It’s hard to know where to begin with Tequila Mockingbird, because this spot does a lot of things well. The restaurant is named, not for the fabulous figurine Maxwell Smart and Agent 99 set off to Mexico to recover, but, in an apparent moment of synchronicity, when owner Michael Fegent drew his own inspiration directly from Harper Lee’s book, To Kill A Mockingbird.
Fegent also drew inspiration from his travels across South America and Mexico to come up with a menu and setting that takes you on an epic road trip, all without leaving Paddington. You'll find his resulting restaurant arranged across three levels of a heritage-listed 1898 terrace that's been delicately updated by Luchetti Krelle to softly reflect the journey you'll be taking.
Now, if we’re going to embark upon an adventure, we’re going to need some lubrication. The ground-floor bar, headed up by Bar Manager Mark Crawford, do a great line in cocktails. Gengibre Y Romero ($21) teams Ocho Reposado with Canton ginger liqueur, yuzu juice, lime juice, rosemary and cracked pepper, with a salt and rosemary rim, all without burying the tequila. Smoke On, Smoke Off ($21) is, if anything, even more impressive, with smoky Del Maguey Vida mezcal and Ardbeg 10-year-old both poking their heads out through the blend of green apple liqueur, lemon juice and mint.
However, if you really want to get to know the spirit in question, neat is definitely the way to drink it. Rather than get intimidated by the nearly fifty-strong tequila and mezcal list, we decided to limit our drinking to mezcal only. With our friendly waiter’s help, we worked our way through four different mezcals to arrive at a favourite: Lagrimas De Dolores Anejo Mezcal ($19). Dolores’ tears were made from a rare agave (Cenizo) by a female mezcalero, Fabiola Ávila in Hacienda Dolores, a large estate that dates back to the 17th Century. It’s anejo because it spent a year in first-generation white oak barrels before bottling; with the resulting mezcal having hints of wood, caramel and some green herbaceous characters. For something contrasting, try the Vago Espadin ($17), which throws smoke and pine at you. Throwing in a Sailors Grave Sou' East Draught Lager ($12) chaser is also a sterling idea.
With the menu divided into street, side, flame and raw, knowing how many dishes to order is made simpler with the create your own Tasting Menu ($75/head) option. This steers you into choosing a pair of raw dishes, followed by two street dishes, a shared flame dish, a couple of sides and a shared dessert. Taking this option we kick off with Hiramasa Kingfish Tiradito ($20) a Peruvian raw fish dish similar to ceviche or carpaccio, that’s teamed with a spicy sauce; in this case fresh rings of green jalapeno tamed with miso mayo. and yuzu soy.
Golden egg jam crowns the Wagyu Beef Tartare ($22) studded with blue corn totopos (tortilla-like chips). It's light and so creamy it's hard to remember you're eating raw beef.
For a Peruvian take on Chinese Cantonese dumplings, the Chifa Shrimp Dumplings ($21) team elegantly shaped thin-skinned prawn dumplings with soy, lime and rocoto (a Peruvian chilli pepper). Our waiter encourages us to order them explaining the waves of Peruvian immigration in his sell, neatly situating an element of culture into the meal we’re enjoying.
Working within the modest width of a historic terrace means tables here, even spread across three different seating areas, are quite close together. The Cast Iron Provolone ($21) will help you summon your inner tranquillity. Presenting melted cheese with a crisp jalapeno and onion topper and a drizzle of Pedro Ximenez, along with soft, pliable tortillas to wrap it in, this dish will take you to your special place.
With a little at-table Tetris, we get our mezcals and our main and sides arranged so they fit onto our tiny table. Topped with tangy, lightly blistered guindillas (Spanish peppers) the Wagyu Picanha ($42) is the centrepiece. The rump cap has been beautifully cooked and rested, with its pink interior poking through the charry crust. Topped with a pat of garlic jalapeno butter, it’s a highbrow rendition of a common dish that Brazilians go crazy over. In Australia, picanha can be hard to find, because we butcher cows differently, and butchers usually prefer to sell a whole rump.
Punctuated with forays into crisp Grilled Broccolini ($10) dragged through pea mole with tequila dressing, the slices of wagyu are rich and well worth savouring.
Crisp Brussels Sprouts ($10) dusted in pecorino that’s glued on with lemon garlic dressing should help fill out any corners you didn’t already stuff with those cheese-laden tortillas.
By the time you’ve taken a booze-related bathroom break up the stairs to coo over the colourful sinks and La Catrina doll, your dessert should have arrived. The Yuzu Suspiro Limeno ($15) is basically a deconstructed lemon meringue pie, presented in a glass with frozen meringue and yuzu granita. It’s nice without being outstanding, so don’t be afraid of giving it a miss in favour of more mezcal! Del Maguey Crema ($16) has more than enough pineapple-like sweetness to make it the perfect end-of-meal treat.
6 Heeley Street, Paddington
Ph: (02) 9331 6745
Thanks to Spooning for arranging this visit.