La Condesa didn't so much open as gradually unfurl. First there was the taqueria - a single window slinging simple-but-excellent tacos and horchata. Then in April, the dining room opened, but a lack of confidence on the floor and a slightly overambitious cocktail menu meant things didn’t take off with a bang. Now, all that’s changed. Seemingly omnipotent bartender Paul Ramsay (Little Blood, Lee Ho Fook), has finally planted roots at Fitzroy’s newest Mexican joint, bringing all his hospo smarts and tequila know-how. There’s a sharper, simpler food menu to boot.
Those tacos, in your typical fish-and-'slaw, pork-and-pickled onion combinations are winners all, and just $12 for three. But we’re excited for the less common gear. A silver bucket of wings – currently all the rage in Mexico City – come in the whole or half dozen, wrapped in a sweet, spicy, crunchy batter of rice flour, chipotle and agave syrup, with a cooling dipper of cucumber and mint yoghurt. Or there are chilaquiles, a plate of tortilla chips shallow fried in salsa verde and layered up with queso fresco – that crumbly white cheese – and squiggles of crème fraîche so it’s a little like a plate of squishy nachos.
We’re also cheering for aguachiles that haven’t been de-spiced or salt-reduced for Melbourne palates. The chilled jar of raw tiger prawns, avocado and tomato is almost painfully acidic and saline with lime, salt and lots of fresh chilli – the way it should be. Scoop onto a tortilla and embrace the pain.
It’s all great drinking food, which is good news given the excellent drinks. Who knew banana syrup (literally a banana whizzed with sugar syrup) and smoky mescal lifted with lemon was a thing? Paul Ramsay did. He’s also uniting tequila with rhubarb shrub, Aperol, bitters, and egg white with a dash of bubbles for a fizzy, fluffy, pink drink with serious savoury bite.
He'll also make your Pacifico or Dos Equis beer a michelada (that’s with lime and spicy tomato juice) for just an extra buck. Or how about a measure of Cazadores tequila infused with jalapeño and pineapple? Ramsay has it on tap, and serves it chilled and neat.
You could really just come for drinks and the crisp, fat quesadilla of mozzarella and chorizo mince that leaks orange oil down your arms. It’s all soft lights and Mexican hip hop with sharp, blocky comic strip-style murals covering the walls. A scattering of tables crowds around a bright, backlit bar packed with bottles of Calle 23, Don Julio and Tromba tequilas. The taqueria is still running too, where you can swing by for a fistful of tacos and a drink from the Cocktail Kombi van on the weekends, then move indoors for horchata ice cream tacos and a nightcap.
La Condesa may have been a slow starter, but she’s a keeper.