el Público, Mount Lawley
After exhausting and hysterical laughter during a late afternoon session of Anchorman 2, my friend and I decided to head out to Mount Lawley for a Sunday dinner. I had walked past el Público the night before, its bright pink lights enticing us towards a Mexican feast of tacos, toasadas and street corn. This time around, I caved and dragged my poor friend there for another round of food feasting. Brought to you by the owners of Mary Street Bakery and Cantina 663 (two of my favourite Mount Lawley dining spots), El Publico was already on my must-try list of 2014. I had been there previously, when it had first opened it doors and had not been particularly wowed by it, but was willing to give it another shot.
My friend and I entered and were met by loud chatter from the bustling crowds inside. A few waitresses whipped past us before one slowed down to take down my friend’s name and number, reporting that it would be about a half an hour wait for a proper table. As there were two seats left at the end of the bar, we slotted in there to recap the movie over a few drinks.
What I loved instantaneously about the bar at el Público was the staff manning that section. They were friendly, approachable and exceptionally attentive. I have been to many bars where the patrons have been rather pretentious, feigning ignorance as several hands would reach by to grab drinks, with money thrown unceremoniously through gaps between arms. Utter chaos. Not the case here at el Público. The lovely lady who served us slid a menu across the counter for consultation, and took our drink orders with a smile. No sideway glances or waving of the hands to get attention at el Público. Professionalism was at its best, making myself and my friend feel at ease. My friend and I are both unfortunately rather vertically-challenged and look way too young for our age, which is a major predicament at a bar. It was a nice change to be acknowledged and not feel the need to compete with a rowdy crowd.
I ordered the Corvette Summer Cocktail ($11) which came in a tall glass, while my friend had the Pink Grapefruit Soda ($9). Both were chilled, lightly fruity and zesty with a wedge of lime floating at the very top. We cradled our drinks appreciating how invigorating they were, especially after hearty belly laughs over Steve Carrell’s movie capers.
We went for broke with the food. My friend and I made our choices on the basis that the serving sizes would be tapas style portions. While they certainly were for sharing, the generosity of el Público’s dishes was paramount. No tiny tins of buttered corn here. Our street corn mayo queso ($10) came in a mountain heap of golden kernels in a deep china dish, some charred black and carrying a beautiful smokiness. Despite this, they still popped in the mouth and sported a peppery, spicy aftertaste. A mammoth dollop of sour cream and spots of crumbling fetta cheese acted as creamy palate cleansers whilst we munched our way through. A squizz of lime added some smack to the dish, while the parsley provided some colour. A great starter for a pair of corn-obsessed girls.
Our favourite dish of the night was the beef mogo mogo chipotle crema ($16). Slightly perplexed at what mogo mogo actually was, a small section at the bottom of the menu dedicated to dictionary terms, helped us translate “mogo mogo” into green banana battered balls. The lady at the bar laughed at our expressions when the mongo mogo came out, our mouths gaping at the size and quantity of them. Large crunchy rounds were broken open, releasing a heady steam. Inside was a fantastic amount of moist, juicy meat drawing parallels to slow cooked pulled-beef. I especially loved the deep-fried crispy exterior. It was delightful and matched well with the mild and smooth chipotle crema. My friend combined hers with the street corn, creating a delicious Mexican medley of flavours and textures on her dish. Mogo mogo, another great primevero!
We were barely halfway through the mogo mogo and the street corn, when a large dish of cuttlefish tostada and japeleño corn salsa ($12) was slid across the length of the bar, parking itself a few inches beyond us. After a rearrangement of several dishes, we finally made our way to the cuttlefish. The cuttlefish came in long chewy strips, tossed up with some parsley, corn, finely sliced shallots and the japaleño. I picked out the peppers, fearing that I would collapse from heat overload. Despite sitting there for a good number of minutes, the tostada beneath still retained its dry crunch under the weight of the cuttlefish “salad.” Hidden beneath the tostada was a little treasure of salsa, which was packed with an audacious tomato tang. The corn in this dish was exceptionally fresh, the round juicy kernels quite different from its fellow street corn counterpart. Everything was coated in a lightly acidic dressing, which really complimented the freshness of the cuttlefish. Tasty.
Our stomachs were reaching maximum capacity as our final sweep of street food came out. The pork belly taco salsa de hongo ($14 for two) had broad portions of pork wrapped in soft tortillas. The pork belly had a good amount of fat along the edges, the sides browned off. The salsa was evocative of fermented black beans, creating some fascinating flavours. Little bites of fresh red onion broke up the heaviness of the pork and black beans. My friend and I both enjoyed it thoroughly.
The abdobo chicken taco with pickled onion and peanut salsa ($14 for two) had my friend citing satay chicken, which I heartily agreed with. The chicken was tender and the meatiness of the whole dish broken up by the tartness of the pickled onion. The peanut paste wasn’t excessively overpowering as it so often is in its nutty element. More parsley to garnish! A great number to end the savoury section of the meal.
Separate stomach theory allowed us to smuggle some postres (aka sweets) into the digestion tract. We decided to share the peanut butter parfait, the ducle de leche praline ($10). A squat glass jar held the glacial cubes of parfait, which were wonderfully creamy and velvety. At the bottom was a thick pool of intense peanut butter paste, opposing a bank of crunchy praline, broken into miniscule particles. Everything worked beautifully in terms of textures and flavours, with the whole dish not being too overpowering in terms of sugar levels. Elegant, simple and delicious.
There were so many positives to mention at el Público. My friend and I lauded over the service. Our main waitress was efficient, pleasant and personal. Small touches like asking if we needed water after we had finished our drinks demonstrated how considerate the team at el Público were (also, I think I spotted a regular staff member at Mary Street Bakery working there that particular night). They were super friendly, ready to engage in my rant about food in Perth was getting rather expensive (for super small portion sizes) and very quick to sweep away our plates before the clutter got overwhelming. The food arrived at a breaking pace, barely 10 minutes after we placed our order. Another thumbs up moment was the fact that you could actually order food at the bar, with enough space around you to enjoy the meal (without being squashed like sardines). The atmosphere was lively, but not overly loud, making it easier to converse. I’ve had previous issues with service and ambiance of places along Beaufort St, but tonight it was exemplary at el Público.
The quality of food at el Público was top notch. I thought our starters especially were great value for money. They certainly were decent portion sizes for the price we paid. The quality of the dishes were also of a high standard, complete care taken with each ingredient. Altogether, my friend and I believed el Público was a fantastic collaboration of Mexican food fare and drinks. It’s now overtaken La Cholita as my favourite Mexican place in Perth! Thank you el Público for a wonderful night.
Rating: 8 out of 10.
Website: 511 Beaufort Street, Highgate 6003
- Open for dinner Monday to Friday (5 pm till late), Saturday (4 pm till late) and Sunday (4 pm till 10 pm).
- Hot sauce available upon request – try at your own peril.
- Drinks menu includes beer, wine, home-brewed softies for the non-alcoholics and cocktails (with some specialty concoctions for Tequila lovers).
- Reservations available for 6+ people, dining times only available at 6.30 pm or 8.30 pm.Walk in’s also welcome.