There I am, sitting opposite someone who has had more botox than expected and a smooth, smooth forehead. It’s the polar opposite to the chef to my left who has the hairline of Mel Gibson, the intensity of Russell Crowe and a brow so furrowed with concentration that it makes Gordon Ramsay look baby-faced.
We’re in the St Kilda combat zone of Fitzroy Street, defined on the North by Grey St and the South by Acland St. It’s not a pretty place with some blaming the residents of the notorious Gatwick Hotel boarding house for dragging the area down. Certainly the wrong sort of crowd is attracted to this strip of dubious late night bars that are the drinking holes of last resort, that may or may not have something to do with the blood I’ve frequently seen being scrubbed off the street on Monday mornings.
This strip isn’t a happy place to be for many a restaurateur. If fact St Kilda isn’t a happy place for all but a few operators, having lost its status as a destination to the Melbourne CBD and arriviste suburbs such Fitzroy and Collingwood. In fact you could argue St Kilda is broken bad with a council distracted by the future of the Triangle and festivals.
Amid this chaos, a few years back, chef owner James Blackman opened The Table not too far up the street from Di Stasio (which is about to open a next door bar) and a planned Asian bar concept from David Zhou, the owner of the Oriental Tea Houses and David’s in Prahran.
Blackman slowly has been building a reputation for Mexican-style food. It’s largely been ignored by the established paper-based food guides and reviews (probably because of the lamentable service) but has a health 82% score on Urbanspoon at the time of writing (despite the negative reviews generated by Scoopon deals).
So what do you get for your money?
The wine list is a handful of whites and reds and a single rosé, not inspiring but perfectly quaffable (as are the margaritas which I moved to).
In terms of dollar per hour a lot and that’s because the service is slow, very slow. But once the food arrives it is a terrific surprise.
We began with the Oyster Shooter Tomato & Mezcal Consommé, Cream Fraiche Ice Cream & Manchego Tuile ($9.5). The oyster itself looks like an alien floating in a shot glass of warm tequila. We opted to eat the tuile first but reckon it could be better after the shot.
Then the tacos, which are available as a platter for groups of four. We opted for the Poached Scampi in Agave & Tequila with Avocado Panna Cotta & Radish ($8), Braised Beef Cheek in Mole & Fried Plantain with White Bean Puree & Coriander ($6.5), Confit Duck with Smoked Chipotle, Roasted Tomato & Savoy Cabbage ($6.5) and Wild Mushroom with Smoked Manchego Saganaki, Smokey Chipotle Salsa & Porcini Tortilla ($6.5).
Slam! These were good, complex and packed with flavour – easily a match to other St Kilda Mexicans such as The Newmarket, Radio Mexico and Bluecorn – even Mamasita I’d say.
The same goes for the ceviche – King Prawn with Roasted Baby Beets, Golden Beet Crisps & Tequila & Blood Orange ($16.5). And the entree of Crispy Skinned Chili Quail, White Bean & Chorizo Cassoulet, Snow Pea Salad (19).
Where this place wins is the food, prepared by an owner operator with passion and brow furrowing intensity and care.
Where it loses out to the likes of The Newmarket and Radio Mexico is the service. Sure, it’s friendly enough. But it’s unpolished and chaotic. And slow.