My Mexican Cousin
Cnr Sturt St and Southbank Blvd
Southbank, VIC 3006
Two visits, two different menus… makes writing up this post a little tricky, in my opinion. If you haven’t heard, food blogger Burger Mary wrote a critical post about this venue, titled “An open letter to My Mexican Cousin” in November last year. She basically said they shouldn’t be calling it Creole food as the dishes weren’t authentic.
Being the blur blob that I am, I knew nothing about the above-mentioned ‘food politics’ and #CreoleRage when I dined there in December. All I remembered was I kinda enjoyed my meal! (although my companions had a few quibbles with the service). But after my visit, I found out that there was going to be a menu change, and that MMC’s owners had hired Burger Mary as a temporary consultant to help make things more authentic. I was keen on seeing the differences in flavours before and after the change in menu, and that’s why visit two happened.
They launched the new menu with an feast-like event in mid-January, aptly called “A Crash Course in Creole” – organised by Melbourne Fringe Food Festival. Fellow blogger and friend, Ashley, has kindly blogged that event, so you can read about it here. I was half-keen to go to that event with the rest and learn all about Creole food, but Ees (whom I promised to go with on vist two) prefers things less festive and event-like, so we opted to visit MMC separately on our own accord. In retrospect, just as well we did so, because that way we could test whether service had improved or not.
I’m struggling with the format for such a long, multi-dish post. So what I’ll do is just blog it chronologically and simply say things as they come the way I remember it. Let’s start with my first visit with Fakegf, Kelly and Alvin.
The restaurant’s tucked on one side of Melbourne Recital Centre and it’s close to other performance venues in the arts precinct, so I’d imagine there’d be intermittent waves of pre-performance crowds having small bites and pre-drinks here. Fit-out’s quite snazzy and bar-like, so I can see that a lot of focus has also been catered towards a drinking crowd, where they can gather comfortably out in the front with pre-theatre drinks.
Scallops ceviche w/ red gazpacho dressing $5.5
Okay, so we sat down, read the menu and figured out that we’re in for a Creole meal, which didn’t really mean much to us since we’re completely unfamiliar with that cuisine. Nevertheless, the prospect of trying something different and new was exciting! Kelly, who’s pescetarian, had this little offering of scallops and said it was really lovely!
Chicken drumstick w/ sauce chien $4ea
Fakegf, Alvin and I grabbed a drumstick each. Fakegf was really excited about this dish because the menu glossary had explained that sauce chien translates literally into: ‘dog sauce’ – a high voltage vinaigrette served throughout the French West Indies.
These meaty bites of drumsticks were delicious, light tasting, and juicy. And the tangy ‘dog sauce’ lifted everything. Much enjoyed by the three of us, although we thought that the sauce chien wasn’t exactly that ‘high voltage’ nor spicy at all, it was just nice and pinchingly piquant.
Baby ‘poboy’ – A traditional submarine sandwich from Lousiana, cornmeal crumbed prawns, spicy mayo & cos lettuce (half $7 whole $14)
Always keen to try a bit of everything, the four of us shared this whole ‘poboy’. Quite a knife-cutting challenge sectioning it into four, if I may add… Kelly found the whole thing a little disappointing, while Fakegf and I actually quite enjoyed it. I liked the crumbed prawns! I found the dense-ish baguette a little hard to bite thru though without everything falling out… haha! Maybe they could use a softer bread with crisp outsides?
Twice cooked beef short-rib w/ spice mix & sweet potato pickle (per rib) $12
For the boys on the table (and yes, I still THINK of myself as a boy), we got a serve of something heartier: beef ribs! I liked how the beef paired with sweet potato that has been pickled, and the red sauce (or ‘jus’) that’s underneath was interestingly spicy and reminded me of harissa. However, I have to add that the meat itself was dry, almost tasting like it was pre-cooked sometime back and then reheated. The concept is there, but the ribs need to be more moist and more fall-apart tender.
Daily Blaff – An aromatic West Indian fish stew w/ hints of lime and garlic $23
This dish was just lovely, although also a little unexpected. The words ‘fish stew’ made us think we’d be getting a hearty pot of thickish things. Instead, it’s a piece of grilled barramundi in a wonderful brothy sauce with hints of said lime and garlic.
I loved it, although Kelly was disappointed about how the dish turned out (not stewy) and thought the fish was smallish for its price tag. Then again, Singaporeans always tend to complain about small portions anyway… haha!! Mind you, I’m also at times guilty as charged when it comes to value for money. But since I’ve started blogging, I’ve become pretty accustomed to forking out more money for my meals, just as long as my taste buds (and inner photographer) gets a bit of a playground whirl for it. But yes… it was a delectable dish.
White rum & coconut sherbet w/ a popcorn crumble $11
It’s obvious the share plates we’d had thence wasn’t enough for the four of us. I was pretty keen to try more items from the menu, but my companions weren’t. So I (oh so very nobly) followed the group’s desires and went straight to dessert. *sadface*
On the bright side, I had a lovely coconut dessert! And I had to ‘assemble’ it all by myself, by pouring that glass of rum over my sherbet, and then scattering the crisp-crumbed popcorn over everything. It was literally two shots of rum, that’s a lot for me, so I got a little tipsy, lols… I liked how light this dessert was, right up my taste alley!
Individual warm five spice pineapple cake, guava mint salad $9.5
Cheesecake mousse w strawberry ice cream & strawberry jelly
Alvin had the cheesecake mousse (bottom) to himself, it was one of the day’s dessert specials, so I didn’t catch its price. Alvin said it wasn’t too bad and he liked the jelly, but thought the portion was small. <— he’s also Singaporean, haha! But I also have to agree it did look small, and the word ‘cheesecake’ made me mentally expect to see a slice of cake and its accompanying nommy base rather than that tiny scoop of mousse perched atop the strawberry ice cream.
The girls found the pineapple cake (top) pretty underwhelming. Fakegf liked the spice in it, but the texture was sadly quite dry and uninteresting. Looking at it, I noticed the dessert did not match the menu description… where’s the (interesting sounding) guava mint salad? Kelly asked a staff member about the missing component, he walked to the kitchen, and came back saying (without any apology) that they couldn’t make the guava salad that night and replaced it with smoked pineapple on the plate instead.
I think that was the deal-breaker for the girls that night. To not inform us in advance that some bits of our dessert had been substituted was just very poor form for an upmarket restaurant. I thought only cheap Asian joints do that.
And to be honest, there were more problems with the service there. Sure, maybe it was a little over-stretched because they had a pre-theatre crowd that Saturday night. But even after it got quiet, our glasses of water never got refilled. In fact, when Fakegf and I arrived at the start and joined Alvin and Kelly, they did not add two more glasses to the table for us. So we did not have water. The dishes came slowly, and after we ordered desserts, they didn’t take away our menus and left them on our tables. All these niggly little things was enough for all three of my companions to not want to revisit this place again. To them, they’ve summed it up as: okay food, small portions, bad service —> FAIL.
So my companions disliked My Mexican Cousin mainly because of the service. But I personally thought the menu was light in flavour and interesting and I wanted to come back to sample even more dishes off the new (apparently more authentic) menu. I also thought maybe the service was just having an off night that evening. See? I understand the restauranteur’s perspective! Even serving staff have their moods and can’t be flawless with service every day! ;)
Aspall draught, (UK 500ml) $13
So that’s how visit two came about, this time with Ees, Little Death and Billy, who were all keen to try out a bit of Creole post menu change, ie. the supposedly authentic edition this time. Granted, none of us are experts at knowing the cuisine, but hey… let’s just have a crack at it anyway and see if we like it!
We arranged for a late Sunday lunch after I’d finished work. I arrived almost half an hour earlier than the rest, so I nursed a delicious cider while waiting. Once all were here, we started off with drinks. I like how Little Death almost always orders a strong flat white whenever I happen to dine with him, even if it’s dinner! And Billy grabbed a non-alcoholic drink that I didn’t catch, looks like fizzy grapefruit.
Praline bacon $6
Kaiserfleisch bacon stripe candied w/ brown sugar & pecans
Quite a number of items previously on the menu had remained, including the poboy, fish stew, beef ribs and scallops that we had the last time. What was previously creole rice has now been changed into ‘dirty rice’. Cool name! Other standout new items on the menu included the gumbo and boudin fritters… again such cute, exotic sounding names! We decided to order a first wave of dishes to get us started, and then order more later.
Our first item was the much talked-about praline bacon, a smash hit at the “Crash Course in Creole” event. Quite a number of people tweeted about these to-die-for pralines. Well.. pretty pictures aside, I’ll have to say after all that anticipation, this dish was a bit meh. Billy was disappointed that the bacon wasn’t coated with said ingredients and that everything was just sprinkled on. To me, the bacon tasted a little old and pre-cooked stale and it wasn’t particularly crisp. For such a highly regarded dish, it did not meet my expectations.
Acras de Morue $12
Salt cod fritters w/ seafood cream
Little Death wanted this. I noticed later that this was another dish that carried over from the old menu. I quite liked the creamy-soft mash potato-ey centres that held goodly hints of the bacalhau. And the seafood cream tasted like aioli. Billy made me laugh when he declared “that just makes me want fish fingers!”.
Boudin (boo-dan) fritters with paprika remoulade $13
Deep fried pork & rice sausage mix seasoned with Creole spices
Now here’s something decidedly Creole, I suppose. These critters made me think of America, somehow. And they packed a spicy punch of paprika. But at the end of the day, they’re still, I quote Billy, “just a fritter”. Aahahahahaha so true! Fritters tastes good all the time because they’re deep fried, but they can start to get boring after awhile.
All the same, I didn’t mind this offering, but preferred the salt cod fritters we had previously. These fritters went really well with the tabasco-like Louisana Hot Sauce that was available on every table in the venue.
Poboy sandwich half $7 / whole $14
Deep fried prawns, mayo, cos lettuce, creole seasoning
I think the main difference between this poboy and the old menu’s poboy was the addition of a spicy, chutney-like Creole seasoning in the sandwich. I heard from here and there that they’d swapped the bread into lighter, fluffier bahn mi-like baguettes for the new menu poboys. But the bread we had here was the same thick and heavy baguette, I think Billy wasn’t too pleased about that.
The bread issue aside, I once again still enjoyed this dish and couldn’t really tell the difference between new and old, except maybe the prawns this time round weren’t as fresh as before.
Okay, I’m going to sound like a nit-picky bitch now, but when I was watching Billy painfully section the whole poboy into 4 pieces for us, it just occurred to me that for a share-plate type of dish, this sandwich is almighty difficult to share! ;)
‘Dirty’ rice $12
Ground seasoned pork turns the rice ‘dirty’ w/ creole seasoning and Trinity mirepoix
I initially typed out a typo with the dish description here and wrote “ground seasoned porn turns the rice ‘dirty”’… haha! This was a nice, interesting dish but there was too little of it. Not all that dirty in my books… but yes… enjoyable. Loved the presence of herbs and spice in it.
BT’s gumbo $15
Robust and rich roux-based soup with sausage, chicken and rice.
(and obligatory photo of tabletop’s Lousiana Hot Sauce)
This was a thick, interesting, stewy dish that was just vaguely reminiscent of my family’s masak pongteh home. How Creole food can remind me of Nyonya food, I have no clue… haha! To me, it’s yet another fascinating dish in terms of flavour. The roux-base tasted quite beany, and in fact it tasted a lot like Bovril, a Marmite-like beef extract that comes in bulbous glass jars. Billy thought this dish tasted authentic but its spice levels could be a little stronger. Overall, he did not really enjoy this meal because the food, if it was to be Creole, shouldn’t be all so refined, fine-diningish and in such mincy small portions. Ees and I (and maybe Little Death), on the other hand, found the whole experience interesting because it’s food that’s new and different!<
But (and it’s a BIG but) what I’ve omitted to mention till this point was how the service was like this visit. It was once again not up to scratch. What spoiled this meal for my companions was when Billy asked for a water top-up, the staff member filled up only his glass, and walked away leaving the other glasses on our table empty. And the next annoyance was when the gumbo and dirty rice were served, we did not get spoons. I mean come on, it’s basic common sense. Are you expecting us to eat rice and a gravy dish with a fork and knife? After waiting a few minutes, Billy got so annoyed that he got up and grabbed the spoons for us.
Sadly, once all the above happened, something inside me snapped as well… that despite enjoying and being fascinated by the food here, I still won’t be coming back because of the service. Till that point, I had been trying to see (and support) the restaurant’s perspective, but watching two groups of friends feel unhappy with the service is probably indicative that something’s not quite right. We had only finished our first wave of food, we were still hungry and could’ve ordered more, but because our experience was soured, the group collectively decided to cut our losses, pay up and leave.
The staff at MMC need to improve their service. For visit two, there were only 4 to 5 tables of diners max and no pre-drinks theatre crowd, so there were no excuses that afternoon for such a poor level of service.
So for My Mexican Cousin, I have three simple words: