The barfly was seriously asking if I remembered. No mate, not me.
“It was a bit o’ fun. Just a bit o’ fun. And now the Newmarket‘s gone all gentrified,” he added with a sad sneer. “Some guy called Jules, Jules, has taken it over, and it’s yet another place doing Mexican.”
He was a remarkably well-informed barfly. Yes, Jules does own it and it is doing Mexican (like half of Melbourne), but what Mexican!
You know, I’m not a corn girl. Too many cans of sticky-sweet-smelling corn in too many bad salads cured me of liking corn. But this being Mexican, it’s all about corn, and I’m not running screaming. In fact, it was the most exciting menu I’ve seen for a while.
‘Exciting’ does mean a lot of ‘what the hell is…’ moments when reading the menu, but the Word Bin at the bottom was a glossary of such unfamiliar (to me) terms such as cantipalo (Portuguese salami), jicama (sweet root Vetetable) and that delicious new word in my vocab, huitlacoche (a corn fungus/Mexican truffle).
We started with the Latin street food: a soft taco with prawns, fragrant herbs and jicama slaw ($16) and a soft shell crab taco with guacamole, shaved fennel, spicy corn and tomatillo salsa ($17). See, that word bin comes in handy, don’t you think?
For mains, we went off-menu and took the roast of the day, a dreamy organic goat from Gippsland. Succulent little beast, the sliced meat was served with a salad that would be quicker to describe what’s not in it, rather than what is. Here’s what the menu describes it as: chopped Mexican salad: iceberg (who ever boasted about serving iceberg?), radishes, jicama, sweet tomatoes, cactus and queso fresco (fresh Spanish cheese). Did it mention it also had corn in it, like most other dishes? It was fabulous: fresh, cool and the ideal foil to the rich goat’s meat.
There were hipsters sinking pitches of Ashaninka (pisco, rum, lemon juice, jasmine tea, blueberry puree and lemonade), tables of sequins and t-shirts doing a swift run on the wine from the barrel and the Favela No. 34, a concoction of Brazilian rum, plum pisco, strawberries, lime juice and basil, hit the spot on a sultry eve.
The facade is its same old brick face, but after a few feet, it turns into an extravaganza of glass, steel and rustic brick and cement walls, still with the tradies’ scribbled measurements to add a bit of glam-crustiness. This is St Kilda, after all, and it’s down the end where heroin chic reigns.
Let me tell you, if those skinny inner-city types ate here too often, they wouldn’t be able to pull that look off for long.
Newmarket Hotel, 34 Inkerman St, St Kilda