Walking along Inkerman Street and spotting the façade of the Newmarket Hotel, I thought I was in some sort of Margaret Atwood penned dystopian fiction where the multinationals had turned the suburbs into industrial ghettos so I was really surprised when I set foot into the place and found both an ambience and setting that contrasted completely with the outside façade. One certainly should not judge a book by its cover.
Open plan dining is certainly on offer and you are able to take advantage of good weather when we have it in Melbourne by enjoying drinks or ultimately food and cigarettes on the deck that borders the perimeter of the restaurant. The front dining room can take advantage of the abundance of fresh air when the sliding windows are fully open and there is a small amount of natural light that enters the restaurant in the forward area.
Like with the other Melbourne Pub Group properties, the bar takes centre stage and is a focal point of the dining room. It sits further back in the restaurant though and given that both smaller tables are littered in between high wooden tables, it makes for not only a smart fit-out but is appealing to the eye with the high ceiling.
The menu changes noticeably between the afternoon and the evening and at lunch there are $5 tacos on offer. After commencing with the guacamole ($5) which has pineapple infused into it, made it one of the best guacamoles that I have had served to me in a restaurant, I ran the gamut of most of tacos that were available since I continue to look for the stand-out place in Melbourne that does the best "street food" which included those that were on special and others that were more adventurous.
Paul Wilson is inspired by his travels in California and Mexico and has a menu that clearly demonstrates a fascination for the area. These days Mexican-inspired cuisine is blended between California and Mexico despite without regard to a national border but because of the high Mexican population in California, the cuisine has gradually been bastardised. The grilled snapper taco, heirloom tomatoes, rocket and new season garlic aioli ($8) is an example of the bastardisation. The quality morsel of snapper that occupies 25% of the taco enables you to effectively have one taste of it even though it takes a total of four bites to finish the product leaves the diner satisfied because the fish is prepared perfectly combined with the quality of the produce but it really doesn't substitute for "street food" where some whiting is quickly grilled and pulled apart so that every taste allows the punter to enjoy the taste of fish throughout the experience.
Moving on to the soft shell crab taco, guacamole, shaved fennel, spicy corn and tomatillo salsa ($8.5) certainly allows the California influence shine and it was recommended by the server who when we heard like spice, thought this would be a great way to showcase the merging of the flavours and heat. She was right and I did not feel the need to add any habanero chilli sauce to this (or any of the tacos for that matter) as there was an ample amount of seasoning and I enjoyed the quality of the produce which is not usually so prominent in Mexican-inspired food.
A soft taco with pork carnitas, baby gem, pickled pineapple and hot adobe sauce ($8) was one of my favourites. Once again, there was a fair amount of heat and the carnitas was presented in a chunk instead of being pulled over the entire taco. I enjoyed the carnitas however I would have liked to have tasted it with every bite and not just one.
Two of the specials, the pig soft taco ($5) and also the poached chicken ($5) were also ordered. The pig was probably the most tame of the all of the meats that was consumed and it shouldn't be confused with the pork carnitas. The poached chicken was once again another example of the California influence on Mexican food. Although it was tasty, you really expect a grilled flavour to be the primary taste however the great fresh produce was a healthy if not surprising pleasant alternative.
I am looking forward to returning soon and not only getting stuck into the pitchers of alcoholic beverages but also trying Paul Wilson's wood roasted goat. That dish has been evangelised in the press and it certainly gives me a reason to return - if not to further enjoy this interpretation of Mexican and California foods. Bastardisation is a good thing should the fundamentals align, and like with Acland St. Cantina, Paul Wilson has perfected the approach in a very good and bold way.
Link to review
34 Inkerman St St Kilda VIC 3182
(03) 9537 1777
My Rating: 14/20
Value For Money: 3.5/5
e-mail: epicureanofsouthbank (at) gmail (dot) com
At the time of this post, 79% of the reviewers on Urbanspoon also like the Newmarket Hotel.