Noticing a gap in the Paris end of Collins Street for a unique late night bar, partners Robert Hargrave, portrait artist Vincent Fantauzzo and hospitality maven Andrew Lewis have opened Melbourne’s first Mexican-Chinese bar and eatery. The unlikely pairing can certainly appear a bit far-fetched – even bordering on gimmicky – at first, but Lewis is convinced it’s a perfectly logical match.
“The concept is essentially Chinatown in Mexico...only in Melbourne,” Lewis explains. “I love Asian food, but I also love Mexican food; these flavours are ones that most people love, so I thought, why not do both?”
“The spice trade went through Mexico and into China, adds venue manager, Dave Mills (co-owner of Piqueos). “It’s a natural progression.”
Housed in the basement of heritage-listed Harley House, enter via grungy Strachan Lane and descend into a cavernous space where the dark palette is offset by exposed walls and pillars, crystal light fittings and an ocean-blue bar frontage. A series of original white-tiled alcoves (discovered when stripping the venue back to its former state) serve as display areas whilst allowing natural light to seep in from Collins and Exhibition Streets above.
Fantauzzo’s creations adorn much of the wall space, including two of his most recognizable portraits, the late Heath Ledger, and of his partner Asher Keddie; both Archibald Prize People’s Choice award winners.
Offerings by chef Daniel Salcedo (formerly of The Waiting Room) encourage diners to graze whilst taking full advantage of the 3am liquor license. Deep fried squid, a staple of many a Chinese menu, comes cooked in a batter of ground Sichuan peppers and salt. For a Mexican hit, chipotle makes a perfect accompaniment. Traditional Chinese scallop dumplings can be dipped in housemade XO sauce with either a Chinese-style Facing Heaven chilli oil or Mexican-inspired ginger, coriander and chilli oil. The flavours at La Chinesca work together well, complementing each other nicely as separate elements, as opposed to a true fusion.