I find it extremely attractive when people play hard to get. Just, you know, as a general rule. The majority of the objects of my affection in the last few years have been either unattainable or unavailable. Toby’s Estate Chippendale weekday barista from 2009 – 2011, I’m talking to you. Just because you were so shy we never had a real conversation, doesn’t mean I wasn’t a little in love with you. But as with all good rules, there are a few exceptions. Waitstaff are one of them. It just doesn’t work so well when your waiter plays hard to get. Why? You end up hungry. Whilst the whole “will he or won’t he call me?” situation can be thrillingly exciting, somehow the same principle doesn’t apply to “will he or won’t he bring over our guacamole?” You want the guacamole. You don’t want to have to work for it. Unfortunately, it appears that the waitstaff at Mejico haven’t yet gotten this memo.
We ventured to Mejico early in the evening on a cold, windy Saturday. Upon entering, I am struck by the sheer size of the space. A long and wide corridor, Mejico is kitted out with large black hanging lamps, bartenders dressed in pink and grey-striped shirts to match the pink and black striped wallpaper, long wooden communal tables with tiny stools, patterned polished concrete floors, and graffiti-esque walls. The front is cleverly used as a bar space with low tables and cushions for patrons to linger while they wait for a table.
Mejico accepts bookings, and the majority of the tables towards the back are set aside for reservations – so wait times can be substantial, but you’re welcome to hang tight in the bar for the whole evening. You also get to watch the ridiculously attractive bartenders shaking it in their stripy shirts. Having missed out on a booking, we choose to sit at the bar instead of waiting for a table. I’ve been told on the phone that we can eat the full food menu here anyway.
Oddly, after we sit down no-one comes back to take any food orders from us, and we find ourselves with only a limited food menu that doesn’t include the famed “signature” guacamole. Disappointed, we flag down a waitress request a full food menu, which she eventually gives to us and then disappears. Twenty minutes later, we’re still feeling somewhat neglected. We’ve managed to snag some Spanish sparkling wine ($52) from our bartender friends, but otherwise have been left entirely to our own devices.
This has given us plenty of time to settle on our choices – the guacamole with golden plantain chips ($9), napolito salad (red cabbage, carrot, roma tomatoes, cactus and pine nuts; $9), braised lamb shoulder tacos and ocean trout soft-shell tacos ($16 each for three tacos). We flag down another waitress, who says she will send someone to take our order. Nothing happens. After flagging someone else down, we finally get our order in. Victory! Nothing quite like locking down a playa.
Our food comes speedily, which is a relief. The salad arrives first. It tastes fresh and healthy. The pine nuts provide a lovely flavour dimension, as does the cactus which tastes as though it has been pickled (not that any of us have ever eaten cactus before…). The dish would benefit from the addition of a little queso fresco to fill it out and add substance, whilst the carrot tastes a little bland, but it’s pleasant enough. I find myself longing for the salads at Mexico Food and Liquor.
Next the guacamole, which comes out with all the trimmings on a board (spanish onion, coriander, lime juice, wasabi, walnuts and serrano chilli). We get to choose our ingredients as the friendly waiter mashes it all together in a mortar and pestle before our very eyes. We go for the lot. The concept is cute (and so is he). Moreover, the guacamole is absolutely delicious, and blows the Mexico Food and Liquor equivalent out of the water. The flavour is sweet, creamy and complex, and the plantain chips are perfectly crisp and oily without being too rich.
As the waiter brings over our tacos with a surprisingly serious expression, he carefully asks us how we obtained a full food menu. As we explain, he informs us the policy has changed a few days ago, our food has been ordered in error, and we “will be the last people ever to order from the full food menu”. Part of me feels like a naughty schoolgirl who has been up to various hijinx behind the tennis courts. But he deals with it pretty well, and I’m just relieved we didn’t miss out on the deservedly hyped guacamole. Crisis averted, we tuck in. The trout taco is one of the better fish tacos I’ve had in Sydney. Whereas those at El Loco tend to feel like a dolled-up Fillet-O-Fish from McDonald’s, this is fresh and complex enough to avoid tasting like fast food. The trout comes as a generous and well-seared wedge rather than in flakes, and it is accompanied by a pleasantly warm combination of jalapeño and chipotle mayonnaise, as well as a dollop of sweet red cabbage slaw.
Similarly, the lamb shoulder taco demonstrates the chef’s ability to let quality ingredients speak for themselves. Velvety soft lamb with a hint of coconut flavour is surrounded by mint-infused mayonnaise, mild chilli and fresh gremolata. The lamb has been braised to perfection, and it is so juicy that the sauce erupts out of the tacos as we devour them. I’m sad to say that the tacos are consumed in two or three modest bites, and I would have loved them to stick around for a few more.
Generally, I find that people are pretty consistent with the whole “hard to get” thing. Sadly (or happily?) they don’t usually spontaneously transform into a pillar of commitment and responsiveness. Mejico proves to be no exception to this rule – we have to ask for our bill twice before it is brought to us. In spite of the haphazard nature of the service, we aren’t left with a bitter taste in our mouths at the end of the evening. The food is delicious, the staff are friendly and clearly mean well, but they just can’t quite commit yet. Mejico, I like you. I want to be back. Please, just remember that “treat ’em mean to keep ’em keen” doesn’t apply to waitstaff. Especially at this price point.
105 Pitt St
Sydney NSW 2000
(02) 9230 0119
Best Bits: lamb tacos, trout tacos, plantain zucchini chips with fresh guacamole, old school soundtrack on the stereo.
Worst Bits: tiny-sized portions of the tacos, inattentive service and a lack of waitstaff systems, the prices are steeper than competitors.
Price Point: $$
Good for… Mexican that’s fresh and healthy enough to leave you without fast food regret.
What you should know: you can, and should, book (hallelujah!) – online or on the website.