233 Lonsdale Street
Melbourne VIC 3000
+61 3 9663 0811
Another week, another bloody opening of a new taquería. It’s a craze that’s sweeping through Melbourne like a Mexican wave gone while at the ‘G and quite frankly, I’m starting to get sick of it. A few years ago, good taco hard to find in Melbourne (no, Taco Bill does NOT count). These days? There are Mexican restaurants everywhere, and as of late most of the new ones happen to be taquerías. Pretty soon, there will probably be more Mexican restaurants than there are actual Mexicans living in Melbourne. Now, if all taquerías were like the much-lauded Mamasita or the new baby in Gold Coast’s food scene, Guzman Y Gomez, then this would be a good thing.
However, my friends and I have found that most taquerías in Melbourne fail to meet our admittedly probably too-high expectations. So when Dave and I went to Touché Hombre last Thursday, we weren’t expecting much. Surprisingly, we actually enjoyed ourselves and if anything, our meal there restored our faith in this so-called Mexican wave. Occupying the space that used to be J-Pub Shogun, Touché Hombre opened rather tentatively just under two weeks ago. In order to gauge initial public reaction, they only opened from 5pm Wednesdays to Sundays to begin with. But now that things have settled, they’re now extending their opening hours, opening their doors at midday, seven days a week.
Dave and I both arrived at Touché Hombre just after 5pm, like the punctual lame-os we are. We were told by the guy at the door that they had not yet opened for the night (they needed to debrief their staff), but would let us in as soon as they were done. It was a windy evening so I was annoyed at having to stand outside in the cold, while the staff did their debriefing in a corner far, far away from the front waiting area (so it wasn’t like we could eavesdrop anyway). Thankfully, though, we were let in shortly after and shown to a seat by the window.
Unlike the soft-spoken and casually funky J-Pub Shogun, Touché Hombre is all about 1980s Los Angeles taco culture: loud, cheeky and full of attitude. Sitting inside the taquería, you’d think that you’re in The Valley as opposed to the Melbourne CBD. Heck, I almost expected Nicolas Cage’s ‘Randy’ to strut right in, leather jacket and all. This place ticked all the right boxes: a bar using recycled wood from the old Princes Pier to inject a little bit of history into the place, and a DJ that spun tunes when the sun went down for a lively atmosphere. I also loved the little touches that made Touché Hombre cool – the neon signage, the arcade game machines; even its motto ‘Heroes de Medio Caparazon’ was totes awesome (that’s ‘heroes in a half-shell’ in Spanish, how clever is THAT?). I wasn’t sure about the bouncer-looking-dude who stood outside the door, though. Please, this ain’t The Roxy, bitch!
It was too early in the evening for shots of tequila, we so decided to go light on the drink. As Dave ordered a beer (a bottle of Rosita Artesanal pale ale, $11), I went straight to the cocktail list. The list may not be extensive but the ones that appear on the menu look good – and come with witty names. While I liked the sound of the La Paloma (pink grapefruit, blood orange and orange Colombo liqueur with vanilla sugar drops and scented straws, anyone?), I decided to get the Mexican beer cocktail. Called the ‘Michelada Bitchin’, it contained Tecate (Mexican lager), salsa, and chipotle puree ($9). Served in a salt-lined chilled jar and finished with a fresh lime and ice, it was a neat little package. If you’ve been to Mamasita, you ought to have some idea what this drink is like (it can be an acquired taste) but for others, don’t expect it to be a sweet and syrupy cocktail. It’s salty and it’s HOT.
The fatty lamb ribs (five for $8) was the first dish to arrive. Although fitness junkie-Dave eyed this dish on the menu with a bit of apprehension, he agreed to share this with me. Each rib was fatty, as its name suggested, and coated with a sticky blend of merquén, cilantro (um, excuse me? We’re in Australia, we say coriander, mate!) and honey. We initially thought the ribs were too sweet but a generous squeeze of lemon fixed that and pretty sure, we were munching on our ribs, glorious fats and all.
Next, we had the ceviche ($12), a vibrant mixture of diced fish and mussels mixed in with
cilantro coriander, chilli, red onion, tomato and guacamole. On the side were some tortilla chips for dipping. It was delicious. The ceviche was fresh and amazingly zesty, while the chips were not your standard supermarket variety, but a thicker version which prevented them from getting too soggy. Even Dave, ever the sceptic, had to concede that Touché Hombre’s version was better than Mamasita’s.
Like all good things, our chicken tostaditos came in threes ($12). Each round tortilla chip was topped with a lovely mixture of spiced chicken, mango jam, toasted sesame and chipotle mayo. Each mouthful was piquant, sweet, salty and spicy – absolutely delicious. At this point in time, I was talking away, neglecting my food, and didn’t touch my first tostadito until much later. Amazingly, the tortilla chip remained hard, despite the density of all the ingredients piled on top. Nice.
We then went for one taco each. Priced between $6 to $7, each taco comes with interesting flavour combination, mixing both old world and modern ingredients together. I was bemused to see the absence of any plain beef options (the only beef option on the menu was the meatball one… yes, meatballs in addition to the fried tofu filling. In saying that, I did like the sound of the breakfast taco which had omelette, Eggmont cheese, beans, avocado and salsa in it.
I settled with the de pascado (fish) taco ($7). After eating fish tacos for the first time at Wahoo’s in Surfers Paradise – THE single worst thing I’ve ever had in my life – I wasn’t expecting much from this taco. However, I was impressed with Touché Hombre’s version. Gone were the frozen basa fillets and hello to crispy battered fresh whiting with pickled cucumbers, capers and shallots. As I did with my tostaditos, it did take me a while before I got around to eating it (I should either stop talking or eat faster, or both). However, the fish still remained beautifully crispy and the soft taco shell did not get soggy at all. Loved it.
Dave went for the de morcilla, an ambitious combination of blood pudding sausage, piquillo peppers, pico de gallo and soft egg aioli ($6.50). I was worried that the flavour dynamics would be way off, but Dave assured me that his taco was just fine. It was flavoursome and verging on rich, but thankfully the light pico de gallo (salsa) defused a bit of the richness coming from the sausage and the aioli. In fact, he said, it was better than anything Paco’s Tacos have made. So there.
Earlier on, Dave had been thinking of ordering a second taco but surprisingly it wasn’t necessary. Instead, we decided to order some ice cream ‘sangas’ which is pretty much all they have for dessert. That was fine with us, but what flavours to get? We couldn’t decide between the three that was available, so we chose a tasting plate that gave us all three for $18. We reckon that was pretty good value, given that each ice cream sandwich is $7.
From L-R: rice pudding & cinnamon, chocolate & chilli peanut cookie, and dulce de leche.
On paper, the chocolate and chilli peanut cookie sounded the most appealing and indeed it was delicious, without being overly rich. However, the one that actually stood out for me was the rice pudding and cinnamon one (below), the sanga that I would not have chosen if I could only select one.
The ‘bread’ was a biscuit (think chocolate ripple cakes) and the filling, a caramel parfait mixed with rice pudding and cinnamon sugar. It was beautiful. The parfait had a slight salty edge while the rice pudding created an interesting texture which made the whole thing a delight to eat.
Meanwhile, Dave loved the dulce de leche sanga, which was filled with strawberry parfait, pistachio and dulce de leche. I would have liked this one just as much as the rice pudding one, but for the way the strawberry parfait a lot like those strawberry wafers you get at Asian grocery stores – and I’m not a fan of that artificial strawberry taste.
What originally started off as a post-work nibbles and drinks session ended up being a dinner for we ended up getting ridiculously full. I guess you’d want to be if you were paying around $40 per head for little snacks and drinks. While that would be considered highway robbery in California and Texas, this is MELBOURNE (ah bloody Melbourne) and $40 is, unfortunately, pretty standard. Hell, given how crappy some of the other (similarly-priced) taquerías are, I think Touché Hombre are doing something right. While I won’t be quick to recommend this place for a cheap dinner, I can can certainly see myself coming back for nibbles and drinks after work or even a post-dinner dessert. I can see the Mexican wave dying down in the next year or so, but I can’t see Touché Hombre shutting down any time soon. Now that’s a reason for all of us to shout, ‘Cowabunga!’