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El Topo

With atmosphere aplenty, character-filled food and an authentic tequila fort, El Topo comes highly recommended.
By Prudence McKendry
December 03, 2012
By Prudence McKendry
December 03, 2012

A massive overhaul of the Eastern Hotel in Bondi Junction has left the top floor almost unrecognisable (and thankfully so). Take the elevator to El Topo and a chilled Mexican fiesta awaits you.

This newly minted venue sucks you in immediately with its cheery commitment to theme. Every detail from the fluoro colour palette, Day of the Dead murals and specially imported hand painted tiles pay tribute to the Oaxaca region of Mexico. You'll even see punters order their drinks from the bar with a life-sized version of the Virgin Mary over looking them.

The venue is loosely divided into a casual dining restaurant and outside bar space. Both are tempting destinations.

The bar menu boasts over one hundred tequilas but don't expect a side of lime and salt. These tequilas have been carefully selected to be savoured like a beautiful barrel-aged whisky. A good place to start is with Sotol ($10 to $20). A relatively unknown liquor in Australia, it's light enough to sip and with enough kick to shot. Keep your ears open for the launch of Flight Fridays; a tequila master class for $30.

The cocktail list is significantly shorter but still puts a large emphasis on tradition. El Topo's version of a standard margarita ($14 to $15) is like a barista coffee compared to Gloria Jeans. On Sundays, after a long day at the beach or to escape the neighbouring Westfield, share a $10 jug of Agua Fresca's with house tequila and vodka with mates.

At the restaurant don't let the placemat menus confuse you. El Topo makes serious food, seriously fun. With stints at Bathers' Pavilion and Bentley Restaurant and Bar behind him, chef Mathew Fitzgerald has applied his fining dining approach to modern Oaxaca cuisine. Freshly made tortilla chips and gourmet tacos sit comfortably alongside dishes like Mexican truffle quesadilla ($14) and lamb rump with mulato chile adobo, walnut and pinto bean ($25). Try the unknown on the menu with confidence. Like the chapulines ($6) – roast crickets with chile, garlic and lime; they're not pretty to look at but surprisingly moreish.

The restaurant maintains the same upbeat vibe as the bar thanks to the large share table in the middle and raw wooden booths on the sides. The menu is designed to share, so it's a great place to come in a group. A rough guide to go by is two tacos per person but you could tempt yourself into the third, they're that good. There's a choice for everyone but the blood sausage or braised beef tacos ($6 each) are standouts. But by all means don't limit yourself to the tacos when there are other solid options.

There are talks of live DJs every Saturday and Flight Fridays to come. We're anticipating this will really get the fiesta pumping. With atmosphere aplenty, character-filled food and an authentic tequila fort, El Topo comes highly recommended.

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