While Porteno tends to get the attention, Elvis Abrahanowicz and Ben Milgate’s other, original restaurant, Bodega, is arguably serving more nuanced, sophisticated food. In fact, it’s one of Sydney’s best. And we’re not the only ones who think so.
This month the energetic Commonwealth Street restaurant celebrates 12 years of serving Latin-inspired tapas in a fun, music-reverberating dining room. As one “food lover” says in the first couple pages of Abrahanowicz’s and Milgate’s cookbook Recipes For a Good Time, “It’s the personal touches from Ben, Elvis, [Sarah Doyle and [business partner/sommelier] Joe [Valore] that make a meal an event and a night to remember. It’s like we wandered into a fancy, home-style, awesome food party.”
Bodega was born out of the tattoo-clad duo’s boredom with working in fine-dining restaurants. “We’d just left a meeting with the chef we were both working for at the time thinking, ‘Let’s open our own place’,” says Milgate in the book. “So we called Sarah [Abrahanowicz’s now wife and co-owner] and asked how to get a loan. She said ‘Why the hell do you want to try and get a loan? You can’t even get a credit card’.”
They must have been successful because not long after Sydney got Bodega, a small diner with colourful bulls and matadors adorning the wall, and with tattooed staff roaming the room to the sounds of rock‘n’roll.
Milgate says Sydney’s food scene was very different back then. “Casual dining and the sharing/family style of dining wasn’t so common. We wanted it to be fun, with loud music and good times – like where we would like to eat.”
A couple dishes from the original, day-one menu remain: the fish fingers, and the banana split dessert. We reckon the salty and garlicky entrée endures because it’s both simple and super delicious. “Fresh, raw seafood on burnt, charred toast is really delicious. It’s the contrast of the toast – all warm, salty and charred – with the clean, cold dish that makes this so incredible,” he says.
You can relive all the Bodega classics when the restaurant hosts an eight-course birthday dinner party later this month. “The sangria will be flowing, there'll be fish fingers and banana splits aplenty and as usual the tunes will be rocking,” he says.
Bodega’s 12th birthday dinner is on Thursday 23 August from 6pm.
Want to read more about the team? Here's our profile on Sarah Doyle.