I was disheartened to hear that one of my favourite Surry Hills restaurants, District Dining, had served its last meal and had shuttered its doors. Thankfully, it was to open a couple of months later in its latest incarnation, Mexico Food & Liquor, and operated by the same capable and much awarded management.
The first thing that grabs you is the interior – it’s vastly changed. Gone are the minimal wooden panellings and austere, generously spaced tables. Instead, the walls are adorned with a visual cacophony of Mexican-themed pictures; think Dia de los Muertos drawings, Our Lady of Guadalupe mini-shrines, flags, magazine clippings, etc (I’m sure there was luchador in there somewhere). The stylised graphic map of District Dining had been replaced with a gritty Day of the Dead mural.
If this weren’t enough to set the mood, what really did it for me was the music selection, which consisted of Mexican and Mexican-inspired tunes. Specifically, Mariachi El Bronx was on their playlist a few times, which was especially cool as I had first seen The Bronx play at the now-musically-challenged Gaelic Club not far from here.
Raff and I joined Simon for an early sitting. I enjoy dining with these guys because of their cooperatively tactical approach to ordering: we’ll all get what we want and we all get to taste everything. Awesome. (Vivian and her bf joined us later on as well.)
We kicked off with the tacos, specifically, Wild mushroom, fennel & marjoram, sour cream, toasted pinenuts; Pibil rubbed pork w black beans, red cabbage, guajillo, sesame; and Beef brisket braised in coconut & ancho w green onion, chilli, papaya. We also had the Prawn taco special, which was my favourite of the lot. Surprisingly, the wild mushroom pulled well ahead of the pork and beef tacos in terms of flavour.
The idea of tostaditas of crab is interesting (a light, ceviche on a nacho!) but I couldn’t really taste the crab over the lime. Lovely texture though.
We had the Beetroot Salad and the Crispy Potatoes. The beetroot was especially flavoursome; the potato dipped in the tomatillo dressing was a bit like a spicier chips with vinegar.
I think the big highlight for everyone was the Coffee and Ancho Braised Beef Rib. Served on a cutting board like most of the other dishes, the ribs were a sight to behold. I was expecting this singular rib to be fairly small but I’m glad I was wrong; it was relatively large, say 150 to 200 grams, all of which was tender tender awesomeness. The coffee and ancho flavour was very subtle so a liberal helping of one of the different chilli sauces they have there helped. (This was my qualm with most of the dishes. Everything could have been a little bit más picante.)
As if we weren’t full enough, we also had the Roast eggplant, green onion & walnut quesadilla with black cumin sour cream and the Prawn, smoked paprika quesadilla, chilli & orange w corn salsa. The Prawn quesadilla was one of the highlights of the night.
Besides the food and drinks menu, they also had a booklet visually describing the history of tequila. The content was interesting but personally the showcase was the graphic design and clever infographics.
The word? Sydney is burgeoning with all things Mexican. Comparatively, Mexico Food & Liquor is more fun and represents more value than El Loco. Although the place appears geared towards groups, it’s not as group friendly as Cafe Pacifico. However, the food in Randle Street is much much better. I’d definitely come back with a small group of friends.
NOTE: I dined as a guest of Mexico Food and Liquor in the company of Simon @ The Heart of Food.