Eating Out: Tequila Mockingbird
Three cheers for Christopher Columbus. If he hadn't persuaded the crowned heads of Spain and Portugal that he was the man to find the fabled spice continents across the oceans, the Americas might have been discovered by a French explorer. Or an Englishman. Then instead of the Spanish-Cuban-Central- South American cuisine dubbed Latin American we could be eating rum au coq or pineapple and pork pies. Let us be grateful for such an escape.
Latin American cuisine embraces many more lands than Columbus ever reached but at the heart of it is a Spanish and Portuguese influence, and Marc Sycamore, the chef at Christchurch's bar-restaurant Tequila Mockingbird, has thrown his net wide. The grills are Argentinian in style, but other dishes have been garnered from Brazil to Peru via Cuba.
It's a given that any bar with tequila in its title is going to make a big deal of the spirit in its cocktail list, so there are few surprises at Tequila Mockingbird, but expect to discover some clever tweaks, as in the Silver Sour, and a herbal margarita. The bar is the entrance and has been artfully laid out in a manner that celebrates spaciousness rather than coziness.
The restaurant, to the rear, at first glance appears small. Another clever design feature as there are actually quite a number of tables, but the impression is one of space. Question: Was it by design or accident that all female staff were wearing bold red lipstick? So smart, so latino.
The cocktail menu was the first call, the knowledge and advice were sound and the service swift.
If a "bite" is planned, the Brazilian version of a cream cheese puff is a touch more exciting than patatas bravas now the ubiquitous mayo and fried potatoes are doing the rounds. The drink and bite may be necessary to get you through a menu that is more complicated than it looks at first reading. Help is at hand if you don't mind listening as table staff recite from memory. Don't interrupt. It can put her off and you don't want to hear the list more than once.
We shared the scallops and found them nice to eat but not with our eyes. The presentation suggested someone in the kitchen was in a hurry. Later we were to share a very pleasing dish of goat's cheese and polenta, but again the appearance was misleading. Big chunks of a good, soft, grassy cheese and mild-tasting squares of polenta deserve a bit of ra-ra.
The grill menu includes skirt steak. This is a brave step as skirt steak if cooked correctly - very quickly on searing hot heat - is tender and juicy but, if cooked a few seconds too long or turned often, will be tough. The other order was a rump steak from the Wakanui brand and a vegetable dish of roast beetroot with feta - a generous serving.
The skirt steak was presented to applause. Sliced, pink and oozing meaty juices, it was arranged on a board. Its chimichurri sauce had its own little pot. The steak was indeed tender but - and I could have wept - it was cold. I was allowed to share the Wakanui beef and, although I prefer beef raised on grass, it was rich and tender, perfectly cooked and a fine match with a glass of Barrel Thief Pinot Noir.
To dessert: No misses here. Tequila Mockingbird does a smart coconut rum custard - lots of boozy custard with grilled pineapple and coconut. A fine ending to an evening with a few hiccups, but no faulting the hospitality.
98 Victoria St Christchurch
Ph 363 8363
When: Daily (check hours online)
What: Latin American bar and restaurant
How much: Caipirinha $14, Barrel Thief Pinot Noir $9, grills from $28, cheese and polenta gratin $19, roast beetroot and feta $7, dessert mostly $12.
Go again: Yes.