In 2018, Marc Grey was working in hospitality when he decided to go on sabbatical and head to the US.
“I bought a van and travelled the whole south coast of California,” he tells Broadsheet. “I ended up staying for a lot longer than I anticipated. San Diego was where I really fell in love with the food.”
Grey is drawing upon his time in Southern California for his newest venue, Viva La Cali, which opened in Fortitude Valley’s California Lane on Saturday June 3. He’s joined by chef Steve Maiden – the pair also owns neighbouring comic book-themed bar, 1st Edition – and Morgan Webster.
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In the kitchen, Maiden draws influence from cuisines of Central and South America, particularly Mexico and Peru. His time at Fortitude Valley’s Baja taught him the skills to make house-pressed tortillas and complex Peruvian dishes.
Maiden is serving five different tacos: expect fillings such as beef carnitas with pineapple and habanero salsa; pork jowl with fermented cabbage and apple; a banh mi-inspired number with crispy chicken, pickled vegetables and pate; and ceviche with cucumber, pickled habanero and mango.
“Anyone can make a taco,” Grey says. “Our point was to make them better, [from] the way the meats are prepared to the way we present the tacos. We haven’t gone for a really fancy bowl, it’s a silver tray and that’s exactly how it’s served in Southern California.”
Other dishes include causa rellena (a layered potato and chicken dish from Peru); Peruvian empanadas; and King River Wagyu, served with cactus salsa and roja cruda (a raw vegetable sauce). For dessert, there’s picarones (crispy fried doughnuts) with a chancaca glaze (a sweet, spiced sauce made from sugarcane).
For cocktails, Grey is making everything in-house from the syrups to the bitters. He’s incorporating complex techniques like milk clarifications and infusions to create a large menu of elaborate drinks, alongside classics like Margaritas and Palomas. There’s also a concise Mediterranean-leaning wine list.
The sun-drenched alfresco space, formerly belonging to Kings, has been given a pop of colour with a large sunset mural by artist Steen Jones. The venue is open and airy with exposed brick, dark timber and greenery in the form of hanging pot plants and palm trees.
Viva La Cali
22 McLachlan Street, Fortitude Valley
Wed & Thu 5pm–late
Fri to Sun 12pm–midnight