Kitsch: The dining room is decorated in a Day of the Dead theme.
PICTURES \ DARRIAN TRAYNOR
It’s one thing to have a no-bookings policy – all the hippest city eateries are doing it these days – so long as a restaurant understands the rules of the waiting game. Here’s a quick recap: you take down a diner’s name, phone number and size of party, give them a ballpark time when you expect to have a table for them, and then call when the promised table materialises.
But what if the restaurant never calls? And what if then, compelled by ravening hunger, you return after 90 minutes to discover there is still no table for you and, worse still, the crossed-out names below yours on the list suggest your seats have been given away to others? Do you cut your losses and go elsewhere, or do you hang around in a drafty entrance accepting the repeated reassurances of the man in the cravat with the clipboard that your table will be ready in five more minutes?
Of course we hang in the drafty corridor as the five minutes stretch into 10, then 15, and a group of nine is ushered past us into the dining room and we are still waiting, waiting …
Two hours after Mr Cravat first noted our names he finally delivers us to a table in Señorita’s cantina-like dining room where too-loud music and shouted conversations ricochet off bare surfaces. Walls are adorned with kitsch artworks themed on the Day of the Dead, with skeletal Catrina figures the common motif. As a theme it feels overdone but presumably the owners felt it reinforced their claim to an “authentic Mexican” experience.
Panuchos & slow-roasted pork
It’s a claim you’ll find repeated on its website, on the food menu with its “Frida and Diego entrées”, and on the drinks list, presented in the form of a Mexican pasaporte. Inside, owner Ricardo Amare explains how he created Señorita’s to “defend the authentic flavours and culinary traditions of Mexico that have been misinterpreted in Australia for many years”. All I can say at this point of the review is, don’t believe the hype.
The drinks list contains no Mexican wines, which seems a missed opportunity, but makes up for the oversight with pages of tequilas, mezcals and magueys and beers. We go for a chelada – a Corona with lime and salt, for $11(!) and a michelada, which is Corona spiced with clamato, chilli and the pungent epazote herb. Despite that daunting line-up of ingredients it tastes insipid, as if the flavours have been diluted for local tastes. The best micheladas should kick like a donkey, and they should never cost $13.
Likewise, you wouldn’t normally expect to pay extra for sauces or guacamole in a Mexican restaurant. They are so fundamental to the dining experience that they come as standard with any order. Here at Señorita’s a selection of three salsas will set you back $10.
But moving on. We start with esquites – sautéed corn kernels sprinkled with fresh cheese and served with a chilli-dusted lime wedge. The dish is usually served on a corn leaf but the kitchen has run out so ours come in tiny earthenware bowls. The flavour’s fine but I can’t help hankering for the chipotle-smothered corn cobs they serve around the corner at Mamasita. (Such comparisons seem avoidable given the proximity of the CBD’s two Mexicans.)
Tricolour quesadillas are deflated, empanada-like parcels in the three colours of the Mexican flag. Fillings are flimsy – one has mushrooms inside but no discernible seasoning; the second contains the merest wisp of cheese; the third is filled with huitlacoche, which I happen to have a mild obsession for, but the corn casing overpowers the truffly fungus. Disappointing.
Tacos Matteo, filled with grilled prawn, refried black beans and a salad of tomato, avocado and chipotle mayo, are briefly enjoyable.
The Aztec soup is really quite good, a strong, homely broth of chicken and tomato layered with crisp shreds of fried tortilla, puffed pork skin (chicharron), avocado chunks and queso fresco, chilli and sour cream. It’s a dish I’d almost come back for but, again, I’d prefer Mamasita’s pozole soup of shredded pork and hominy.
Chef Hugo Reyes does a very decent mole poblano sauce that he smothers over a beautifully cooked, moist and tender chicken breast. You can taste the charred chillis in this dense brown gravy fragrant with secret herbs and spices (cinnamon, pepper and chocolate, among others). The chicken rests on unremarkable rice, supposedly flavoured with tomato, peas and corn but tasting of not much at all.
For desserts there are a sweet tortilla, a Mexican bread pudding and an ice-cream-and-mousse combo but we skip sweets because, frankly, it’s late and we can’t be bothered.
It’s very likely that all of the above comments are coloured by the fact we were forced to wait two hours for a table at Señorita’s. But that doesn’t alter the fact we found the food, on the whole, a letdown. Next time I feel like authentic Mexican flavours, I’ll head straight to Mamasita, where the prospect of queueing for an hour to eat doesn’t seem so unreasonable any more.
Señoritas, 16 Meyers Place, city
Cuisine \ Mexican Chef \ Hugo Reyes
Hip pocket \ About $50 a head, drinks extra
Open \ Monday to Friday noon-3pm; Monday to Saturday from 6pm
Highlights \ The party atmosphere
Lowlights \ The wait for a table, disappointing dishes Bookings \ For large groups and 6pm diners only Phone \ 9639 7437
We rate it 6/10