I was never really one to jump onto the Mexican food bandwagon that began trundling about the city a couple of years back. Tacos, nachos, skulls, neons, bells and whistles. Fads and highly themed restaurants rarely get my attention and if I ever get around to checking them out, I’ll wait for the novelty to die down.
Since it opened in Bondi Junction, El Topo was getting a name for being a bit different from many of the ordinary Tex-Mex joints that were popping up across town. Yes there’s the usual gamut of tacos and quesadillas – can’t really miss that highly contrived décor – but some other menu additions make it all the more appealing. Fajitas and burritos are no-shows, so those that simply can’t complete their Mexican experience without them may have to look elsewhere.
Tacos were a given and with a choice of five varieties, two of them made it to our colourfully-tiled tables. De cochinita pibil (6) is made up of juicy shreds of annatto pork, a little radish and picked onion that matches the colour of the plastic cups perfectly. The cordero (6) also takes residence in the nifty wooden stand – loaded with slow-cooked lamb, fresh cucumber and fried chilli salsa.
Anyone that’s been to Mexico or Guatemala may remember sitting at a local restaurant on the zócalo, sipping on cerveza and being bombarded by folk asking if you’d like some fried worms or crickets to have with your brew. You’ve gotta love those local beer snacks.
At El Topo you won’t see crunchy fried worms on the menu, but those crickets (7) are up for grabs. They may be a novelty in this town and they may also be the sustainable protein of the future, but let’s be realistic. They scare the shit out people. The fried little critters don’t really taste of anything if they’re eaten on their own, but combined with the flakes of crisp garlic, chilli and beautiful lime salt – they’re kind of bueno.
The trusty maize carbonizado (5) is there to satisfy those of us that can’t keep away from the stuff. Juicy corn cob rolled in ground pumpkin seeds and chipotle, a splodge of coriander sauce and tangle of grated cheese. Bueno number two.
Whilst the menu is “designed to share” – that ubiquitous term we’ve been conditioned to endure – there are some more grande offerings that can actually be shared. Not sure how you’d go sharing a piece of corn or a taco.
The main course-sized hombro de cordero con mole coloradito (29) is quite something. Shoulder of lamb, slow-cooked to fall-apart consistency, a couple of pieces of charred zucchini and a warming blanket of mole coloradito – a red variation of this tasty and spicy sauce. Over the top is a curious powder of ancho chilli and pecans, bringing a smokey spice to the whole dish. Muy bueno.
An ensalata de nopales y garbanzos (10) added a little gusto to the meaty dishes with the sharpness of the pickled cactus – possibly jarred? – that’s mixed with tomato, chickpea, onion and radish. A very refreshing salad.
Panza de cerdo con mancha manteles (26) – or “belly of pork with tablecloth stainer” – is impossibly tender, beautifully fatty and served with the “tablecloth staining” mole sauce. A few small pieces of pineapple dot the plate, a little charred cos and a very granola-like peanut & oat crumble that also acted as a bit of a dessert after-lunch-nibble.I’m not entirely sure if El Topo serves up the best Mexican food in Sydney – as it’s website proclaims – it comes pretty damn close to the stuff I loved on my Mexican travels many lunas ago.