Food & Drink

Portenio – Traditional Argentine Grill on the Harbour Arm

Portenio’s Paula Cambra has been serving her authentic Argentine food from the Harbour Arm since October 2021 after a brief summer on The Stade opposite.  Secret recipes passed down from her mother, with tweaks for the next generation, your mouth will be watering well before you get to eat this delicious food.  Folkelife took a moment in the sun, on the bench by the harbour, to speak to Paula about her new venture.

“I love to travel and to live in different countries and have lived across South America.  I came to the UK with an old boyfriend.  He lied to me.  He said there were beautiful summers in England and that it never rained.  I’m not with him anymore!  No, I’m joking!  I have a new partner now and living in this part of the country I wanted to bring a little bit of Argentina to the table.  I cook what I like to eat, and I find that these foods are missing from what’s on offer in restaurants and take aways in the UK.”  

beef with beef, Chicken with beef

We do eat a lot of meat in Argentina.  People joke that it’s ‘beef with beef, and chicken with beef…’ But it is very good beef, with lots of flavour.  Then there’s the magical chimichurri sauce; a mixture of fresh herbs and I can’t tell you any more than that as my recipe is a secret!  We put it on everything nearly, but it gives life to the dishes because it’s so fresh and vibrant.  I have vegan options on my menu too and every single item is something that I love to eat.  It’s really difficult for me to chose a favourite because I love eating all of it!”

harbour is home

“Being on the Harbour Arm is the right place for me.  I feel at home here; it’s everything that I am – quirky, adventurous, experimental.  I feel comfortable and able to express who I am in the food that I serve here.”

Paula Cambras Credit Matt Rowe
Portenio Football Chapel Credit Matt Rowe
Cosy Indoors Credit Matt Rowe
Portenio Steak

People of the port

“The name Portenio means ‘people of the port’.  I’m a Portenia (feminine) as my family immigrated to Argentina as did so many others over the last century.  I have Spanish, Austrian and Italian in my heritage.  There’s a huge mixture of nationalities in Argentina and we all belong. That’s one of the feelings I want to get across in my restaurant; you’ll come in and be welcomed and there’s a feel that it’s a place for everyone.  The furniture is upcycled and it might not all be from the same set, but it’s a mix of colours that come together, everything has its place. 

“I have to emphasise too that football is very important so there is a Chapel of Football in one corner.  There you will be able to acknowledge Santa Maradona and Golden Messi, and the shrine to the World Cup complete with votive candles.  Also note that at the next World Cup everyone will be welcome, especially Argentinian supporters (I might even give away free beer, I’ll have to think about that one!).”

argentine grill

“Asado is a meal that has been cooked on a parrilla – a grill.  Traditionally the focus is meat but we’ll have fish and vegetable main dishes.  There will also be the popular items from Minutas like the empanadas and, of course, the churros.  I’ll have other puddings too, ice creams and traditional flans.  My chimichurri is getting really popular now and I’m going to have to get my chef to sign a non-disclosure agreement so he doesn’t share the recipe.  This is a closely guarded secret handed down through my family so that’s quite important!”

advice and guidance

I’ve found that people are also happy to take my advice and be adventurous in what they eat.  They ask me if they will like it and I make sure that they do, but also that they’re getting the real taste of Argentina in the food that I make.  All my recipes are inspired by my family; my mother and grandmother.  It’s really important to me that I can create a restaurant here in the UK that is something you’d find in Argentina.  We might only have 3 steaks on offer, but they’re going to be cooked the way we would at home, and they’re going to be juicy and perfect.  I wouldn’t serve it otherwise!”

I can’t wait to start and grow into this space.  My trailer was lovely but it’s far too small for what I want to offer.  I’m going to be working front of house so I can explain and guide people with the menu; I’ll make sure you have some really good food whilst you’re in my place.”

Discover more about folkestone below

Sole Kitchen, Harbour Coffee and The Fish Shack
Cabrón and The Taco Shed
The Place To Be – Folkestone Harbour
Beachside at The Harbour Arm

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