Tucked away down Gilbert Place, next to the raucous Hains & Co is where you’ll find KUA Mexican Bar and Bistro, owned by Ivan and Sonia Pichardo of Maiz & Mezcal. Furbished with sleek wooden floorboards, symmetrical tables and a colour palette of red and black, this new restaurant has the makings of a fine dining establishment. The innovative, contemporary Mexican dishes on the menu follow through with this silver service expectation, however the prices average around $30 a main, a fraction of the price of fine dining.
It wasn’t long after the immaculately dressed venue manager Francisco had seated us that the first appetiser came out. Snapper Ceviche, marinated in coconut milk for five hours, dressed with lime and spring onion, served with blue corn amaranth and chia tostada was served first. This dish was absolutely divine, with the tart citrus taste washing our palettes first, followed by a soft aftertaste of fresh snapper and creamy coconut.
Panqué de Elote redefined what we thought of as cornbread, presented beautifully as two little cakes topped with chives cream and fried corn silk for texture. Everything about this dish simply melted in your mouth. From the buttery cornbread with juicy corn kernels inside, to the bed of shredded haloumi melting so slightly, this dish was a real winner.
Grilled Octopus is something you’ll see fairly often on a restaurant menu, however it’s rarely done right. Rather than simply plating some BBQed octopus on a salad, KUA served two large tentacles alongside potato terrine presented with dollops of chilli mayonnaise and dill mayonnaise. The octopus was soft and tender on the inside, with just a slight chargrilling on the outside to give it some smoky flavour and texture.
Pork belly is another 21st century restaurant staple, but we’ve never had it served like this. Ponzole presents the seared pork belly, complete with just a tiny bit of crackling, and adds a whole lot of fresh elements. Hominy purée, avocado cream and fried kale all sit on this plate, and pickled radish tops the pork. By adding this freshness it transformed the dish from a solid, heavy meat focus into a dynamic main course.
As a digestif, Francisco recommended Ancho Reyes Chile Liqueur, a chilli liqueur with an abrupt wave of heat that cools down almost as quickly as it comes on, leaving you with a pleasant, sweet aftertaste. This is the drink you want to be sipping on a cold winter’s night, as it’ll warm you up faster than a log fireplace.
A dessert called Smash Avocado certainly piqued our interest. Francisco explained that the origin of the dish came from head chef Ricardo Ramirez noticing Australia’s obsession with avocado. The theatre of this dessert is enough reason alone to order it, with the avocado ice cream and almond crumble coming out under a glass filled with burnt rosemary and hickory smoke. Once the glass is removed, the smoke essence has truly been absorbed by the creamy ice cream and crumble, and each mouthful is an explosion of fresh, sweet and smoky flavours. The rosemary flavoured grapefruit slices on the side add a zesty kick to the ice cream, a fun little pairing indeed.
Heading upstairs, there is a small bar leading out onto a rooftop twinkling with strings of lights. On weekends a DJ plays music on the roof, however the magical space can also be hired out for private events and functions.
Our entire experience at KUA was truly something special, from the attentive service, to the unique dishes and the sleek decor. You can be sure to see us returning for more very soon, and spending many late nights nibbling on the Smash Avocado and sipping on spicy Ancho Reyes.