Paddington’s famed Five Ways intersection has welcomed a new tenant with Tequila Mockingbird, a contemporary Latin American restaurant and bar that’s been gaining some serious traction with locals and visitors since opening a bit over a month ago. Co-owner Michael Fegent (ex-Sake) and Executive Chef Regan Porteous (Riley Street Garage) sit at the head of the new venture, channeling inspiration from their travels all over South America into an energetic, playful venue with a kitchen handled by Porteous along with Matt Taylor Watkins (ex-Bentley) and Gabriel Valenti, who was brought on over from Lima after working at famed Peruvian-Japanese restaurant Maido.
Reliable designers Luchetti Krelle have refreshed a charming Paddo terrace with a clever sense of space, a warm, homely fit-out that is immediately comfortable and works with the narrow rooms to feature two bars and several separate dining areas. The front-bar welcomes guests off the street with a warm, golden glow and intimate stool-seating for quick cocktail sessions, a lifestyle well catered for with a curated list of mainly Tequilas and Mezcals.
Passage past the kitchen, which features a big wood-fired parila grill, and one ends up in the downstairs dining room, a simple space adorned by hanging plants, mirrors, and detailed black-and-white line drawings of fish. With the majority of seating found upstairs, particularly on the rooftop terrace (complete with summer-ready retractable roof), the street-level room is a smart, relaxed space, and on my Wednesday night visit the place was bubbling with both lively hangs and quiet catch-ups; every table occupied.
It’s worth picking up the cocktail menu first and firing off playfully named concoctions like the Tequila Mockingbird ($19) which is a heat-driven smack of Don Julio blanco, St Germain elderflower liqueur, jalapeños, fresh lemon, and agave nectar served in a glass rimmed with traditional Mexican tajin. It’s packed full of flavour and spice, but for those after something lighter – though just as flavoursome – a better option would be the Atticus Finch ($20), the bar’s twist on a classic negroni with Wahaka Espadin mezcal, aperol, antica forumla sweet vermouth, a dehydrated orange wheel.
A lot of restaurants that look to South America seem to play it safe when it comes to adopting the cuisines, but Tequila Mockingbird seem to go all-in, resulting in beautiful, big tastes, and coastal flavours like the New Style Ceviche Taco ($7 each) which is deliciously crunchy with a filling of diced fresh salmon, tuna, and a touch of aji amarillo chilli; the finish is full of a zesty citrus that follows all that seafood with a palate refresh. Those who like their strong citrusy tastes should follow some of the tacos up with the Mushroom Ceviche ($16), a refreshing vegan-friendly dish with driven by those juicy, chewy mushrooms – of which there are various types – and a fresh Peruvian dressing.
Continuing from the ‘Raw Bar’ menu, an essential order is the Kangaroo Tartare ($16) with black beans, a play on nachos perhaps, with a bit of a kick from aji panca. The meat is beautifully chopped, rich and creamy just waiting to be scooped into those crispy nacho chips which complete the presentation.
‘Street’ dishes include the sightly Soft Shell Crab Taco ($12 each), which owes its fresh flavour to a load of lightly roasted celeriac and red onion pickles, though the most valuable thing here is the soft, smokey labneh that’s lightly coated onto the crunchy crab. There’s also the must-try Alpaca and Mozzarella Empanada ($8 each) which is served with a colourful, mini bottle of tangy salsa to bring even more flavour to that thick, shredded alpaca meat that bursts out of the fried pastry and sizzles on the tongue.
Cheese lovers need look no further than the Fried Provolone and Garlic Mushrooms ($24), a stand-out of the entire menu with bubbling melted provolone flecked with small garlic mushrooms. The fried provolone is thick, gooey, sticky, and chewy, everything you could ask for in a cheese dish, incredibly rich in flavour whether you choose to twirl it around your fork or scoop it onto the soft ciabatta.
Meat dominate the main options, like the Barbecue Lamb Shoulder ($42) hot off the grill. The locally sourced meat speaks for itself, but the kitchen helps the succulent meat along with a topping of bright red pepper chimichurri, dripping a fresh, fruity taste onto the meat before it slides off the bone ready to be shared easily between two or three diners.
Smart money is on the Suspiro Limeño ($15) as being the restaurant’s most popular dessert, it’s a luscious, smooth, and fluffy Peruvian dessert with dulce de leche and meringue; sour but not excessively so, balanced with a light yuzu granita.
Tequila Mockingbird is much more than just a charming name. In a very short time it’s already looking like a well-established Paddington restaurant should, full of so much infectious life and energy, driven by some really big, really bold flavours that should speed it onto any discerning diners to-do list.
Address: 6 Heeley Street, Five Ways, Paddington
Contact: (02) 9331 6749
Hours: Wed 6pm-10:30pm; Thurs 6pm-11:30pm; Fri-Sat 12pm-12am; Sun 12pm-10pm
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