6 Heeley St Paddington, NSW 2021
|Features||Accepts bookings, Licensed, Bar, Vegetarian friendly, Gluten-free options, Outdoor seating|
|Prices||Moderate (mains $20-$40)|
|Phone||02 9331 6749|
As restaurant names go, Tequila Mockingbird is up there with the greats: Queensland's The Codfather, Hong Kong's Ho Lee Fook, and Sydney's ThaiTanic. I could go on. But this is not the low-rent tequila-squealer bar the name might suggest. It's in Paddington, for a start, which is very definitely high-rent.
Brainchild of co-owner, Michael Fegent (ex Sake) and executive chef Regan Porteous (Riley Street Garage), this quite charming newcomer focuses on the flavours of Latin America, contemporised for the modern diner. To that end, chef Gabriel Valenti has been headhunted from Lima's Japanese-accented restaurants Osaka and Maido (currently rated 13 on the World's 50 Best list).
A narrow Paddington terrace has been cleverly tweaked by designers, Luchetti Krelle, opening with a rather glamorous bar lined with 32 tequilas and 10 mezcals, stretching into a long, slender dining room that ends outside in a greenery-fringed courtyard; with more dining rooms upstairs. It's not luxurious, but nor is it bare-bones; just smart and functional.
The menu lists Raw Bar, Streets and Flame Grill as main players, and the snackage is particularly strong. A new-style ceviche taco ($7) is a crunchtastic wonton shell holding diced salmon, tuna and fruity aji amarillo chilli in a cleanly acidic green emulsion. Alpaca and mozzarella empanadas ($8) are also well done; the fried, non-oily pastry plump with shredded, long-flavoured meat that suggests it's time alpaca made the leap onto more mainstream menus.
Calamari has been brilliant this winter, and it's worth $24 to have a whole one scored, lightly charred on the parilla grill and served with ajo blanco (almond cream) and velvety roasted red peppers. Another hit is the slow-cooked barbecued lamb shoulder ($38), a good dish for two to share. The relaxed, lightly fatty meat slides off the blade bone at the prod of a fork, under an avalanche of fruity, aged, red pepper chimichurri. A jointed spatchcock ($28), however, is boring, coated in yet another creamy herb-based sauce.
And just when you start thinking there are too many emulsions, along comes a side of crunchy, firepit-cooked fingerling potatoes doused in rocoto (red pepper) puree ($9), an absolute blast of smoky, crisp skin, soft mash and fruity complexity.
If you know your reposada from your anejo, then have tequila. If not, do the house cocktail ($19), a well-built mix of muddled cucumber and jalapeno chilli with Don Julio blanco, elderflower liqueur and agave syrup, the rim of the glass coated in tajin, a Mexican chilli/salt/lime sprinkle that rivals Japanese togarashi for sprinkles supremacy. Wines are influenced by Argentina and Spain, including a 2013 Casa Rojo Invisible Man Rioja ($11/$60), a tempranillo/mazuelo blend that loves the lamb.
The kitchen mantra is to keep things light, fresh and fruity; and you couldn't get a better dismount than the yuzu suspiro limeno ($15). Forget your heavy Peruvian caramel versions; this layers sweetness and light with citrussy custard, tart granita and tangy chantilly cream.
For all its tequila-ing, this is a neighbourhood restaurant first, bar second. Service is a little automatic, but it's classy, modest and well-intentioned, with a clever kitchen that keeps things simple and fresh, and not a tequila-squealer in sight. Paddington, your property prices are safe.
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.
Best bit: They're serious about their tequila.
Worst bit: Gypsy Kings on rotation.
Go-to Dish: Alpaca and mozzarella empanada, $8 each