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May 08, 2012
Have your say
Photo: Eddie Jim
TALK about codifying a trend - even the United Nations has jumped on the Mexican bandwagon, naming its food among the ''intangible cultural heritage of humanity''. When Ban Ki-moon and his colleagues prove no more immune than the rest of us world citizens to the simple joys of a good taco, global consciousness must be thrumming at a high pitch.
It's a sadly rare occasion when a food writer gets the opportunity to decipher a UNESCO citation, so let's do a bit of digging. The gong is designed to:
a) ''Safeguard heritage endangered by the process of globalisation'' (surely a dig at the stodgy crimes of Tex-Mex?);
b) ''Get the world talking about a particular cultural element and to understand it better'' (memo to diners: crunchy tortillas, yellow cheese and sour cream are the enemy).
But enlightenment brings change. The game has changed, from unity against the common T-Mex enemy to internecine rivalry. It's now Mexican restaurant against Mexican restaurant in a battle for supremacy. Other Mexican joints getting the town jumping have been opened by white boys who went on holiday and liked what they saw. Senoritas is a rare instance of the Mexican diaspora claiming a stake in the feeding frenzy. With the co-owner and head chef hailing from the republic, it's a no-brainer that they should play the authenticity card.
The Senoritas website is a cunningly disguised polemic about the ''real'' versus impostors, but dining at this Meyers Place hot spot affords little else by way of enlightenment. Maybe because the waiters - a mix of Mexicans and uni students - are stretched to the max in defiance of Senoritas' cosy 60-seat status. And, truth be told, it's kind of a relief that some promises aren't realised, such as the assertion staff ''will charm guests with stories on Mexican life, culture and traditions''. But it wouldn't hurt to make more of the regional nature of Mexican food beyond putting the origins of each dish in brackets on the menu.
It's the circle work that diners will be most familiar with. So how do the tacos at Senoritas stack up? The soft corn tortillas are made in-house and steamed over the grilling meats to pick up the flavour. On the thicker side and quite crumbly in texture, they develop structural problems mid-eating. Lucky they're on the small side - two or three bites at the most. Fillings are sparse. Shreds of poached duck are slightly dry, although they go well with a dark and sticky tamarind-spiked mole and shavings of queso fresco, the unmatured, slightly acidic white cheese. Better are the tacos from Baja California featuring a fat chunk of fried black trevally, with a bit of shredded carrot and cabbage and salsa borracha (''drunken'' salsa made with beer, giving it a mild alcohol tang). Both could do with a whole lot more of that salad freshness that zings Mexican food to life.
The meal starts with crisp tortilla chips and three house-made salsas of increasing Scoville intensity. They come in pretty handy while you're waiting to order. And waiting.
Kudos, too, to the guacamole, which is lime-friendly, smooth, almost runny and utterly delicious, but the name is the best thing going for the chimichangas - stodgy little warmed flour pockets of chopped prawn and scallop meat with nondescript melted cheese and a mild (not spicy, as per the menu) red salsa.
The ceviche could do with more acidity to give zest to the cold cocktail glass of diced prawn meat with corn kernels, red onion, lettuce and, surprisingly for a dish titled ceviche de mango, an absence of mango. The ingredients make it good value at $13, but otherwise it's too mild-mannered to make a real impact.
Unlike the decor, which strikes the right note for its hipper-than-thou Meyers Place location. Senoritas is a bit like Baz Luhrmann's Romeo + Juliet meets Day of the Dead celebrations, a funereal bacchanal colliding with a Tim Burton aesthetic. It's a pop-cultural miasma of skeletons, sexy cadaverous women, subtle crucifixes and flickering votive candles.
It's a place that looks, feels and sounds more like a bar than a restaurant. Booze is important here, with proper margaritas, a handful of Mexican beers, tequila and a tight wine list for anyone old-fashioned enough to prefer grape over agave.
Dish of the evening is the pozole blanco - a big, salty and full-flavoured pork broth and poached meat with radish, lettuce, red onion and hominy, smooth white maize kernels. A squeeze of lime makes the whole bowl jump to attention.
Bitter chocolate dominates a smooth, rich mole poblano, making it a touch less complex and nuanced than other versions of this multi-elemental pounded mother-sauce of Mexican cooking. Smooth and tar-coloured, its other notes of smoked chilli and earthy spices are played down a notch, although the sliced free-range chicken breast it arrives with is beautifully cooked.
Desserts are super-sweet. Mexican bread pudding uses sliced baguette, the bread almost candied after frying in oil, with soaked raisins, queso fresco and the molasses-heavy piloncillo dressing. A little goes a long way, although anyone possessed of an insatiable sweet tooth will be in heaven.
Senoritas is another decent nuevo addition to the city's Mexican landscape, but rather than being some emissary of truth from an often misunderstood country, the primary lesson is about the treacherous nature of the trend bell curve. What would have been revelatory several years ago is now merely satisfactory, with the occasional outbreak of good. But with the way we're all carrying on right now, I reckon that will be enough.
- 9639 7437
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- Typical smaller dish, $12; larger dish, $29; dessert, $10
- Mon-Sat, noon-3pm; 6pm-late
- Hugo Reyes
- Ricardo Amare, Linda Temani
- Cards accepted:
- AMEX, Visa, Mastercard, eftpos