Más. It means more in Spanish and that is exactly what I was left wanting after attending a pop up dinner by Sam Ward of that very name. Held for only six Tuesdays at The Mantle at $65 per ticket, Más was an opportunity for Ward to remind the people of Perth just how skilled he is when it comes to Mexican cuisine.
I went for the first night with my friends Laura, Ai-Ling and Kira – wine in tow (got to love BYO) and hungry bellies. I was expecting big things from the five course dinner: after all, it was trying Ward’s cooking at El Publico when it first opened that made me fall in love with proper Mexican food. To this day, the beef mogo mogo balls there are still one of my favourite things to eat ever.
The setting for dinner was by dim-light where Short Order Burger Co normally resides. Limited seating. Brown paper covered tables with handwritten menu. And a beautiful welcome drink of strawberries and mint.
Our first dish, bocadillos salsa de camarones de seco was a great introduction to the evening. Two corn and chorizo fritters. Golden-brown with a dried shrimp sauce, these morsels smashed you in the mouth with flavour. I particularly loved the sauce, which was tangy and thick, and really brought the dish alive.
Our second dish, agua chile con chileatole y tepache, was raw kingfish with green pepper sauce, and fermented pineapple and corn.
I sadly had to forgo the green pepper sauce due to my inability to eat capsicum without getting stomach cramps, but the consensus around the table was that it was yum! The kingfish was firm and fresh: the other ingredients bursting and zingy. I particularly liked the way the fermented pineapple had that kind of jaw ache appeal – sour, sweet and just plain morish.
The third dish was more substantial than the previous two – and one that really made an impression on us all. Tamales de hongo salsa pasilla oaxaquenco, otherwise known as mushroom tamales with crema and smoked salsa.
The masa dough used to create the outside of the tamale was soft but structural; the mushroom inside meaty and generous. I loved the use of crema, which provided a rich dipping sauce that offset the smokiness of the salsa. Having been steamed in banana leaf and served, it had a really authentic and humble appearance – but the taste was nothing short of complex.
While the tamales were a close contender, the final savoury course was my favourite for the evening at The Mantle. Estafado con pollo is a chicken stew, and it can be summarised in one word. Incredible.
Juicy, mouth-wateringly delicious chicken thighs were coated in an oily, rich sauce that had obviously developed over many hours. Accompanied by almonds, plump sultanas and olives, I wish I’d stowed some bread in my bag to mop up every last drop of sauce left on my plate. This is the kind of Mexican food Perth has been crying out for – unseen, homely and utterly addictive.
Our dessert was the nicuatole con cafe de olla nieves polvoro. Nicuatole is a traditional Oaxaca-region dish that is comprised of ground maize and sugar. Crumbled biscuits on top completed the textural offering.
This was a really unique dish, unlike anything I’ve had before. But it left it’s mark. Not overly sweet, its’ lightness showed a deft touch, and an understanding of the restraint Mexican cooking has. It was creamy, with a resounding coffee flavour and just the right savoury injection from the crumbs.
Ahhh Más. Five courses of traditional southern Mexican food and I was left completed sated, full to the brim but wanting so much more. Perth has really missed Ward being on the pots and pans, and I’m looking forward to 2017 bringing more from him. Rumours of another Más pop-up coming our way have surfaced: I can only hope they’re lined in truth.
Keep an eye out, and if we’re lucky enough for it to happen, get your tickets!