It might be Spanish slang for ‘buddy’ but 'CHE' is also an acronym for the new Fitzroy diner’s three house specials: chicken, helados (ice-cream) and empanadas.
If you just gasped aloud at the thought of combining three of life’s (well, South America’s) food pleasures, we hear you.
Lima-born Alejandro Saravia (Pastuso) is behind the restaurant, which – true to its name – is keeping things low-key. The largely takeaway menu is designed to evoke nostalgic after-school chicken shop memories; you know those ones where you could nab a bag of hot chips and gravy for less than a buck? Though at CHE, the rotisserie classic has been given a Peruvian makeover via the Pollo a la Brasa, Peru’s favourite Saturday takeaway pastime.
“We want to bring a little of the street food flavours that we love when traveling in South America,” Alejandro tells SBS. He and his business parters Jason McConnell and David and Michael Parker modelled CHE on their travels around the region a couple of years back.
So, what exactly does Peruvian charcoal chook look like?
For starters, it's marinated in Peruvian chilli and dark beer for no less than 48 hours, then cooked slowly over coals and cherry wood in a custom-built charcoal smoker.
“The marinade is inspired by a traditional Peruvian charcoal chicken with a bit of my personal touch,” Alejandro explains.
The tender bird arrives with hot chips (of course) that have been doused in chicken salt (naturally) – but it's not chicken salt as you know it. CHE's version of the seasoning is made from scratch with dry chicken skins and seaweed.
High ceilings and South American street art keep things upbeat but there’s no mistaking Alejandro’s deft touch; his formal training was at Lima’s Le'Cordon bleu but the chef’s food journey began much earlier.
“I have to say that I have been exposed to cooking and good produce thanks to my grandmother,” he tells. “My childhood memories in the kitchen are helping her peeling broad beans or peas and slowly learning my way up to chopping veggies and cooking them.”
“[And] waking up early to go to the fish market with my father to hand-pick fish and seafood for an incredible ceviche at the beach,” he adds. “Or joining my grandfather in the afternoon to buy freshly baked bread for dinner and share a sneaky empanada.”
While Pastuso is a more upmarket affair, Alejandro hopes CHE will draw in more families. As such, the drinks list is aimed at all ages: there’s Argentinian and Spanish beers and wines, and Peru’s iconic creaming soda, the Inca Cola.
Then, keep the good times rolling with a dulce de leche-flavoured soft-serve – roasted macadamias, blueberry jam and Malbec toppings, optional.
CHE is open Mon - Tues 5pm - 11pm; Wed - Sun midday - 11pm. Shop 3, 296 Brunswick Street (entry via Johnston Street) Fitzroy