One of the things I like about living in Melbourne is despite it being so far away from anywhere, I'm able to try food from so many parts of the world I've never visited. One of the things I dislike about Melbourne is it being so far away from anywhere, so I'm able to try food from so many parts of the world I've never visited but I can't be sure how authentic it all is. I've never been to Mexico but Mexican influenced food is a bit of an in-thing in Melbourne at the moment. Of course the most prominent is the sexed up Mexican street food at Mamasita but Newmarket Hotel has its fans as well.
I'm not the biggest fan of Mexican food, or at least that which I have tried in Australia, finding a lot of it a bit heavy and stodgy. However, Ms Counting her Calories is and I was happy to join in when she organised a Sunday Night dinner.
The Newmarket is not my usual sort of hangout. The fit out is aiming more for upmarket funky than most places I'd normally frequent and so are most of the patrons. If that was combined with any attitude from the staff it's somewhere I would have taken an instant dislike to, regardless of the food. Fortunately though we found all the staff friendly and helpful, even if the service itself had a few more issues than you'd expect from a mid-range restaurant.
If you arrive before 6pm as we did only a limited menu is initially available, a handful of soft tacos and wood fired Catalan flatbreads (Cocas). Needing to be out before 7.15 our starters of Chilli prawn, lemon pea and fennel flatbread and pork carnitas, pickled pineapple and hot adobe sauce were soon on the way.
I must admit to mixed feelings about these dishes. Yes they were good, the flatbread slightly sweet but with a bit of an underlying chilli kick (light on the prawns though), and the tacos served with excellently tasty and tender pork. However, at $16 for two tacos I expect something pretty memorable. I mean, it's supposed to be Latin Street Food. I appreciate that we aren't in Mexico but if you want an authentic taste of street life in Mexico City I bet it won't cost you $8 a taco! Not unless you get mugged anyway. So our first dishes left me appreciative of the flavours but somewhat ticked off at the price.
Our mains though were something else. Ms Counting her Calories lamb ribs - which I had also been considering ordering - came with pomegranate mole (which was what had attracted me to the dish), avocado and tahina. Beautifully slow cooked meat, a little bit sweet contrasting nicely with the slightly sour salad. There was nothing about the flavours which really shouted out 'Latin America' to me but it was very good.
Ironman and myself decided to share the pork hock with green mole. Served with lettuce cups and salad, it was very similar to building your own san choi bao or Peking Duck/Pork. A bit of crispy skin with accompanying layer of fat, a slice of meat with mole on top, wrap it all up in the lettuce and consume. Absolutely delicious. It did lead to our one major issue with the service though. In a bit of a mistake for a restaurant aiming for the level Newmarket is our pork should not have come out nearly 15 minutes after the other mains. Given that we were in a slight hurry (and had mentioned this to the staff when ordering) we weren't that impressed. However, we were provided with complementary side dishes in compensation.
The only main which was slightly disappointing was Tuscon Trevor's hamburger. A good hamburger, well cooked and with quality meat, but it did come across as a bit of an afterthought for those who didn't want steak, roast or seafood.
Unfortunately because of the delay in the pork we were unable to try the desserts, which admittedly looked very tempting on the menu.
While a lot of the buzz about Newmarket is about its take on Latin Street Food that's not what I enjoyed most. Admittedly because we were running early the most interesting tacos weren't yet available, but it just doesn't feel right paying that much for purported street food however good it is. Combine this with the upmarket fit out if the staff were less friendly it could have come across as very pretentious. The meats though, very good. I particular enjoyed watching our waitress pull the pork hock apart with a fork and spoon. And I would like to sample the desserts.
On balance, the staff and mains managed to bring it together so that I'd be happy to return.
Food - 8.5
Service - 7.5
Ambience - 8
Price - 6.5
34 Inkerman Street
St Kilda VIC 3182
Tel: (03) 9537 1777