Non-Stereotypical Mexican Cuisine @ El Publico, Highgate, W.A.

I’ve always loved Mexican food and even once went to Mexico (I crossed the border from Texas only, but it still counts!). Interestingly enough, when I was in Mexico I ate only quesadillas. I was offered lots of other food at the table but I couldn’t say no to the quesadillas, which were unlike anything I had tried before at that time and were incredibly addictive. So, when it came time to head to El Publico, I was expecting to see the usual Mexican dishes on the menu, such as quesadillas, nachos and tacos.

However, El Publico doesn’t serve the typical Mexican food that we are used to in Perth. There are tacos on the menu, but only one option and there’s no quesadillas (to my disappointment!) or nachos. The menu provided to our table of four was a double sided A3 sheet, however four parts of the menu outlined their booze selection, one part was their food menu and the other part was a handy glossary guide for the food terminology mentioned. El Publico sell themselves as a “Modern Mexican Kitchen and Bar”, and to be honest, our table of four all mentioned that it was a tiny bit more alcohol based than food, thanks to the menu and our waiter who was happily trying to push an alcoholic beverage on us as soon as we sat down. This wasn’t just the usual, “Can I get you a drink?” question, but a full spiel on their different types of tequila and whether we wanted to add tequila to our soda water order or try a cocktail instead.

For this meal, A and I were dining with my friend David (previously mentioned in last week’s post of Standing Room Only) and his partner, Chris. Before heading to El Publico, we had popped into Must for a Charcuterie plate and a bottle of wine, so we didn’t feel like tequila afterwards. However, if you are a tequila drinker, El Publico has many options, plus beers and cocktails as well.

Seeing as though we weren’t ordering alcohol, we decided to try some of their house made sodas. David chose the Ginger soda ($6), Chris chose the Pink Grapefruit soda ($6) and I chose the Apple Lemonade ($6). We also ordered sparkling water for the four of us and El Publico charge $3 per person for free flowing sparkling water all night. The ginger soda was strong in flavour and could be smelt from the other side of the table. The pink grapefruit soda was refreshing and wasn’t as sour as I expected. I enjoyed my cloudy apple lemonade, which was like a bubbly apple juice that wasn’t too sweet.

Apple Lemonade

We were all quite hungry so eagerly looked at the food menu. We decided to order the Fried Chickpeas with Burnt Tortilla Salt ($5), Kipflers Escabeche ($9), Huarache House Green Chorizo Queso Fresco ($16), ‘Cowboy Beans’ ($8), Tasajo Grilled Cheese Taco Pasilla Peanut Sauce ($15) and Slow Cooked Pork Belly Piloncilo Chili Oaxacan Chocolate ($24). When we were ordering, A asked the waiter what the most popular or best dish was. He told us that his personal favourite was the Esquites ($9) so we decided to order that too.

The first dish to arrive was the Fried Chickpeas with burnt tortilla salt. This little snack was the highlight of the meal for me – the chickpeas were crunchy on the outside and soft and semi-hallow in the middle. The flavour of the burnt tortilla salt was amazing with the chickpeas and they were light and fluffy and super moreish. If only that little jar was neverending…

The second dish to arrive was the Esquites, and on first taste I understood why the waiter loved this dish so much. Esquites is mexican street corn served off the cob with chilli, mayonnaise, fresh lime and cheese. When it arrived, we were told to squeeze the lime on top before serving. The corn was still crunchy and with the flavour of the chili, mayo, cheese and lime it was very good! Another lovely dish which had a bit of a bite to it!

The next dish to arrive was the ‘cowboy beans’. On the menu it states that the dish is pinto beans cooked with pork and tomato, however on arrival it was beans in a tomato based sauce that didn’t have much flavour to it. It was very bland and there was no evidence of pork. A disappointing dish, to say the least.

The Kipflers Escabeche arrived next and the potatoes were cooked nicely and the seasoning was lovely, however they weren’t anything more than ordinary.

The Huarache House Green Chorizo Queso Fresco dish was an interesting dish. The Haurache is a toasted masa (‘masa’ is Spanish for dough) and we were told that all the tortillas were made in-house. The tortilla base was made well and the House Green Chorizo looked amazing. However, it didn’t have too much flavour to it unfortunately and was a little underwhelming. The queso fresco was lovely though (fresh crumbly cheese) and was the highlight of the dish.

The Tasajo Grilled Cheese Taco Pasilla Peanut Sauce was a really good dish. The Tasajo is thin sheets of salted beef, which were quite appealing in taste. The peanut sauce was light in flavour, but was a great accompaniment to the dish with the grilled cheese.

The Slow Cooked Pork Belly with piloncilo, chili, and oaxacan chocolate was the final dish of the evening. All of us were a bit perplexed to the flavour of the dish, and weren’t quite sure whether we liked it or not. The oaxacan chocolate (a Mexican chocolate made in Oaxacan that is used in savoury cooking) made the sauce taste really unusual. The piloncilo (unrefined mexican sugar) could have also made the sauce the strange flavour it was as well. I am still not quite sure if I liked the sauce of this dish however will state that the pork belly was very well cooked.

For dessert, we decided to order two serves of the Cinnamon Flan with Peanut Ice Cream ($14) and share between the two couples. When it arrived, I was a little disappointed. Both Chris and I pictured a pastry based flan of some sort, but instead the ‘flan’ was similar to an egg custard in a way that didn’t have any cinnamon taste to it. I’m not the biggest fan of textures like that so i chose not to eat it. There was also mashed banana under the peanut ice cream, which didn’t quite mesh with the other flavours. Plus, I think the banana element should have been mentioned in the dish title or description on the menu, as David stated he wouldn’t have ordered it if he knew it featured bananas. The highlight of the dish were the sweet sesame crackers that went very well with the peanut ice cream.

By the end of the night, we were a little disappointed. Plus, we were starting to get a bit irritated at the table next to us who were slamming back tequila shots the hour we were there and were getting quite rowdy. Also, our waiter was a tiny bit annoying. He was very pushy in regards to selling us alcohol and was sliding our food and drinks across the long table to us (I kept worrying that something would end up in my lap and not in front of me). The venue is quite nicely laid out and the booths in the front section of the restaurant/bar are super cute and look very comfortable. The bar is impressive to look at with lots of tequila bottles lined up in rows and a red donkey light in the middle of the wall.

The bill came to $144 and I would be interested to see how much it would have been if we had also ordered alcohol. The food is really interesting and is unlike what I’ve tried previously so I would still recommend a venture to El Publico for a new experience. In Perth, we are usually served the stereotypical mexican fare of nachos and tacos, however this menu is completely different and I love that aspect of El Publico (David, Chris and A mentioned this too). There were some great dishes and I would still recommend El Publico for the experience of non-stereotypical Mexican cuisine and their impressive tequila menu.

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  1. Megan says

    I was also underwhelmed by it. It tries but missed the mark. If you are in melb try mamasita which is cheaper, bigger sizes, amazing flavours, big menu for food. It does modern mexican the way el publico wishes it did.
    Its nice to have something different in perth but it was too pricey for such a let down

    • perthfoodjournal says

      Thanks for your comment Megan! Thanks for the suggestion too, but unfortunately we probably won’t get there in this trip. Family time is the priority here! :)


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