Bar Patrón by Rockpool: a Mexican restaurant and tequila bar with DJs and possibly the best Margarita in town.
Is Mexican food about to step up in Australia? Neil Perry is putting his shoulder to the wheel. On 8 March, he'll open Bar Patrón by Rockpool, a 90-seat Mexican restaurant and Patrón tequila bar on the former Café Ananas site at Sydney's Circular Quay.
Perry, Rockpool Dining Group's culinary director, is a huge fan of Mexican hospitality and cuisine, and wants the new venue to be a celebration of produce, the craft of drink making, and authentic Mexican cuisine, the last being something he feels is a little scarce in Australia. "I think it always ends up a little heavier than it should be," he says. "Perhaps people don't recognise the light, aromatic nature of many of the seasonings, and take a lot of shortcuts."
There will be no shortcuts at Bar Patrón, and certainly no nachos, says Perry.
Clockwise from top: tuna tostada, black-bean shredded chicken tostada, tortilla chips.
Pamela Valdes Pardo, a chef from Xalapa in Veracruz, has been enlisted to head the kitchen and keep things "overwhelmingly authentic". Valdes Pardo has been working at Rosetta Sydney since it opened last year. "The kind of balance, the clarity of her food, the freshness - it was clear that she was the girl for the job," says Perry.
Bar Patrón's menu is split into snacks, tacos, soups, small and large plates and daily pastries. There will be tortilla chips made to order, salsas such as adobo, chiltomate and chile seco, and the likes of prawn and scallop aguachile, ceviche rojo, and a spicy pineapple salad with coriander, lime, salt and habanero chilli.
Diners can dive deep with tostadas, enchiladas, and platters of grilled flathead, or chicken with red mole. For the snack-and-go crowd, tortas, Mexico's sandwiches, get play at lunch. Pony up for a pambazo, loaded with potato and chorizo, then dipped in red salsa and fried (though you may need to go in search of a hammock instead of your desk at the office afterwards).
Perry at Tacos Don Luis in Guadalajara during his 2016 visit to Mexico.
The kitchen has sourced fresh tomatillos, quality maize flour, and plenty of dried chillies to get the salsas and moles just right. "I'm learning a lot more about the right techniques," says Perry. "Roasting dry, for example, and burning the onion and the tomato." Tostada fillings will include the likes of seared tuna and mango-chilli salsa, say, and black beans and chicken with Oaxacan cheese and sour-cream. "Pamela pulls a white chicken almost in a Chinese style," says Perry. "It's really succulent."
Valdes Pardo's guacamole, meanwhile, is hand-pounded and, in the Veracruz style, it's made without chilli. "I think avocados are seven or eight dollars each at the moment. It might end up being the most expensive dish on the menu."
Surely not more than the - dios mio - $100 Patrón Millionaire Margarita? It's made table-side with Platinum Patrón, lime juice (squeezed to order) and a sugar- and salt-dusted rim.
Perry's first encounter with Patrón was ahead of Gourmet Traveller's 50th anniversary in 2016. He travelled to the brand's hacienda in the highlands of Jalisco to blend a barrel of tequila and research dishes for the magazine's birthday party. "We really hit it off, and I guess the rest is history," he says.
Perry swinging a coa in the Patrón agave fields.
Bar Patrón will offer its own "barrel-select" tequilas, too, distilled exclusively for the restaurant, along with other rare Patróns including the Lalique Serie 2 (of which there are only 299 bottles worldwide). Great wine will play a part, as well - a concise list will feature 20 Champagnes, 20 reds and 20 whites sourced from the Americas and the Iberian Peninsula, along with 20 craft beers.
Perry's right-hand designer, Grant Cheyne, has created a look that is part Creole bungalow, part retro weatherboard cottage, with lots of white, lots of pale timber, warm orange leather and greenery. Oh, and DJs. On Thursday, Friday and Saturday nights, it's an all-out fiesta with food served until 2am.
Bar Patrón by Rockpool, 2 Phillip St, Sydney, NSW, barpatron.com.au; open seven days from noon until late.