Obscure little gems and half price discount restaurants have been my foodie’s go-to this week. But rather than jumble all of them into a one-liner post, I have decided to do it one by one like I always do. With the much lamented Sake Bar done and dusted from Francis Street in Northbridge, Big El has volunteered itself to be the new kid on the block. It promises Mexican tapas and I will be honest.; I love Mexican. The spices and its almost South-East-Asian approach in taste combination (the sweet, salty, sour and spicy) has never failed to tingle my appetite. So did Big El manage to get me all excited for me to return with my friends next week?
First of all, it pays to know your chili at Big ElsBut bugger that! With me finishing a fair bit of Novembars Chili burger or drinking the blisteringly spicy Tom Yams in Bangkok, I have little fears for chili. Although you-know-where is going to hurt the next day :P!
Non-alcoholic drinks were priced decently in Big Els. Most drinks were $4 max. But if you want to go Mexicana, there were a few Mexican beers to get you started before getting into hardcore stuff. The drawings on the wall were definitely not the most juvenile at Big Els. But with so much liquor on offer, I least expected the pictures of Sesame Street in Sombreros to grace the wall .
The dining style in Big Els is a tapas inspired diner. For that we called a few things to share among the table, but we ended up with way too many. But lets be merry shall we? To get the appetite rolling, we called a few starters like Piquin chips(fries), stuffed jalapenos and tortillas with dips.Of the lot, I have to say that my favourite was the deep fried stuffed Jalapenos. Be warned. As keen as you may be, your weak tongue might suggest otherwise. Deep fried Jalapeno popper has always been a crowd pleaser. Store bought or homemade. The version at Big El did not fail to deliver. I loved it. But I question the stuffing which consist of “various Mexican cheese”. That bit failed to take off in my mouth. I would recommend you to have these little beauties whole. Dipped in its accompanying sauce, it was heaven. Spicy as it may be, it was a kickass bite.
Then came the tortilla chips. Its colors were nice and reminded me of a type of corn which had two colors but definitely not tri-color as the menus suggested. But what I felt was not so impressive was that the chips felt less crisp than the ones I’d get from a packet of Dorito.
There were two sauces that night. A creamy Chili con Queso which was yummy and tasted very buttery. No idea what this was but it was unique and pretty good. Never have I tasted this in Perth before. Then comes the Mexican staple, the Guacamole. Here, you can pound it yourself or let Big El’s wait staff do it the Big El way. Needless to say, I wanted to taste what the restaurant thinks is an ideal Guacamole should be. My first bite in and I was filled with dissatisfaction. It needed more seasoning and acidity for sure. If it had enough seasoning, it lacked resting time. I like to let me sauces like Guacamole, Salsas, Pickles, and Raita sit for awhile before serving. Ideally two hours. That brings out the best flavors which appears true for most parts.
After having a few starters to share around the table, our shared dishes started arriving at the table. But none looked more gimmicky than the Mexican Hot Dog. A simple hot dog bun, toast before being having a hot dogs stuffed in the middle topped with spicy chipotle and Jalapeno slices. Served on the side was a large serve of Chili con Carne. But was it gimmicky good?… or bad?In all honesty, there is little rave about a little $1 hot dog you could get from Ikea. Plus, I remember looking forward to lunchtime in school when these were packed in my lunch boxes. Sincerely, there was very little to hate about such simplified pleasures. It was minimalistic and all the condiments were in its rightful place. Too add on, it came with a large bowl of chili con carne. The chili con carne was nice and definitely something I would have over and over again.
To share amongst the table, we also ordered the soft shell tacos that arrived with an army of sauces and salsa. I got pretty damn confused to be honest.Fortunately, there were some standouts which would really suit the chili wusses. My friends around the table found the roasted tomato and garlic salsa along with the mango jalapeno salsa one to be the most palatable.
But when it comes to the meat, I found the pulled beef to the best. It had flavor and the spices were spot on. If only I had one complain, I think it was a little over-salted/spiced. When something tastes so strong, my tongue almost instinctively expects it to be a little gritty. But it was not.Definitely try the pulled beef. I found the ginger torched salmon to be a little dry to my liking and with the chicken, it was far from its description of crispy. It was just grilled chicken!
Also on the table was the Cascabel Chicken Wings. Tasty little things there were, but they did not quite blow me off my socks. It was OK. Deep fried chicken wings seasoned with rattle chilies and served with a side of chipotle mayonnaise.
Last but not least for the night were the Elotes Callejeros or Mexican street corn dusted with Big El’s special spice mix.On each plate stood 3 beautiful corns and needless to say, I loved it. Its flavors were just right and there was so many things happening at the same time. The sweet and juicy corn, the yummy cheese and the spices. Looking around the table, most seemed to enjoy it especially the cheesy bits. But my sister whose eating experience was broader than mine, her experience at Melbourne’s MamaSita produced a more significant corn compared to the one here. Nevertheless, if you are in Perth this would suffice :)!
Over all, I had a pretty decent meal at Big Els. Taking into account that I only paid half price, it was probably a bargain. We had a feast for the price of a Mexican takeaway. But I somehow feel let down by the fact that the restaurant does not bring anything exciting to the existing Mexican market. It is already in a prime location to start something new. Perhaps throw some meat on the grill you know, some Mexican spit roast to fend off the Greek/Spanish/Brazillian ones? While this was in no way a bad start, it left me longing for more of something. Good potential to be part of something bigger although as is, it is probably just going to live on as an ok eatery.