It’s no secret that I am a big fan of Barrafina Tapas and when I heard that they were opening up a brand new Latin American restaurant next door called Contrabando, I just had to check it out. The team behind Barrafina Tapas has taken over the old Noble House Chinese restaurant site and revamped the basement location into something completely different – starting with the graffiti adorned hidden entrance, signposted only by the upside down Noble House sign on the street.
The grungy entrance sets the tone for the rest of the restaurant’s new warehouse inspired fit-out – exposed pipes and lighting hang from the black ceilings and the darkness is offset by colourful painted murals on the wall. It’s not all grunge though – there’s a chic bar in the corner and touches of glamour in the plush suede banquette seating along the walls.
The place is buzzing when we arrive on a Friday night, even though it has only been open for a few weeks. We’re quite excited to try out the menu, which shares some similarities with sister restaurant Barrafina in that it has a selection of small bites, share plates, more substantial mains and sides. We’re particularly intrigued by the 8 hour fire roasted whole suckling pig…but unfortunately you need to give them 48 hours notice so that’ll have to wait till next time! We settle for the next best thing on the menu, which is the Chicharrones (Pork Scratchings with Chilli Salt). The crackling is chopped up fairly thickly, so we zero in on the thinner pieces first and we’re rewarded with the distinctive taste and texture of crunchy piggy goodness on our first bite. But the scratchings are definitely quite rich after a few more bites and we find it hard to finish off the serving. We also can’t really taste the chilli salt that it’s supposed to come with.
Chicharrones (aka Pork Scratchings with Chilli Salt), $6
While we’re waiting for the rest of our dishes to come out, we continue with a couple of Latin American cocktails – a Mojito for me and a Caiprioska for my friend. The Mojito at Contrabando features Mount Gay white rum, muddled lime, plenty of fresh mint and soda and is served in a trendy mason jar. It’s much stronger than my friend’s sweet Caiprioska, the simple Brazilian drink consisting of vodka, lime and sugar over ice which she enjoys.
Mojito and Caiprioska, $12 each
Our next small bite is the Mazorca, tasty cobs of chargrilled corn drizzled in chipotle mayo, lime and queso fresco cheese flakes. The cobs have been shaved down on one end, so we make an attempt to be ladylike while eating them by using our knives to shave off the kernels from the other sides of the cob. It works a treat and the flavour combo used for the corn is winning too.
Mazorca, $4 each
The last small bite we’ve ordered is the Choripan – adorable mini chorizo hotdogs with Pedro Ximinez onions, habanero mustard and a delicious salsa criolla to add some zing. It’s hard to be dainty when eating these mini hotdogs, but totally worth the mess – be careful with the chorizo though as they’re pretty juicy!
Choripan, $7 each
We moved onto the share plates part of the menu with the Croquetas – lovely crumbed morsels with tender pigs tail filling, paired with a rather fancy king crab mayo sauce.
The crab theme continued with the Ensalada de Cangrejo, which featured slivers of pulled spanner crab mixed in with quinoa and more chargrilled corn. It was a pleasantly light salad that helped balance out all the heavier food we were having tonight.
Ensalada de Cangrejo, $23
We absolutely loved the Wagyu Brisket of Beef, which had originally been a bit of an afterthought when we ordered. It knocked our socks off with the melt in your mouth buttery flavour of the wagyu, cooked to perfection in strips that were ready to be dipped into any of the 3 addictive salsas that accompany all of Contrabando’s Rotisseria selection. It was a rather generous serving and this was the smaller of the 2 sizes on the menu! We had also ordered a side of Wagyu Fat Potatoes out of interest and weren’t disappointed by the depth of flavour infused into the soft potatoes.
Wagyu Brisket of Beef, $29
Patatas (Wagyu Fat Potatoes), $9
We took a bit of a break to recover from all that food, before tucking into their heavenly desserts.The amazing Semi Freddo was a divine mix of Spanish cava wine and white chocolate semi freddo, which was like a slab of half frozen ice cream, served with diced peaches and fresh raspberries. This was without a doubt my favourite dessert, though the modern Banana Creme dessert with an intriguing chocolate soil, candied peanuts and salted caramel ice cream was also a winner.
Semi Freddo, $10
Banana Creme, $10
Last but not least, Contrabando’s interesting take on Churros using pumpkin and sweet potato to make little nubbins paired with caramelised pineapple and spiced syrup made us think twice about what we thought churros were.
All in all, it looks like Barrafina’s signature style has carried over to its new venture and Contrabando is certainly a fresh and fun addition to the Latin American dining scene in Sydney. While some of its menu items appear to be on the pricey end of the spectrum, they use quality ingredients for their dishes which shine through.
Excuse Me Waiter dined as guests of Contrabando
Basement Level Noble House
21 Bent Street, Sydney NSW 2000
Ph: (02) 9231 0049