by Mei Leong
Aquachile of salmon and jalapeno.
Even though El Público is Perth’s current it restaurant (you know, the restaurant that’s the latest, greatest with way too much publicity), when we stumble in for lunch it’s quiet – and a great spot for watching the people of Beaufort Street.
The menu is a huge sheet of paper and it’s barely, just barely, in English! It needs a glossary to read and even then it’s confusing. Real Mexican food is as foreign as it gets for us, so we just pick our dishes randomly and try our best to pronounce it to the waitress.
Crispy whole street prawns – yum!
The first dish are the street prawns. These are a slightly larger than school prawns and deep fried till super crisp. They are eaten whole, squishy heads and all – but watch out for the head spike as the prawns are a little too adult to be eaten mindlessly…. If you’re hesitant about eating the head, it’s actually crispy (like chips) and sweet so I suggest you man up and try it, you won’t regret it! With a squeeze of salted lime, these are crunchy and gloriously more-ish.
Sam’s hot sauce. Not really worthy of the ‘poison’ bottle, but take care all the same.
The prawns are even better with Sam’s hot sauce. Whoever owns this place has some flair for drama – it’s in a poison bottle for god’s sake! Though the sauce is a deceptively mild yellow, it is very acidic, quite hot. Not hot enough to set off a heart attack (yep, some hot sauces have that warning!) or numb the gums, but enough to make you sweat. Really good with the prawns and after a good few dollops, very addictive.
Esquites – Mexican street corn with cheese and lime.
The esquites (Mexican street corn) arrive piping hot. As it’s stirred through, the steaming corn melts the fresh cheese and the coriander quickly wilts in the heat. Unfortunately the corn is not sweet, so the lime and the cheese offset each other to a strange blandness. Corn served on the cob would have been more pleasant as this was quite wet.
Aquachile (a type of ceviche) – loved the finger lime caviar.
Ribbons of salmon, paper thin radishes and a sweet, smoky jalapeno paste make an especially flavoursome aquachile (ceviche), which is quite the feat when it’s practically a raw dish. The salmon was sparkling fresh though the marinade was not adequately acidic enough to ‘cook’ it in the slightest. I really liked the texture of this dish, the raw with the crunchy, acid with sweet and the pops of hot pink (what I assume is) finger lime caviar. This is a must order, along with the street prawns.
The chilaquiles arrive and we are stunned at the large size. Chilaquiles is a dish of wet tortillas. In this version it’s moistened with braised chicken and a salsa of chipotle and (what I think is) green tomatillos. Other than the savoury graininess of the tortillas, it’s hard to describe. K thought it was sour but to me, the tomatillos were quite sweet and zingy. With no other example to compare to, I thought this dish was good, but it’s going to take awhile to get used to the idea of wet tortillas!
I have a rule of thumb for new restaurants: always order the dessert! You are bound to find something you like and if you don’t, well, don’t return.
With a luscious inner-thigh-wobble, the flan did not disappoint. The barely set custard had the scent of cinnamon and just about melted in the mouth. I really liked the peanut butter ice cream, full of peanut goodness and so light it was bordering on sorbet. The syrup wrapped everything in caramelised stickiness – yum. I’d love to go back and try the other desserts, especially the Mexican wedding cookies (which are sweet, powdery nut biscuits) or the paletas (icy poles).
Delicate, cinnamon flan with peanut ice cream and sesame crisps.
Despite the heavy alcohol focus El Público is worth a visit for the food alone. However if I was a drinker I’d be all over this joint like, well, an alcoholic. All those tequilas and cocktails! And that fluoro donkey! (Love.) Non alcoholics don’t despair, the home brewed sodas are treated with respect too. My grapefruit soda was jigged up with some egg white for frothiness and was (almost) as good as a cocktail.
I’d definitely return to El Público. Even though I’m not familiar with the cuisine to say whether or not it is indeed great, I thought it was fabulous. It’s something different for Perth and one of the very few places that actually do real Mexican food at okay prices and surprisingly generous portions. This is a place I’d take a group adventurous eating friends – seriously, ditch the fussy eaters and intolerants because they don’t alter dishes here – and totally hammer the whole menu and get hammered.
Obligatory shot of the donkey above the bar!
511 Beaufort Street, Highgate WA 6003
T: 0418 187 708
Check the website for opening hours.
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