Harley House Picanteria
Like all Melbourne’s best-kept secrets, you’ll wonder whether you took a wrong turn finding Harley House. Hidden deep in the basement of one of Melbourne’s most treasured heritage buildings, this Peruvian eatery and bar is creating quite a buzz amongst the in-the-know.
Entering off Strachan Lane via a dark stairwell enveloped in concrete and steel, I had no idea what to expect below. It’s a stark contrast to pristine Collins Street above with its European flair. I felt a little excited heading down the cold concrete stairs to the converted New York style basement. The venue had succeeded at creating a sense of anticipation and type of tension through clever experiential design.
For owners Vincent Fantauzzo and Rob Hargrave, the concept is as much about the art as it is the food and beverage. Candles and crystal drop pendant lights set against raw concrete pillars dimly light the huge, L-shaped open space. Fascinating art installations set in white tiled wall cavities underneath the original steel framed windows and grates connect the venue with the bustling city above.
Portraits from Vincent Fantauzzo’s amazing collection adorn the walls of Harley House, including Archibald Prize entries of actress Asher Keddie, the late Heath Ledger, Brandon Walters, the indigenous young actor from the movie Australia, and fictional pop-culture icon from the 60s, Suzie Wong.
It’s an interesting and unique space with eclectic styling and attitude, as I’d expect when one of the owners is a renowned painter who utilises the bar as a personal gallery space.
The venue has been on quite a journey in search of its true identity. First, it opened its doors as a Chinese-Mexican diner. Soon thereafter it was transformed again with the arrival of Peruvian Chef Daniel Salcedo. Renamed La Chinesca, it became a Latin American bar and eatery, mixing it up with salsa nights.
Refining the concept yet again, the team have reinvented as Harley House Picanteria with a stronger focus on the amazing food from the kitchen and a speakeasy vibe.
A huge open dining room partitioned only by raw concrete pillars is carefully arranged around the idea of sharing plates and progressive dining. Deep leather booths and timber-topped tables are set against exposed red brick. And bright turquoise blue mosaic tiles make the bar look like an island bar in a swimming pool.
The Cavernous space is filled with relaxed beats. The atmosphere is friendly and inviting.
As Harley House fills up with the after-work Friday night crowd, I can’t help but notice the woman with her shoes off bopping casually to the music while she reclines comfortably in the day bed at the back. The space in front of the bar has strangers mingling and the dining area is filling with groups sitting to eat, drink, laugh and chat.
What struck me most about the scene was the hominess and its sense of community and inclusiveness.
The cocktails at Harley House are designed for the true enjoyment of sipping and tasting. In keeping with the Peruvian theme from the kitchen, many of the cocktails on the list are Pisco based and made with fresh ingredients. Though most of the cocktails will have a familiar name since they are all based on classics, each of the cocktails is quite original with its very own twist.
Note. Hour of Sours: $10 Pisco Sours Monday to Thursday 4.30-6.30pm.
House infused coffee Pisco, cold drip coffee & sugar syrup. A Peruvian twist on the espresso martini.
Meaning fiery woman, this is a spicy Peruvian twist on a classic bloody mary. Pisco, tomato juice, lime juice, Lomo Saltado Sauce (soy, oyster sauce & cider vinegar), Rocoto Salsa (Peruvian chilli), salt & pepper.
Beach House Spiced Rum, fresh lime, sugar syrup, mint, Mr Bitters Fig & Cinnamon Bitters & a dash of ginger beer. A mojito with a Mauritian twist.
Campo de Encancto Pisco, lime, sugar & egg white – a perfectly made classic.
Margarita Con Camino
Tromba Tequila, Cointreau, lemon & cumin, served in a coupe glass with a spicy, chipotle salt rim.
Pampero Blanco Rum, Luxardo Maraschino, tangy pink grapefruit & lime.
Pampero Blanco Rum, pineapple, sage & pecan bitters. Served tall over lots of ice, this is a refreshing drink with a twist on the classic mojito.
71 Collins St, Melbourne (Enter from Strachan Lane off Exhibition St)
Open Mon-Fri 12pm-3pm | Mon-Sat 5pm til late
“It’s 4:58 on Friday afternoon. Do you know where your margarita is?”
– Amy Neftzger