Before Melbourne’s lockdown took hold, Jayben Newson was running a cafe at the junction of Ormond Road and St Kilda Street in Elwood. But, like for many restaurateurs, Covid was a catalyst for switching things up.
For Newson that meant adding mezcal cocktails and tacos to the line-up to create Repeat Offender, a Latin-inspired restaurant. “There are a lot of daytime cafes in the area, but fewer late-night eateries or places where you can go and grab a drink,” he says. “That's what kind of led us to this.”
To help bring Repeat Offender to life, Newson enlisted Mexican-born chef Adrian Gonzalez to create the menu, and partnered with some friends and other hospo people (Eli Bury, Taylor Granchi, Michael Woods and Alexander Greco). He also worked with local artist Buff Diss to paint his trademark murals on the walls of the airy eatery. Not that there are many walls – the glass doors slide back so the owners can invite the outside in.
“There's a strong Mexican essence through our food because that’s where Adrian is from,” says Bury. “But it’s not just classic, modern Mexican food. He takes Australian produce and puts his own spin on it.”
This manifests as Sydney rock oysters with coriander foam, red-wine vinegar and lime; free-range chicken thigh with sweet potato, spiced adobo (a sauce made with salt, garlic and other spices) and a spicy Peruvian green sauce called aji verde; and Baja-style fish tacos with battered barramundi rather than the traditional cod or halibut. There’s also tataki, a lightly seared Japanese-Peruvian-style fish or meat dish, done here with kangaroo, and crisp patatas bravas with soy aioli and chilli salsa.
The entire food menu is gluten free and about half of the dishes are vegetarian or vegan. The restaurant has worked with mushroom-based alternative-meat company Fable Food Co to serve lettuce boats and tacos filled with the chewy mushroom-based “meat”. If you eat dairy, there’s blue corn empanadas with mushroom, truffle and cheese.
There’s coffee from 8am till 12pm, but the boozy drinks are under the direction of Taylor Granchi. There are beers imported from Mexico and Guatemala (including Dos Equis on tap), a sizable selection of mezcals and tequilas (which are Granchi’s specialty), and a rotating menu of frozen Margaritas. “We’ve done a melon Margarita, and a Blue Lagoon using curacao,” says Bury. “For our latest one [we] swapped triple sec for Aperol.”
Between 3pm and 6pm on Wednesday through Sunday, Repeat Offender offers happy hour specials including $8 tap beer or Moon Dog hard seltzer, $10 frozen Margaritas, and $5 tacos. “Come and sit on the deck with a drink and a snack,” says Bury. “You can never go wrong with a beer and a taco.”