Until recently, real Mexican food has basically been unheard of here in Perth. That was the case, until La Cholita opened it’s doors late 2011 and welcomed in hoards of customers who craved fresh lime, tortillas and tequila. The published reviews were positive, the customer feedback not always so. But for my own experiences, I have loved La Cholita and would have recommended it to anyone. That is, until I tried el PÚBLICO. And now, I have completely jumped ship.
It might only be Thursday night, but this place is busy. Not to the level of perhaps La Cholita where you line up for up to an hour, but there’s a nice buzz to the chatter and clink of glasses, not to mention the scrapes of forks along plates.
We’re seated upstairs on a high table; Jeremy and I easing into a pleasant conversation with our incredible waitress who looked after us for the majority of the night. If the receipt is anything to go by, her name is Rebecca and she is extremely lovely. She’s engaging, friendly and walks us through the best way to order as well as offering comments when we pick a dish that’s one of her favourites. I’d almost forgotten what a real difference great service can make, so I have to say she really made part of this night for us.
The food menu is interesting and diverse. The ingredients seem very typical of Mexico, without being your standard commercial fare.
We start off with the adobo chicken tacos ($14), which come with pickled onion, parsley and a delicious peanut salsa. The chicken is extremely succulent; the flavours different to anything I’ve ever had in the past. It’s actually a really exciting dish and I know my eyes light up in response.
The pickled onion isn’t quite as sweet as I would have preferred, but it works for the dish as it allows the chicken to be the hero. And those flour tortillas… well they were amazing! Easily the best tortillas I think I’ve ever eaten. They were light, tasty and make the perfect base for enjoying this dish.
The guacamole ($9) here is creamy and fresh; the avocado melting in your mouth as you crunch down on the fried tortilla sections that are uneven in size and deliciously salty. It isn’t as zingy with citrus juice as I tend to favour, but my god those tortillas are great to gorge yourself upon.
The crispy street prawns ($9) are moorish and best eaten hot. They’re tiny little prawns that are deep fried in the shell, providing a crunchy casing for the juicy flesh that is housed beneath. Add a nice squeeze of lime, these salty snacks make the perfect appetite builder.
Especially when you add a drop of Sam’s hot sauce…
This sauce definitely lives up to it’s name! It comes to our table with a warning on the menu and from our waitress – and the bottle says POISON on the side. Jeremy makes a beeline to sample it, as do I, and we immediately recognise the use of habanero chilli – distinguishable from it’s bright orange colouring and the fruity scent/taste it produces (as well as sheer heat).
These little chillies have a rating of 100,000-350,000 on the Scoville scale (Jalapenos are at 3,500-8,000 to give you a point of comparison). But despite being hot, it tastes really nice, so we find ourselves adding very careful doses to our food as we continue eating.
It’s about this time that our orders of the home made sodas ($6) are even more appreciated. For Jeremy, he’s chosen lime fresca which is sour, minty and wonderful. For myself, I have the pink grapefruit which is slightly tart, and oh so zingy. You can really taste the difference from the commercial drinks of the same flavour profiles.
The esquites ($10) is my favourite dish of the night. It’s a really innovative and exciting take on Mexican street corn which sees charred corn kernels in a large styrofoam cup with Mexican ricotta, mayonnaise, spices and fresh parsley. With a squeeze of lime over the top, you then mix all the ingredients together, blending the flavours into a saucy, enticing dish that begs to be devoured. And devour it we did.
I can’t actually believe how amazing this dish was. The corn was juicy and slightly smokey; the cheese and mayonnaise creamy and melting from the heat once mixed. It’s fresh and just overall exciting. I can already see myself trying to recreate this in my kitchen in the near future, it’s just that great.
The beef mogo mogo ($16) comes a close second if I were to rate my favourite dishes for the night. It’s six generous fried balls made up of the most tender, falling apart beef brisket. The outside is a crunchy coating that is salty and crusty, with a side dipping sauce of chipotle cream. When you cut through the surface of the beef ball, there’s an actual sound of the surface cracking and from there I think it’s all groans of immense pleasure at what you’re eating. I definitely recommend this dish if you haven’t had it before. Or even if you have, it’s worth eating again and again.
From the larger dishes on the menu, Jeremy chooses the pork belly ($25) for us to share. It’s a great serving size; four plump rounds of fatty pork belly with a sexy crackling layer to chomp away on. It sits in a gorgeously dark sauce of chilli and chocolate that tastes like neither, but rather a glorious gravy type profile.
This sauce makes the dish. The pork belly is amazing, don’t get me wrong, but that sauce is everything. So it’s a nice addition that it comes with a side serving of those great flour tortillas to wrap the pork in, or to just dip into the sauce. We mop up every single bite!
We’ve eaten amazing dish after amazing dish; laughing mid-servings with the wait staff and enjoying the atmosphere of this lovely hole in the wall restaurant. So naturally, though we’re edging to the full side, we decide to stay on to try the very reasonably priced desserts.
Though usually we share everything, we somehow decide to order separate desserts – both of us choosing items that suit our individual loves perfectly. For Jeremy, he chooses the three milk cake ($11) with stewed rhubarb on side and a nice serving of cream.
The cake is so light and incredibly moist. It uses condensed milk, evaporated milk and full cream milk to get this texture; and it is worth the effort. I can see he’s enjoying it, and from my melt in the mouth bite, I can understand why.
My dessert is a kitschy jar that has three scoops of peanut butter ice cream with crushed praline scattered over the top. Underneath is a thick, heavenly river of dulce de leche (spanish caramel).
I don’t think I will ever have the words to explain just how much I loved this dessert. It had everything I could possibly ask for – saltiness, sweetness, crunch and sticky goodness. The ice cream was creamy but jam packed with peanut butter flavour; the praline toffee crunching between my teeth with every bite. And that spanish caramel was just perfection. I literally scraped that jar clean!
I loved el PÚBLICO. It’s actually just as simple as that – and it’s no surprise since it’s from the same geniuses that gave us Cantina 663. It’s ingenious, flavoursome and just an overall enjoyable experience.