PICTURES \ DARRIAN TRAYNOR
Let me confess to bending the rules of good-mannered dining.
Etiquette breach No.1: a last-minute phone call at 5.30pm for a 6.30pm sitting at an eight-week-old restaurant. The sternly delivered condition to vacate by 8pm was accepted.
No.2: A 20-minute late arrival. (This was due to the ridiculous task of parking in Glen Waverley on a Saturday night). We made an apologetic phone call during the process and arrived, with further profuse apologies, at 6.50pm. The 8pm departure deal was reaffirmed and, again, agreed to.
Any good-mannered diner should be aware of their part in the occasion’s contract. A restaurant, particularly a new one in a busy suburb, deserves adherence to rules that include timely arrival and a degree of booking forethought. Despite our poor start, service was polite, friendly, informative and impressively efficient.
The Black Toro is a first restaurant for young chef Garen Maskal, in partnership with two cousins who own Mexican Cantina in Narre Warren.
Maskal, of Armenian background, grew up in Mulgrave and had worked in family-owned restaurants and hotels before he began as chef de partie at Ezard three years ago, leaving as sous chef earlier this year.
Maskal’s restaurant and menu concept are Hispanic-themed despite his
experience in Teage Ezard’s Asian-influenced restaurant, and in recognition of the dominance of that style of dining in Glen Waverley.
“This is a massive learning curve for me, but I think if you can cook and you understand flavours and how they work together on the palate, you can cook anything,” he says. Maskal’s food shows respect for tradition, good technique and creativity.
As a practised review team, my regular dining partner and I are not unfamiliar with tasting and taking note of a cross-section of the menu and can achieve it in a short timeframe – although generally we are better organised. Following the menu suggestion, we ordered three poco (small) plates and one grande (large) plate.
A pair of potato and chorizo croquettes with manchego (Spanish sheep’s cheese) foam arrived rapidly, presented on a modern, oval-shaped black pottery plate. The fat, golden fingers rested beside creamy pools of delicate foam, dressed with baby coriander. The dish instantly showed Maskal’s willingness to play with traditional flavours, care in presentation and, in the finely wrought foam, a degree of his technique.
The 14-strong poco list includes scallop ceviche, oysters with tequila and lime, a good-sounding pulled-pork taco and wagyu beef sliders. Maskal’s mushroom sope with corn truffle and ricotta salata is a dense, tartlet-style tortilla filled with garlic-enhanced fungus and topped with finely shredded ricotta salata. The salty, milky flavour of the sheep’s cheese was a fabulous foil for the pungent, earthy taste of the mushrooms.
Poco plate No.3, twice-cooked chicken wings with a peanut mole, arrived in another matte-black pottery dish, the poultry surrounded by a pungent auburn sauce and topped with ground peanuts. The wings, first given a sous vide treatment and later flash fried for colour and crunch, were moist and flavoursome, their rich peanut sauce enhanced with a subtle kick of chilli and balanced by a generous drizzle of sour cream.
Of the six choices on the grande plates list ours was the Sher Wagyu rump with chimichurri, its thick slices of quality beef dressed with a verdant sauce of parsley, vinegar, coriander, sherry, garlic, shallot and olive oil.
The earthy, grassy flavours of the sauce, which married well with the natural flavours of the meat, could easily have been spoiled by a hand too heavy with salt. A soft jumble of parsley and shallots added a lively final flourish of taste and texture.
Finished with all four dishes by 7.50pm, and noting at least three empty double tables and two vacant tables for four inside, plus two unoccupied tables outside (one with a reserved sign). And seeing that the dessert list included items such as mandarin sorbet with pistachio nuts and crème catalan with almond crumb – which would have all been pre-made – we requested an additional course.
The sternly delivered answer was no. There would not be enough time for dessert. We were offered coffee. We declined, obediently waited for our bill (marked “out by 8” with a $0 charge against it), and were out the door at 8pm sharp – leaving eight empty tables (they were probably all trying to park) behind us.
An opportunity missed by us, yes. And yes, due to our own dining faux pas. But surely, not the best way for a new restaurant to win customers?
What do you think?
Potato and Chorizo croquettes
The Black Toro
79 Kingsway, Glen Waverley
Cuisine \ Hispanic
Chef and owner \ Garen Maskal
Prices \ Small dishes $6.50-$16; large plates $27-$65; desserts $14
Open \ Thursday to Sunday noon-3pm; 6pm-late
Phone \ 9561 9696
The Verdict \ Worth a look
Eye-catching décor in a street replete with dining venues gives this fledgling restaurant an edge on its copious competition. Smart black signage, slick use of wrought iron in screens and chandelier-style light fittings, plus a huge mural of a charging bull with smoking, angry eyes, create the Latino vibe, drawing the attention of curious passers-by. Young, attractive staff efficiently bustling around the room add another tier of visual appeal. Polished floors and the strong use of dark timber keep the mood hip, enhanced by the soft glow of candles, gilded mirrors and pendant lights that hang over the exposed kitchen.