2 Phillip St Sydney, NSW 2000
|Opening hours||Lunch and dinner, 7 days, from noon to late|
|Prices||Moderate (mains $20-$40)|
|Phone||02 9259 5624|
You might come to Bar Patron by Rockpool for the millionaire's margarita, made tableside with top-shelf tequila and nitro'd pearls of finger lime for just $100 a glass. Or you might drop by to try the highly rare Patron Serie 2 tequila bottled in $10,000 decanters of Lalique crystal, for $990 a shot. But you should stay for the $12 bowl of soup.
Pozole is one of Mexico's most-loved dishes. The recipes change across the regions, but basically it's made with pork, onion, garlic, hominy (soft, puffy maize kernels), bay, oregano and chilli, and served at special celebrations and big family get-togethers.
For me, it's the star of this new Mexican restaurant down by Circular Quay; a collaboration between Neil Perry, the Rockpool Dining Group and Patron Tequila that has been lively and late-night (late-night!) since day one.
Chef Pamela Valdes, who comes from Xalapa in Vera Cruz, cooks up a whole pig's head to give the base soup a silky, fatty, porky richness, while hominy adds a cushioned softness. I love the way it comes with a plateful of shredded lettuce, sliced radish, dried chilli, dried Mexican oregano and corn chips to crumble over the top. And $12? It's a rare win for the cash-poor.
What was Cafe Nice and then Cafe Ananas has been given a breezy, high-end hacienda treatment by designer Grant Cheyne, that's all faded floor tiles, pale timber, tables inlaid with chalky embossed tiles and a glorious long marble bar. It's as textural as the humble tortilla itself, around which the menu revolves.
A soft taco enveloping a fried finger of flathead with sour cream and a tangy pico di gallo ($19) is a fun street snack.
Guacamole ($14) is hand-pounded to order: a bright, fresh, gloriously green mix of avo, onion, coriander, lime and tomato served in a charmingly squat, three-legged blue-and-white bowl.
Cochinita pibil ($25.50) is great to share, with its generous mounds of red rice, cabbage salad, pickled red onion and shredded, slow-cooked pork shoulder flavoured with orange, garlic and ground annatto seeds.
It's a feast in its own right, eaten off the plate, or piled into one of the steamy tortillas tucked into its slightly incongruous white linen napkin.
Chicken enchiladas ($22) aren't a favourite; too soft and bland. But then, I say that every time I eat an enchilada of any kind, so don't listen to me.
Tequila freaks will find more to freak out about, with much that's bespoke, luxury, artisanal and barrel-aged, and there's a lively wine list peppered with Lat/Am, Oz and Spanish labels such as a ripe, soft, silky 2015 Envinate Albahra garnacha from Almansa ($80).
Staff are busy, but there's some great girl-power on the floor, from Rockpudlian favourite Catalina Cuevas, to enthusiastic sommelier Maria Kruglaja.
Desserts are a mile away from the otherwise street food DNA. A small square of tres leches cake ($9) is as precise as Parisian patisserie, the sponge made with condensed milk, evaporated milk, and normal milk, and topped with tiny buttons of burnished meringue.
This mix of big-city glitz and back-country basics fits neatly into today's high/low dining ethos, in which you can mind the pennies one night, and blow big bucks the next. It's your choice: a millionaire's cocktail for one, or pozole rojo for eight. No contest.
Vegetarian Fun range of small share plates, plus a meat-free taco, tostada and empanada
Drinks You can have any tequila you like as long as it's Patron (no hardship), Mexican and local beers, and a solid wine list
Go-to dish Pozole rojo (braised pork and hominy soup), $12
Pro tip The bar menu kicks in at 11pm and runs until late (like, un-Sydney-like late) every night
Terry Durack is chief restaurant critic for The Sydney Morning Herald and senior reviewer for the Good Food Guide. This rating is based on the Good Food Guide scoring system.