For the first entry on Perth Food Blog six friends went to el Publico for a Friday night dinner. We were able to score a reservation two days prior, which is good, but they did let us know we had the table for 6.30 to 8.30pm only, which is bad.
I don't know, I always feel like putting a timeline on the meal sets things off on a sour note (which, in hindsight, was appropriate given the Mexican cuisine) but it seems to be a common thing now for Perth so perhaps I'm just getting old and grumpy.
Perhaps it was cheating, but all six of us ordered the $45 set menu. I'm sure other food reviewers would have taken their time to browse through the menu and selected the most interesting and unique dishes, to allow them plenty of opportunity to rant and rave in the writeup, but that's not really the point of this site. We went out for a good night with friends and figured the $45 set menu would be perfect for giving us just that.
Unfortunately, it didn't really deliver.
The first three dishes that came out were the fried chickpeas, guacamole and street prawns. The guacamole was ok, but it really is just some plain corn chips with a guacamole - hard to dislike, but no chance of starting the meal with a bang. The two other dishes, the prawns and chickpeas, were really quite disappointing. Salted but dry - so dry - and if the shells of the chickpeas didn't stick in your throat on the way down the soft-but-sharp shells of the prawns gave you a good tickle.
Before the first three dishes came out we did receive a few salsas and a hot sauce, but not nearly enough for six people.
I should note also that the hot sauce was aggressively hot - which Mr and Ms Foodie quite liked. So that would be enjoyable if super spicy food is your thing. Madam Rabbit commented on how the hot sauce felt more like the pop rock candy that goes off in your mouth (oh my) - except with a lot more burning.
Ms Foodie also commented that the salsa verde was very good, but if the best part about the first three dishes is the travel-perfume-sized condiments, things aren't going well.
So, following the starters we were all quite worried. The next dishes were simply ok, too. The Potato and Chorizo Taco was quite nice and the Street Corn was quite good - one of the highlights of the night for me. But the Quesadillas were boring, one note bean flavor and over in three bites. And that's the theme for the evening, really. If you weren't all that excited by the food then don't worry too much because it will all be over in two or three bites anyways.
Next round was the corned beef and bean salad. The corned beef was good and was one of the few dishes that felt substantial. Unfortunately I was the unlucky one that had bone or sand or rock or something teeth-shattering in mine, which really hurt when I chomped down on it. It was a nice meal otherwise, though.
There was also some rice dish that came out at around the same time or perhaps just before (was that a bonus? I can't see it on the menu...) but it was, again, quite bland.
I didn't try the bean salad because, well, given the dishes before it and having had a look at it I figured that life was just too short.
Ten minutes after the beef was finished (we had to ask for the 10 minute respite, though, else I think it would have been back-to-back) desserts came out. Our dessert board was peanut butter parfait, chocolate ... something.. and ... ugh who cares. The peanut butter parfait was amazing - but again it was over in two bites.
The other desserts (something praline maybe?) I have forgotten about and served as a simple and cruel reminder that not everything we ate that night was peanut butter parfait.
I sincerely regret going for the set menu, because I suspect (based on other reviews and the few standouts from our food) had we taken our time and selected from the tapas menu we would have had much better food.
el Publico is a tequila bar and makes no excuses for that, so obviously the cocktails are created on the assumption that you aren't someone who, as a teenager, regurgitated enough tequila to now have developed a phobia for it.
We tried a few of their cocktails and to be honest I didn't so much mind the cocktails (although they were very, very sour) as much as I struggled with the copious salt put all around the glass. This is probably my bad. I was probably doing it wrong. But drinking the margarita was akin to all my attempts at surfing as a child. Salt everywhere, dude.
The 'Tommys' was ok, but again, very very sour.
I suspect this was how the drinks were meant to be and that there are people out there that would enjoy them. Certainly Mr Foodie said the margarita was nice - so perhaps take my opinion with a grain of salt salt salt salt salt salt everywhere salt salt salt.
I did enjoy the Time After Thyme drink - ginger beer mixed with potpourri mixed with alcohol of some kind - tequila no doubt.
We also ordered some apple juice / soda water / vodka drinks which were well received. And the 'Lola' was very nice as well.
In hindsight, I think I'm just being bitchy re the salty drinks. I think they were probably exactly how they should have been and other people would have quite enjoyed them.
Service was really good. We had a lovely blonde girl who according to the receipt was named Luca/Olivia. She was very good. When the kitchen stuffed up and gave us 4 boring Quesadillas instead of 6 she quickly came out and brought us another 2 boring Quesadillas. When the bar staff stuffed up and gave us apple juice and tequila instead of apple juice and vodka she quickly ran off and fixed it (I know, fair point, we were in a tequila bar, but two of our party were the aforementioned teenagers and now carry a pavlovian response to even the smell of the stuff).
Luca/Olivia joined in on our conversations when we gave her an opportunity and offered to show us how to 'shotgun' or 'sub' a beer like a professional. For the benefit of the Department of Racing, Gaming and Liquor, no, she did not consume any alcohol with us. But she could have! We all liked her.
We didn't tip her because we are terrible humans.
And, it wasn't Luca's/Olivia's fault, but again, the whole 6.30 - 8.30pm thing doesn't make for a great meal. We finished our desert bang on 8.30 and by 8.38pm we were paid and out the door. I understand this is what we signed on for, but I also kind of feel like el Publico signed on for feeding us some nice food, and so if they don't have to deliver on their end how come we still get shuffled out promptly at the end of our timeslot?
The least they could have done was admitted the food lacked an element of 'feliz' and allowed us to order another round of alcoholic seawaters with ice.
I quite like the look of the place. It had this ominous red glow from the fluorescent red donkey on the wall and the occasional Dia de Muertos references certainly gave it a consistent theme. The basins in the male toilets were broken, but otherwise everything was very clean and very cool.
It's quite loud inside but after the first round of salt and tequila solutions we were were all yelling at each other along with everyone else in the joint and so it wasn't too bad at all.
Disappointing and not cheap.
That said, I would go back. I think we would have had much better food if we had of stayed away from the set menu.
At the very least it would be a good place to stop in for a drink (despite what I said about the drinks, I think they were probably quite good and just not really my thing) before going to another kitchen.
6 fluorescent red donkeys out of 10.
Rose Gold says ..
I was apprehensive at doing the set menu thing because often I feel like restaurants can get away with not providing value for money that way - especially because our food cost $300
The chickpea dish was just weird and the value for money could have been improved with some simple changes, like providing more rice and making the meat dish the main event. and supplementing them with the other smaller dishes.
While there were some highlights - the prawns were delicious and the dessert parfait thing was delicious - I don't feel like we got value for money..
But the atmosphere was very cool and the service was great.
Overall I was a bit apprehensive, and it turns out there was good reason..
All that being said, I would definitely give it another shot..