Bar Patrón by the Rockpool Group

Bar Patrón by Rockpool dining room. (Photo: Rockpool Dining Group)

The Midnight Cowboy was back, after a messy exit from Mexico City. It seems the mayor of one of those border towns where the cops mug the tourists, objected to him walking around in skin-tight active-wear that resembled a mariachi costume. And then there was that problem with the daughter of a local cartel lord. Next thing he knew he was being drummed out of Michoacán – quite literally, by a Santeria shaman – with just a guitalele to his name. He almost missed his flight too, when the donkey threw him halfway between Tlalpujahua and Toluca.

I like the Grant Cheyne fit-out at Bar Patrón, with its leather-lined chairs, rustic pine timber, pale handmade Mexican ceramic tiles and long marble bar.

We’re perched on a stool at Neil Perry’s latest gig Bar Patrón by the Rockpool Group (how’re those tamales for a double-branded restaurant name). The Midnight Cowboy is pining for Rosa Maria and her fragrant pozole. So, we’ve come in search of an authentic Mexican experience in Sydney.

That was always going to be a challenge. Whenever you’re talking Mexican dining in this city, Mexican is usually placed in quotation marks. With one or two decent exceptions over the years (thank you Gerardo Macip, Phil Bayly, Annette Zubani) it’s been a pestilence of chain-brands, a theme-world of shot bars, dim filament lights and wrestling masks, with the ubiquitous Tex-Mex menu. The aromas, textures and earthy depths of authentic regional Mexican food, haven’t gained much traction here against melted cheese, watery salsas and sour cream.

But now Neil Perry has stepped in with Bar Patrón, a project which, to quote the Rockpool Dining Group blurb, is “a marriage of two internationally renowned and elite brands, Rockpool Dining Group and Patrón.”

Patrón, recently acquired by spirits behemoth Bacardi, markets a line of artisanal tequilas fabricated by the ancient tahona process. So, there’s no point asking for any other brand in your margarita at Bar Patrón.

But what you will find for starters are a couple of, um, treats in form of the ‘millionaire’s margarita’ – a steal at a mere AUD $100 per glass – and the exclusive Patrón Serie 2 tequila, bottled in AUD $10,000 decanters of Lalique crystal, for AUD $990 a shot.

Yes, it’s a bit hard to divine what Chef Perry thinks of this Vegas-style excess, but I do know he’s proud to have brought in Chef Pamela Valdes. Valdes is from Xalapa in the Mexican state of Veracruz, so that’s a good omen for a dining experience which ‘blends authentic and aromatic Mexican ingredients with the finest produce that Australia has to offer’.

Oh, and there’s the 5am licence. This means that those stiff-necked folk who defy the City of Sydney’s diktat to be in their pyjamas by 9:30 pm, can get a cold, sour margy made on fresh lime juice, at 2am from Thursdays to Saturdays. Now that’s progress. Arriba!

Pozole rojo with braised pork and hominy at Bar Patrón by Rockpool (Photo: Rockpool Dining Group)

Chef Valdes is sending out the best pozole in town (AUD $12). This one combines pork, onion, garlic, hominy (softened maize kernels), bay, oregano and chilli, and it has a ragged-edged beauty that no soup, stew or goulash I’ve recently tasted can match.

Valdes’s tortillas are made fresh every day, wrapped around red rice, cabbage slaw, pickled red onions and served with a lime, or they’re filled with marinated flathead, red rice, lime, pineapple habanero salsa.

Neither sour cream nor chilli gets near the hand-pounded Vera Cruz guacamole with house-made corn chips (AUD $14); and Valdes’s tortillas are made fresh every day, wrapped around red rice, cabbage slaw, pickled red onions and served with a lime (AUD $22.5), or they’re filled with marinated flathead, red rice, lime, pineapple habanero salsa (AUD $32.50). It’s no-contest at dessert for the tres leches cake, a traditional flavoured sponge cake, moistened with layers of evaporated milk, sweetened condensed milk, and cream, and frosted with browned meringue (AUD $9). Superb.

I like the Grant Cheyne fit-out at Bar Patrón, with its leather-lined chairs, rustic pine timber, pale handmade Mexican ceramic tiles and long marble bar. It’s no humble taqueria, but the view to trains speeding past on the city-circle line under the Cahill Expressway contributes some realistic Edward Hopper-style downtown anomie.

And while you won’t find a simple chilacayote to drink with your enmoladas con carnitas (pork filled tortillas in a mole sauce) (AUD $22.50), Bar Patrón does offer a range of craft beers and ciders, together with some traditional and refreshing non-alcoholic cocktails such as the virgin ponche de granada / 12 (hibiscus and pomegranate punch with apple and guava) (AUD $12). There’s a focused selection of about 20 red and white wines too, with a slight bias to Spanish.

The Midnight Cowboy pauses briefly, holding his Padrino (reposado, Benedictine, bitters) (AUD $24) up to the light, admiring its amber glints.

“Well, it was the Noche de Muertos amigo,” he tells me, by way of explaining his hasty midnight departure from La Tierra Azteca.

“Isn’t it the Day of the Dead? I ask.

“Usually is. But I renamed it, ‘cause I was one muerto dude if I didn’t vamoose that night.”

Just then I had a spooky vision of skulls, candlelight and a wizened tarot reader with long fake nails and pencil-thin eyebrows, hoarsely whispering “go gringo, go, there are bad spirits everywhere.”

That’s certainly not something you could say about Bar Patrón.

“So I stopped drinking margaritas,” the Midnight Cowboy said.

I looked shocked.

“Said no-one, ever!” he laughed, as he necked it.

Rating: 23/30

  • How good was the food? 8/10
  • How good was the wine list? 3.5/5
  • What was the service like? 3.5/5
  • How was the atmosphere? 4/5
  • Does this place have the X Factor? 4/5 

Bar Patrón by Rockpool

  • Address: 2 Phillip Street Circular Quay
  • Telephone: +61 2 9259 5624
  • Website: www.barpatron.com
  • Open: Lunch and dinner 7 days from noon to late
  • Price: Snacks AUD $5-$9; small plates AUD $9-$28; soup AUD $12; empanadas AUD $9.50 (2 per serve); tacos AUD $12-$19 (2 per serve); tortillas AUD $25-$32 (4 per serve); large plates AUD $15-$22.50; desserts AUD $9

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