You won’t find guacamole or nachos on the menu at Esteban. And lick-sip-sucking salt, lemon and tequila? It’s discouraged. Instead, you’ll find mezcals and tequilas (for sipping, not shots) and dishes from across Mexico, inspired by a research trip taken by owners Mark Crawford and Michael Fegent, along with executive chef John Frid.
Esteban is the second venue from the team behind Paddington’s Tequila Mockingbird. It’s located in a high-ceilinged, heritage-listed former print shop refitted by H&E Architects. A 400-kilogram acid-aged steel door, custom-made by Byron Bay artist Daniel Heapy, leads from Temperance Lane into the split-level venue. Upstairs is the kitchen and restaurant, furnished in dark wood, leather and copper. Guests can sit in booths and on banquettes, and there’s a hidden chef’s table too.
Executive chef Frid cooks meats and vegetables over a 3.4-metre ironbark-fuelled parilla grill. Though the menu incorporates dishes from across Mexico, taking in all the various influences on Mexican cuisine – from the Indigenous Mayans and Aztecs, to the Portuguese and Spanish – it also makes the most of native Australian ingredients and locally sourced produce. Tortillas are made in-house with a tortilla press imported from Guadalajara, Mexico.
The tortillas are put to use in tacos al pastor – with pork marinated in Middle Eastern and central Mexican spices, and cooked on a charcoal-powered vertical rotisserie – as well as slow-roasted, chilli-and-spice-marinated lamb tacos. Other menu highlights include a mushroom tamale; wattleseed-rubbed duck breast with aji amarillo (Peruvian yellow chilli); a one-kilogram Wagyu delmonico rib eye; and tres camotes, a dessert of sweet potato tart, sweet potato ice-cream and sweet potato meringue.
The downstairs bar is a riff on the New York underground drinking dens beloved by Fegent and Crawford and DJs play on Friday and Saturday nights. A cabinet holds the bar’s extensive tequila and mezcal selection, including Clase Azul Reposado, which comes in at $300 a shot.
There’s also a focus on fun and fast cocktails and an extensive selection of new and old-world wines. In the bar, as well as the al fresco Temperance Lane dining area, a street-style menu of tacos, ceviche and tortas is be available. (That menu can also be ordered to take away.)