16 Mar El Sabor by El Cielo, North Melbourne
El Cielo (“the heaven”) has combined with North Melbourne’s El Sabor (“the taste”) bringing Mexican street food and home style flavours to the table. Executive chef Israel Meza (ex-Honkytonks, ACT) was born in Mexico city, and has previously served as head chef of the Mexican Embassy in Canberra. Also in the kitchen is head chef Luz Meza, who has worked with chefs like Enrique Olivera, Daniel Ovadia, and Edgar Nunez.
There are plenty of Mexican spirits in the cocktail recipes, particularly mezcal. Made from different varieties of agave than those used for tequila, mezcal is commonly aged in oak, and when taken straight, typically enjoyed with sal de gusano – ‘worm salt’ with chilli and lime. We try both the more tart and refreshing Kook Hombre cocktail (Zignum mezcal, cucumber, lime, agave nectar, tajin, and lime) and the more fruity Mariachi (Mezcal, pineapple, jalapeno, orange, lime and agave), which carries the slight kick from the jalapeno in the aftertaste.
There’s so much variety it’s difficult to choose what to order. After much deliberation we finally settle on our dishes, and they all arrive rather quickly to the table. Pollo pibil tacos contain shredded chicken that has been marinated in orange-lime juice and Achiote, and also bright pink pickled red onion. As indicated by the chilli icons on the menu, the chicken is spicy, though a bit dry.
We also have the Carnitas tacos, which have Michoacan-style slow cooked pork belly, coriander, onion and guacamole. Our favoured taco of the two we try today, the dark-coloured pork is juicy and tasty.
The Beef Sopes are small, thick corn tortillas topped with refried beans, beef, lettuce, cheese, cream. The tortillas are rigid enough to pick up and eat with our hands, and the topping is full of rich, beefy flavour that’s broken up by the fresher ingredients. It’s my favourite dish from tonight.
Not the most photogenic, but definitely not lacking in punch in the flavour department, are the chicken mole enchiladas topped with cream and fresh, slightly tangy, fresh white cheese. The tortillas come folded over shredded chicken and are covered in a dark, spice-laden mole. Unlike curry, mole is made with a great range ingredients such as nuts, vegetables, chillis and spices, rather than a mix predominantly containing herbs and spices. We find the flavours of the mole to be interesting, complex and tasty, though the spice averse might find it overwhelming. Don’t be too worried about the abundance of mole. The dish also comes with rice and beans to temper it.
The Tamales, fresh steamed corn masa pockets, are filled with chicken mole, and come already unwrapped. A mistake on our part for ordering a second chicken and red mole dish (food blogger fail), but it’s still comforting, and easy to eat.
We finish with some sweets. The Burnt Flan is made from eggs, milk, and cream cheese, and has been soaked in caramel, then infused with coffee. The texture is smooth, though it’s a bit too sweet for my taste. A less commonly found dessert is the Corn Cake (pastel de elote), which comes with ice cream and Cajeta, a thick caramel sauce made from goat’s milk. Its texture is dense and smooth rather than having a crumbly consistency, and I love the subtle caramel flavour running through the cake.
It was quite the adventure to explore the world of Mexican cuisine with dishes different from the norm, particularly the mole. For those interested, El Sabor also has a mole degustation that features three different mole. Something I’d be keen to try on return.
Disclaimer: I was invited to dine at El Sabor as a guest, however, opinions expressed here are purely my own and not influenced by them in any way.
500 Victoria Street
North Melbourne, VIC, 3051
(03) 9329 9477