Just when you might have given up on Sydney’s Mexican-food scene, we have news of three new venues.
A Central Mexican restaurant has opened in Coogee, and the owners of the now-closed Barrio Chino are opening a regional Mexican restaurant called Chula in the Cross. Also, one of Melbourne’s favourite Mexican cantinas, Fonda, has announced it’s opening in Bondi in October.
With seven outlets in Melbourne, it’s well known on home turf, but opening farther afield involves fresh competition, unfamiliar producers and new customers.
After spending two years looking for a site, the team settled on the former Nando’s spot on Hall Street. “We’ve been looking at the subculture in Bondi – the healthy focus, the weather – and we feel the brand is probably more suited to Sydney,” says CEO and co-founder, Tim McDonald.
It won’t be a matter of copying and pasting a successful formula, though. The concept has been revised for Sydney; there will be a new menu by executive chef Mark Tagnipez (from EP and LP in LA’s West Hollywood), and table service will be introduced for the first time.
Fonda doesn’t want to pigeonhole itself as traditional Mexican. Instead it’s offering a relaxed, casual take on the food. “Traditional Mexican dishes are essentially based on beans, rice, tortillas and often cheaper cuts of meat that they tend to slow cook. We take all of that really seriously, but we have access to far better quality seafood and meats, which allows us to take a different angle,” says McDonald.
Guests can dig into DIY taco sharing boards with slow-cooked pork belly and braised beef short ribs; hot tortillas; guacamole and salsa. Try kingfish ceviche and a new range of salads including a caesar (which, surprisingly, originates in Mexico) and Mexican poke.
The wheat tortillas are freshly pressed to order, and the corn version will be sourced from Melbourne’s La Tortilleria “It’s the best,” says McDonald.
The cocktail list is also changing. There will be a Lemoncello Margarita and a cocktail called Tea With Frida (gin infused with French Earl Grey tea). Stone & Wood’s Pacific Ale will run on tap.
The team behind Melbourne’s Studio Esteta (Lune) is designing the space, loosely inspired by Aquabumps surf photography.
“We noticed people would hang around on laptops, so we have installed USB ports and chargers at every seat,” says McDonald.
Does he see Chula and Roca as company or competition? “[New Mexican openings are] a really good thing. It’s opening Australians up to the cuisine … We’re at the very start of a shift towards it becoming a staple.”
Fonda will open on Bondi’s Hall Street in October.