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Published February 13th 2013
Savour the Mexican flavours - this kitchen rules
I've never been a big fan of Mexican food. Maybe it's because my experience has been confined to large chain eat-in or takeaway outlets - you probably know the ones I mean. The food has always seemed somewhat stodgy and stick-to-your-ribs to me, like English food, but on spicy steroids. But no cuisine is hotter in Australia at the moment than Mexican so I snapped up the opportunity to dip my toe once more into Latina culinary waters with a visit to the Hotel Orient's New Mexican Kitchen. And I'm so glad I did.
The Hotel Orient is an iconic Brisbane pub established in 1875, and with a distinctive triangular shape dictated by the confines of its location at the junction of Queen and Ann streets. On the face of it, it's not a place you would expect to find a quality Mexican restaurant, but prepare to be pleasantly surprised.
Comedy Relief and I arrived for pre-dinner drinks in the ground floor bar at about 6pm on a Thursday evening and the hotel was humming. We met our friends over a drink at a table by the window perched on high stools. A hallmark of this part of the evening was the excellent drinks service and convivial atmosphere. Note to all you office workers at the northern end of the city - this place is a winner. See Carly's article about Friday nights with Tuffy.
Our dinner booking was for 7pm but we decided to try our luck for an earlier sitting and made our way up the lovely timber staircase to the first floor restaurant. We were greeted by a friendly waitress and immediately seated at a table of our choice, watched over by a furry sentinel on the wall.
I was so relieved that the dining space is elegant and tasteful. There was none of the often garish, sometimes kitsch Mexican decor you find in other establishments. Exposed brick walls and stained glass windows might not scream "Mexican!" at you, but here they let the food, and softly playing Spanish background music transport you to Mexico.
Our furry sentinel. I wonder how you say Fat Yak in Spanish?
Large laminated menus were presented to us, which made the job of choosing a bit easier for a glasses-dependent diner like me. We agreed that we would all order something different so we could share and then settled in for a chat and a laugh while we perused the extensive menu. We never like to rush this part of the dining experience, so we probably disappointed our enthusiastic waitress when we asked twice for more time to decide (and to practice our Spanish pronunciation). We finally ordered, much to her relief I'm sure, and our bottle of wine was brought to the table, along with lovely large glasses marked with an invitation rather than the usual boring fill line.
Glasses marked with an invitation, and we were more than happy to oblige!
The Food You were probably wondering when I was going to get around to the food. Our Starter choices were empanadas, calamari, Mexican meatballs and Choriqueso Fundido, a blend of melted cheese with chorizo, onion and tortilla.
What can I say? The Mexican meatballs were delicious with an earthy spiciness that complemented the tomato flavour. The cheese and chorizo dish, which is a house specialty, was creamy and tasty with a spicy chorizo hit. The calamari was a definite winner, cooked to achieve that nice blend of bite and chewiness. But we all agreed that the hit of the starters was definitely the empanadas. Delicate, flakey pastry parcels with a tasty filling of slow-cooked beef, tomato, onion, garlic and spices, were served with a fresh, zingy tomato lime salsa.
Our main courses were equally as impressive. We chose from the House Specialties section and were not disappointed. We once again had unanimous agreement about the standout dish. The slow roasted vaqueros style pork belly was succulent and delectable. Served with Spanish rice and vegetables, it sat proudly atop a bed of chipotle mash. Needless to say we all dug in with gusto. Our other choices were a stuffed slow roasted chicken breast (beautiful, but a little heavy on the chipotle cream sauce, and a little too spicy for my friend), juicy and tender beef tenderloin strips, and grilled New York cut sirloin with Argentinian Chimichurri sauce and grilled potatoes. Our waitress had not asked how the steak was to be cooked, but it was a very satisfactory medium-rare and the potatoes crunchy and flavoursome.
The Verdict Our overall dining experience was excellent, and certainly one to change my ideas about Mexican food. The food was very good, no stodginess detected. The surroundings were stylish and comfortable and the service friendly and knowledgeable, if a little too enthusiastic on occasions. The food was also excellent value for money, with individual menu items ranging from $9 to $28.
After our meal we spoke with manager, Adam, about the restaurant, its origins and development. His passion and commitment, and that of the owner and staff were obvious throughout this discussion. He told us the the owner is constantly on the lookout for original ideas to encourage diners to the restaurant and improve the dining experience. My favourite was an idea which developed from a trip to the market for fresh produce. Noting a good supply of cabbages, a suggestion was made to offer a free cabbage with each margarita ordered!
No, you won't be presented with leafy vegetables to take home. They've decided to let the cuisine do the talking. This is Mexican and South American food the way it should be. Their menu proudly states "tenemos el sabor", which means "we've got the flavour", and indeed they have.
There's something special in store for you if your birthday is in February or March. You can have your very own birthday fiesta for up to ten people and the food is on the New Mexican Kitchen. Yes, it really is true. You can choose from the Birthday Fiesta Menu, and it won't cost you a peso. This is understandably a limited offer. Bookings are essential and must be for a Friday or Saturday night. There are limited places and you must be over 18 to attend. Call (07) 3839 4625 or email email@example.com to book.
I know where we'll be spending my upcoming birthday.
Misleading review... we went because of it but, the dining space was a bar! Nothing like these pictures and we had to have the 'all you can eat' which was only $10 per person but paper plates, no bowls of sour cream or sauces, plastic utensils and serving spoons! Music sooo loud no conversation possible and our child watching music videos that were too old for him. So not a family place to eat! Or a place where you want to have conversation. but nice bar food...