004.
If straight up isn't your thing, the bar is also slinging four pisco classics ($15–20). Sitting alongside the requisite pisco sour is the Chilcano (house-made ginger ale, lime and bitters) the El Capitan (a negroni-style pisco cocktail with sweet vermouth and Campari) and the summery Pisco Punch (with pineapple syrup and lime). Meanwhile, the wine list has been pulled together by Marrickville bar Where's Nick, with a clear focus on minimal-intervention drops.
To preserve the site's history while paying homage to Peru's tabernas, design firm Smith & Carmody (Cornersmith, Mecca, Brickfields) maintained many of the building's existing features. These include all original tiling, the entrance archway and the rustic brick walls, which Alkon exposed by hand using a chisel and hammer. The furniture was also salvaged from an old Queensland bowling club. And the sign from the old Vietnamese seafood shop that once occupied the space still hangs above the storefront, too.
Images: Cassandra Hannagan
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