Sunday, November 01, 2009

Restaurant Review - Agave

Eating out in Sydney doesn't often inspire me to share my dining experience with the world. In telling friends about new restaurants I've tried, I find myself saying the same things: "good, but expensive." It seems the only variable in my reviews is the quality of service (usually somewhere between okay and terrible).

Last week, Mickey and I dined at Agave, a new Mexican restaurant in Surry Hills, and I'm delighted to actually have something besides 'good, but expensive' to say about it, so I gave it a blog post.

As ex-pats, we complain about food in Australia all the time: why don't they sell regular Cheerios? Why would anyone eat Vegemite? If cookies are biscuits and biscuits are scones then where are those things that we know as scones and why doesn't KFC here sell biscuits? I could go on and on, but the reality is that there is great food in Sydney. The produce and seafood are fresh and you can't beat the Thai.

Still, I feel our only legitimate complaint is that about the dearth of good Mexican food, a dietary staple for those who grew up in California or Texas, let alone Mexico. The scarcity of restaurants I can understand (there isn't a huge Mexican population in Australia), but the unavailability of key ingredients such as chilies, sauces, cheeses and decent tortillas makes it hard to replicate the taqueria experience in your own kitchen, too.

However, those who could live on burritos (they created the breakfast burrito exactly for this purpose) and now call Sydney home can get a taste of authentic Mexican food at Agave. I'm thrilled to say that I loved everything I tried at this restaurant and I can't wait to go back.

Last Sunday we caught the tail end of happy hour and celebrated with sangria, arguably more Spanish than Mexican, but it was the best sangria I've had in Australia, like juice. We knew we were in for a treat after our flautas appetizer arrived. The tender shredded beef complemented the perfectly crispy deep fried tortillas beautifully. Best of all, the flautas were topped with real guacamole (as opposed to mashed avocado) and queso cotija, that light, crumbly Mexican cheese. This was a huge find for us because Australia is great with cheddar, feta and blue cheeses, but Mexican cheeses such as queso fresco and Monterrey jack are nowhere to be found.

Our mains were equally enjoyable. Mickey went for chicken mole, an excellent choice considering how difficult it is to make mole at home, and I opted for a regional lamb dish, cooked in parchment paper. Both were flavorful, but the highlight was wrapping our meat in fresh corn tortillas. Living in California, I never paid attention to the night and day difference between packaged and fresh tortillas. Now that I'm living gluten free in Sydney, the contrast couldn't be sharper. I was in heaven with those corn tortillas!
Sadly, we didn't have room for flan on Sunday, but I'll be back soon enough. I could have kept Agave a secret, but I'm feeling generous and I want this restaurant to flourish! We were some of only maybe ten diners on Sunday, so word has yet to get around about Sydney's newest culinary treasure. So, if you're in Sydney, give it a try, and bring me back some corn tortillas!

PS - In looking for a picture for my post, I found a review for Agave in the Sydney Morning Herald by Terry Durack. If you don't read the article, I'll summarize: Terry describes Agave as only average; what a pendejo! Watch how fast I can discredit our man Terr, though. He walked in to the restaurant with the following attitude: "There are only three or four meals in a day - why on earth waste one of them on Mexican?" Agave is totally wasted on him! Furthermore, here's Terry's guide to pronouncing the name of the restaurant: "(a-garv-ay)." Yuck! What's the 'r' doing in there? Terr, you couldn't be more wrong.


SWR said...

Sometimes it feels like an endless lonely ocean when it comes to opinions on dining in Sydney. Thank god for your post! Completely agree that Durack is an utter pendejo and will definitely try Agave now.

Shannon said...

We were impressed with Agave too! Let's go again next time we have a Mexican food craving. :-)

Laura said...

love your review, Alane! I want to try those flautas...let's go again soon.