A move from Ponsonby Central to a cosy converted laneway in Parnell allows chef Sarah Ginella and her partner, Nico Mendez a chance to meld lifestyle and business, just like they do in Europe. Here, Dish catches up the Barhulo matriarch.
What is it about Mediterranean food?
Sarah: "I lived in Spain for a couple of years and I used to travel there a lot. I also lived in South America. There’s something about the food and the way of dining. Like eating your main meal in the middle of the day with no rush. It’s actually really simple stuff. You take your time and you have a few different courses. It suits me, as I don’t like fussy food."
Which region are you most inspired by?
"Spain at the moment, because we are influenced by what produce is available. Over summer there are lots of tomatoes so we use them to make a lot of Spanish-style dishes. We’ve been more Portuguese/Brazilian focused but we update the menu every week so we can keep changing the concept."
What is your food philosophy?
"It’s keeping it simple and using the best ingredients we can get. We spend a lot on good local produce and organic food. It’s also about not damaging too much of the flavour and getting the balance right. A lot of the food we serve is healthy. We don’t add much oil or fat and use heaps of fresh vegetables and herbs."
Any other influences?
"Nico is from Uruguay and I lived there too. The food there is half Italian, half Spanish but with Brazil next door there is also a lot of tropical fruit. It’s European-based cuisine with a touch of Latin American through it, which lightens it up. We go back every year."
What’s popular right now?
"Sharing plates and snacks, but also salads and sides eaten as tapas, which I like because diners are eating a balance of things. People used to like an entrée, main and dessert but a lot of our customers are very food aware and have travelled to Spain and Portugal so they are very happy to eat that way again. They recognise the flavours, which is great, as some of these are quite harsh like bacalhau – a salted cod – and squid ink."
Who plans the menus?
"Basically me. However, Nico does the cocktails. It’s good to have a chef doing this because he uses proper fruits and ferments things. Why this works is because too many people’s input tends to confuse the menu."
The kitchen is tiny. How do you make it work as a couple?
"Nico and I have worked together for so long we’re used to it. We can work in a small space because we are aware of how we work and how we move. Otherwise we’d be banging into each other all the time."
In fact, the whole space is perfectly designed for its limited size.
"The restaurant is a former carpark. Architecture firm Fearon Hay put the roof on but we designed the space. Nico built everything and laid all the tiles. It works well because of the different levels and the light that comes through both sides, from the front to the back. People really like the atmosphere and we have regular customers who now come several times a week. They like the noise and the intimate space."
Barulho is aptly named then.
"It’s Portuguese for noise. Like, “Let’s make some noise” – a party kind of noise. It’s hard to believe that it hasn’t always been here. I’m into longevity. I don’t want to be tied to any particular theme and have to update the decor every few years. It’s all about lifestyle for us."
To learn more about Sarah or meet our line-up of local Med stars, pick up a copy of our April/May issue, or follow our Med series online.