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For fried crickets, cactus plants and the Virgin Mary – head to El Topo

Bondi Junction’s El Topo is riding the taco revolution, which shows no signs of slowing. This isn’t your standard quesadilla joint, however. The unusual location, on the rooftop of The Eastern hotel, amongst the retail high rises of Bondi Junction’s Westfield complex, may be a deterrent for some but those put off probably aren’t El Topo’s target market, anyway.

There’s an indoor restaurant, which offers a colourful array of booth seating, plus there’s an outdoor terrace and bar

There’s an indoor restaurant, which offers a colourful array of booth seating, plus there’s an outdoor terrace and bar

There’s an indoor restaurant, which offers a colourful array of booth seating, plus there’s an outdoor terrace and bar. Hand-painted Oaxaca tiles make a colourful tabletop and glass sculls, imported from Mexico, are scattered around the space.

Like the location, the menu is unexpected. Rather than offering Tex-Mex or California-style fare, El Topo prides itself on serving dishes that are authentically Mexican. For the brave, there’s fried crickets and unusual accompaniments like jicama fruit and cactus. The chipotle chile prawns are not for the feint hearted, either; they’ve got a rich and layered heat, and they’re served whole (head, tail and shell). Just like you’d get in Mexico.

Soft shell tacos

“Taco de cerdo” – guallio chile pork, roast pineapple, lettuce and coriander

The tacos are soft-shell, not hard, and the mushroom quesadilla is filled with ingredients like Mexican truffle, salsa verde and queso oaxagueno (a white, semi hard chese from Mexico). It’s not overloaded with cheap fillers and it doesn’t ooze cheesy oil when you pick it up.

Homemade mango, strawberry and coconut paddlepops

Homemade mango, strawberry and coconut paddlepops

The mandate for authenticity comes from head Chef Matthew Fitzgerald. While his resume doesn’t list a host of Mexican joints, he has earned his stripes at reputable establishments including Bathers’ Pavilion and Bentley Restaurant and Bar in Sydney, and Oxo Tower and Fig Bistro in London.

El Topo is constantly buzzing with a cool Hispanic vibe, but on Thursday nights the volume is amplified; they’ve got the dinner and the party combination down pat. If only every night was late night shopping.

Anna Lisle

Read more about El Topo here

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A lovely surprise on Cleveland Street, The Norfolk Hotel

The Norfolk Hotel doesn’t appear to have a lot going for it. For one, Cleveland Street isn’t exactly a sought after location. And for two, the pub’s exterior makes one assume that there could be nothing more than a drab old pub inside. And their website doesn’t help, either. But, if you block out the traffic screeching by outside and ignore the pub’s exterior, The Norfolk might just surprise you.

The hotel’s interior is bipartite. The front area reminds me of my local country pub back with magazine covers of topless girls scattered around the pub’s walls. Sporting paraphernalia features too, just like back home, with black and white footy photos and Australian flags hanging from the ceiling.

Perfect for sunny days and balmy nights, The Norfolk’s backyard beer garden

Walking out the back, The Norfolk changes its stripes. Pretty lights hidden in the trees create a magical and mystical atmosphere in the backyard beer garden while a more formal dining room, with mellow, seductive music, exists just inside. The almost-solemn mood that exists in the front bar transforms into an upbeat, hip haven, perfect for those Surry Hills’ trendsetters.

The menu travels across the globe with Spanish, Mexican, American and Aussie pub grub. The chilli fries with chilli mince, Jalapenos and nacho cheese are the perfect beer food and mains like Asian salmon salad, please the calorie-counting crowd. While not as cheap as your local Thai takeaway, The Norfolk does offer some wallet pleasing deals like $3 tacos on Tuesdays.

Anna Lisle

The Norfolk on Urbanspoon

Read more about The Norfolk Hotel here

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Filed under Reviews, Surry Hills, The Norfolk Hotel