The Eastern Hotel, 500 Oxford Street Bondi Junction, NSW 202202 8383 5959
|Opening hours||Tues-Thurs, 4pm-late, Fri-Sun, noon-late.|
Sydney may be gearing up for Chinese New Year but Mexican remains our obsession. With the number of places opening, we will soon be more Mexican than Mexico – apart from the fact that our Mexican places tend to be a more Anglicised, yuppified, stylised form of the original. And so, welcome to El Topo.
This is Mexican dining and drinking that is all of the above. The fitout is beautiful, the decorations are beautiful, the bartenders are beautiful, the waiters are beautiful and the food and drinks are, well, beautiful.
It's like a page out of an Ikea catalogue rather than the gritty streets of Mexico City.
Half the meticulously-designed rooftop space is under cover and the other looks up at the night sky above the Eastern Hotel. Wooden booths fill the bright, light space and are covered in colourful Day of the Dead styling.
The bread and butter of this place is tequila and mezcal. The bar supervisor, Luke Redington, and some of his staff have traversed the hills of Mexico to bring back 30 rare mezcals and five sotols, making it one of the biggest collections in the country. The list resembles a wine list – each drink listed by agave plant variety and differentiated by the rural village and the family that distilled it.
All cocktails can be ordered with tequila or smoky mezcal, or the cheery, flashy bartenders will guide you through the menu and offer some tequila or mezcals to taste like a Del Maguey mezcal Minero ($14) which is a good entry point and – miraculously – the hangover is almost non-existent. I swear.
Mezcal neophytes will also enjoy a foamy Mezcal Sour made with homemade agave syrup otherwise the Margaritas – standard, Tommy's or Cadillac – are superb. My companion finds a Cadillac with Jose Cuervo Tradicional (Grand Marnier, lime, pink salt rim, $17) incredibly tart and the fruity, sweet, El Top (Jose Cuervo Tradicional, hibiscus, lime, rose, $15) served in a cute little jar is more to her liking. As for something with a bit of punch, the Michelada (clamato, beer, citrus, house-spice-mix, smoked salt rim, $14) is strong, although a little bogged down in spice, and shots of mezcal and tequila are followed with a great spicy home-made sangrita (tequila's non-alcoholic partner).
The food takes its inspiration from the Oaxaca region and spans interesting, unexpected dishes from crisp pork-skin snacks to lamb rump for three, blood-sausage tacos and Mexican doughnuts.
The service is excessively attentive and we have about three different waiters at our feet before we've barely looked through the dishes on offer. Roasted crickets are recommended so we give them a go first – but they are bland despite the crunchy nut texture and the chilli, garlic and lime seasoning.
A zucchini flower quesadilla (with quinoa, salsa vierge, queso oaxaqueno, $13) and chorizo con huevo y papas jalapeno (chorizo with slow-cooked egg, potato, crisp tortilla and jalapeno, $12) are much nicer although come a little close to the ''stodge'' territory that so much Mexican food in Sydney does. The soft-shell tacos were a winner, especially the guajillo chile pork, lined up on huge boards.
This is a beautiful spot for some Mexican chow and good tequila. Yet it's not quite the spot to get rowdy, lest you spill your Margarita on the manicured white furniture. So after one too many tequilas, it's time to move on.
You'll love it if ... you want to get adventurous with tequila and mezcal.
You'll hate it if ... you're looking for a gritty, dirty bar to get rowdy.
Go for ... mezcal sour, Tommy's margarita, tacos