Mexican and fun times with friends are inextricably linked for me, so I was pretty excited to hear a fresh new Mexican joint had recently opened up on Beaufort st. They are, in fact, so new that when we went on the Thursday before Easter their website had only an address, mobile number and email. Being a bit hesitant to ring a mobile number I fired off an email enquiring about their opening hours, bookings and produce and had a response an impressive fifteen minutes later. Their opening hours are now available on their website, and they only take 4 bookings a night for tables of 6+ for their ‘Feed Me’ menu, which as we learned, means you’ll need to be on the ball. I was also pretty stoked with their responses to my questions about their ingredients – this is a thing I feel ridiculous and nosy asking, and often get poorly informed or rude responses so the staff at El Publico earned some serious points. They use organic where possible, and local always – if it’s not in season, they won’t have it on the menu (so don’t be surprised not to find avocadoes right now, for example). Their pork is Free-Range Linley Valley, their chicken is Organic Free-Range Inglewood Farms, and their beef is from Harvey. They’ve even got some local growers producing ingredients you can’t otherwise get in Perth. Learning they had ties to Cantina 663 was icing on the cake.
We rocked up around 7.30 to find El Publico absolutely cranking, tables filled, bar packed and a line up to the doorway. Not to be deterred R sallied forth to the counter, got our name on the list and received an estimate of 40 minutes. We ducked across the road to the Beaufort st Merchant for a drink to pass the time, as the line was by now out the door and it didn’t seem like we’d be able to make it to El Publico’s bar without losing an eye. A jug of Ultimate Pimms ($35) and a jug of Imperial Sangria ($35) later we were ready to go back and do battle again.
We were seated by 9 and warned there might be another long wait for the food so we knuckled down and ordered as quickly as we could, starting with a bottle of dos equis XXX for me ($9) and a bottle of el presidente private bin red ($39) for everyone else to share. On our waiter’s advice we ordered the fried chickpeas with burnt tortilla salt ($5) from the Botana (snack) section to tide us over. These arrived super fast and were amazing – soft and fluffy on the inside and crisp and salty on the outside. We ended up ordering three serves.
Salmon aquachile jalapeno coriander ($17) from Primeros (first course)
Unless you speak spanish, you might find the menu a bit intimidating at first glance but luckily on further investigation there is a quick guide on the back of the menu to help you decipher what you’re ordering. However, if you are rushing to get your order to the kitchen like we were you may find establishing the major ingredients and leaving the rest as a surprise is a fun way to go. Aquachile (or aguachile, depending on who you ask), is a very lightly cured kind of ceviche. I am a huge fan of cured, smoked or salted anything but usually not so keen on salmon. This was light, fresh and punchy with lime, coriander, chilli and radish, and no hint of that oily off-putting flavour.
Organic chicken sikil pak black bean pickled squash ($19) from Ensalada (salad)
We got this dish through a mix-up but once we made sure everything we wanted was still on it’s way we were happy to keep it. The chicken was very moist and tender, and the sikil pak (prehispanic pumpkin seed dip) gave it an interesting and unusual flavour. Even though there was no lettuce, it still gave us the distinct impression of A Salad, and in the end, we aren’t the sort of people to order a salad when there is pork belly on the menu and the aquachile was a pretty hard act to follow.
Huarache house green chorizo queso fresco ($16) from Antojitos (street snacks)
Again, we didn’t bother to read the translation until afterwards, but huarache means a toasted masa base in the shape of a sandal and once you know that this dish does look rather humorously like a delicious, savoury flip flop. The chorizo itself seemed mid-way between mince and pate in texture and had a charred and smoky flavour from the grill. Without the follow through paprika flavour from your standard chorizo the taste was fresh and interesting. And I love the taste of masa so I was pretty happy with this dish.
“WARNING: don’t fool around with Sam’s hot sauce… it’s hot! really hot!”
Pig tongue bitter orange pickled onions taco (2) ($14) from Antojitos
Each taco had three disks of (I’m thinking pressed?) tongue each. The flavour was piggy but not overwhelming, and the texture was still quite muscular so it wasn’t too unfamiliar – even L, who had previously declared he’d never eat tongue and was accidentally none the wiser at the time, said he would be happy to eat them again. The sweet pickled onions were quite juicy, but the tortillas were thick enough to keep everything together and made the masa flavour a component rather than an afterthought. The downside to the menu’s loose descriptions is that you’re never quite sure what form the ingredients are going to take – I couldn’t detect any bitter orange but it was equally possible that it was part of the cooking process as with carnitas and never meant to be a perceptible part of the final presentation.
Esquites ($9) from Antojitos
The mexican street corn with chilli mayonnaise lime and cheese was a real stand out. Served cut off the cob and piled in a bowl it was sweet, tangy and creamy with a hint of warmth from the chilli. I would happily eat two bowls of this for dinner any time. Coming back to it after something more savoury like the beans, I was surpised to notice how sweet it really was.
‘Cowboy beans’ ($8) from Antojitos
While the cowboy beans were perfectly cooked, tender and holding their shape, we couldn’t really taste the pork or tomato very strongly. R liked these when combined with the corn, but I think that was just an excuse to make the corn last longer.
Slow cooked pork belly piloncillo chilli oaxacan chocolate ($24) from Grande Placa (big plates)
All we knew about this dish was pork belly and chocolate, which we figured meant it had something for everyone. It was pretty delicious, but maybe not quite outstanding since we can already do a pretty good pork belly at home. The sauce was mild and well balanced, not as rich as you’d expect from the description (let’s face it, probably a good thing). On it’s own it was like a very sweet (as you’d expect, if you’d bothered to translate piloncillo into ‘refined mexican sugar’) but also very savoury hot chocolate, but when mopped up with the pork everything worked really well together. The pork was tender and soft all the way through, but still had the top layer of fat left intact which TBP wasn’t too keen on and didn’t have quite enough crunch in the crackle to get R and I really excited. We noticed that same intensely porky flavour from the tongue tacos here as well, so if you like your meat bland and deniable, you’re out of luck.
Grilled baby chicken adobo mezcal ($32) from Grande Placa
In case you were panicking that we’d been robbed, the ‘baby’ chicken was much closer to full-sized than a cornish hen. I had a breast piece and was a bit apprehensive since I don’t normally go for white meat but it was very moist. Everyone really enjoyed it but no one could put their finger on the flavour since few of us had tried either adobo or mezcal before. We gave up on the cutlery, finished the bones with our fingers and ordered a side of tortillas to mop up the juices.
Cajeta flan banana peanut butter ice cream ($14) from Postres (desserts)
While we did pass these around, these desserts were probably the one part of the menu that were better suited to just one person. The goat’s milk caramel and peanut butter ice cream were a great sweet and salty combination, but I wasn’t as huge on the custard. Despite the menu saying they don’t allow changes, the staff were happy to arrange one plate without the banana for TBP and really diligent when they brought them to the table to make sure the right people got the right plate. The menu didn’t really have any allergy information on it, but we found the waitstaff so accommodating and attentive that I was have the impression they will steer you right if you tell them what you need to avoid. The attitude of the wait staff was impressive – they were under a lot of pressure but stayed chipper throughout the night and even our ordering mix ups were handled with grace and good humour.
Despite us fearing the worst, the kitchen was so on the pace that at points it nearly overtook us. In hindsight, we really should have relaxed and taken things a bit more slowly – we were out the door in under an hour and a half. The only criticism I have of El Publico was the intense noise levels. We were seated by an open window, which was probably a good spot since the restaurant is mostly flat surfaces, and we could hear the music only rarely and the road noise not at all.
I really enjoyed my night out and would be happy to go back to el Publico again, especially since we didn’t tackle the cocktails and our waiter warned that the food menu will be changing frequently and the copy I took home will soon be out of date. I would recommend it for groups of friends, but I probably wouldn’t recommend it to (for example) my parents or for a date – unless you’re not there for the conversation.
511 Beaufort st Highgate
0418 187 708
http://www.elpublico.com.au (view in Safari or Firefox for best results!)