My sister’s impromptu and random visit to Perth for New Year’s seemed to keep getting extended longer and longer. Surely she has a job back in Melbourne to return to? My sister and I had partied fairly hard and fast for five days straight leaving us both a bit scattered and sleep deprived. At the end point of all this, both the boy and I had to return to work whilst my sis remained on her indefinite holiday.
The problem is when you are of one of the only poor souls who have to return to work whilst being surrounded by those still in holiday mood; you completely lose your chance to chip away at your own personal sleep debt. Eventually you may find you get a second wind of energy (or be it a third wind, or in this case – I actually think I lost track of the number). The boy had matters made even worse for him by missing out on most of it after contracting a gastro bug that floored him for over five days.
After my literally scorching experience at Pancho’s, I really wanted to redeem Mexican cuisine for myself. Remaining local, we strolled down to the Broken Hill Hotel for a few pre-dinner drinks before heading to That Little Mexican Place. Immediately, the differences to the mainstream Pancho’s became glaringly apparent to me. Although TLMP was similarly filled to capacity, there was no fluoro paint on blackboards, there were no glowing happy hour cocktails, and there was most definitely no cheesy 80’s music playing. Instead we were greeted by a cosy and sublime vibe that left you feeling like you had stumbled upon one of Perth’s best kept little secrets. TLMP’s humble beginnings started with their tiny restaurant opening over on Fitzgerald Street in North Perth and in more recent years they have expanded over to the south into Vic Park. The owners have spent some time travelling around Mexico where they ate their way around the country to eventually return back to Perth bringing all the flavours and ideas back with them.
Being BYO, we stopped by the Broken Hill bottle shop and bought a bottle of West Cape Howe 2010 “Styx Gully” Chardonnay. I thought this subtly oaked wine produced by one my favourite wineries from the Great Southern region was sure to satisfy my sister’s palate but I was informed it was too fruity for her liking. I thought the citrus was as subtle as the oak but I’m no wine expert and everyone palate is different.
Service was bubbly and helpful with the waitress returning from the kitchen with a whole list of dishes suitable for our no gluten and no onion requirements. I was actually quite impressed with the amount of choice we had with ordering as the waitress explained that they make most of their dishes fresh.
Their guacamole is made fresh “a la mesa” (at your tableside) and is served with house made tortilla chips. Serving tableside always reminds me of Hell’s Kitchen – Chef Ramsey is a keen fan of this however our waitress looked much more relaxed in front of us compared to Ramsey’s contestants in his show! This guacamole was exceedingly better than that at Pancho’s, the serving was about three times the size and it was seasoned perfectly. Even better still, I received no oil burns or other injuries whilst eating it! (TLMP $16 compared to Pancho’s $15)
For entrée we ordered three dishes to share amongst the four of us in addition to the guacamole. The taquitos de Puerco was described as two crispy rolled tacos filled with shredded pork and topped with melted cheese and guacamole. Rather than drenching the crunchy little rolls in cheese and making them soggy, there was just an elegant drizzle and the taco was as crispy as a corn chip but wafer thin.
Tamales are a traditional Latin American dish made of “masa” which is a starchy type of dough that is steamed or boiled wrapped up in a leaf wrapper which is then discarded before eating. Tamales are often filled with a variety of things such as meat, cheese, fruit or vegetables. TLMP’s tamale was made with a duck confit dressed with an orange and chipotle salsa. This dish had a lot of warm in it due to the chipotle salsa which was strengthened by the acidity of the citrus. Very tasty.
We all got quite excited about the cactus tacos which escalated when we saw it was on the list of foods we could order! Despite all of us having a fair amount of travel under our belts – none of us had tried cactus before. These tacos were made using “nopales” which are from the fleshy pad like part of the prickly pear. They are a common feature in Mexican cuisine where they are farmed commercially. It was prepared with portabella mushrooms, a popular way to serve them, however I did find that the mushroom taste overpowered the flavour of the cactus. Not that I’m complaining – I absolutely love mushrooms – but I would have liked to be able to identify the flavours of the cactus. They are supposed to taste like a tarty version of green beans however our dish ended up with quite a mild and nutty flavour (possibly from the mushrooms). I will have to go back and try them again!
Continuing in my desire to establish a fair comparison of TLMP to Pancho’s, we ordered the sizzling prawns. Remember my experience back at Pancho’s? Think soggy vegetables, stale oil and defrosted seafood dripping in slop? Thankfully, as with rest of our dining experience at TLMP, this dish was a winner. The vibrant colouring of the achiote paste also gave this dish a very distinct flavour. The combination of spices produced a fair bit of heat which the boy doesn’t tolerate well and I looked over to see the familiar sight of him poking his tongue out in attempts to cool his mouth down! (Sizzling prawns: TLMP $22, Pancho’s $27)
Lamb shank dishes are nearly invariably off the menu for a fructose malabsorber due to the presence of onion contained in most stocks. So when we saw that the shanks also featured on our list of acceptable dishes – there was minimal discussion, it was a done deal. It was a very good choice. The meat fell off the bone easily and was exceedingly tender.
The triple cheese enchiladas were a bit of a naughty treat ordered due to our interest in jack cheese as this was another thing we hadn’t tried. Despite all the cheese, this dish was surprisingly not too oily or fatty. Because all the cheese melted into one, once again I found it difficult to place the taste of the jack cheese alone. Another excuse for a return visit I guess!
The ceviche was my least favourite dish of the evening. After experiencing such amazing spices and flavours contained in the other dishes we had ordered, delicate fish with sweet mango was simply overpowered by all the other excitement on my palate.
All the authentic Mexican desserts on the menu were not gluten free so reluctantly I had to order the only option which was the berry pannacotta. It was delicious but it wasn’t the right shape or texture for a pannacotta. I wish churros were gluten free!
By contrasting my two dining experiences at Pancho’s and That Little Mexican Place, I appreciate that I may appear to some to be comparing apples with oranges, or chalk and cheese; but here is a little piece of advice for those who believe they are happily sacrificing quality in the manner of a cheap night out at Pancho’s, you may be very mistaken. When comparing simple dishes like the guacamole and the sizzling prawns, TLMP won the fight hands down on both taste AND price. I guarantee I won’t return to Pancho’s again, but I certain my curiosity will drag me back to That Little Mexican Place. And probably more than once!Price: $$$ ($12-18 Entrée, $17-26 Mains) Food: 4/5 (a distinct lack of slops and sour cream) Service: 4/5 (very accommodating ) Ambience: 3.5/5 (a packed restaurant gives good vibe) Drinks: 4/5 (you can BYO your tequila and they make margaritas for you!) Total: 15.5/20 That Little Mexican Place | http://www.tlmp.com.au 279 Albany Highway, Victoria Park | (08) 9472 0767 382 Fitzgerald Street, North Perth | (08) 9227 5755
So what to you think? Leave a comment and let me know!