The idea behind Panama House is an easy sell: beach views, a South American menu made for a hot climate, local produce, cocktails that take inspiration from the classics. Previously located on Bondi Road, the popular eatery has reopened on Campbell Parade, across the road from the beach, in a smart new space designed by Bondi dweller Jason Grant.
The menu is casual and good for sharing. Begin with snacks like tacos, including mushroom and goat curd (3 for $15) or kangaroo and capsicum (3 for $18) —although they are not available on Sundays. Plantain chifles ($12) are a bit salty and potato chip like, though an accompanying pico de gallo brings the kind of crisp, simple flavours you want.
Better is the Relleno ($21), a deep coloured bullhorn chilli pepper scattered with micro herbs and edible flowers, and stuffed with black Veracruz beans and red quinoa. It's both delicate and hearty and complemented by a thick, rustic salsa pasilla.
One of the guiding principles here is bringing Latin and Creole flavours to quality Australian produce. A Clarence River Octopus ($19) sitting on a bed of corn and salsa verde fits this approach neatly, though another element of smoke or spice would really kick it up a notch.
Elsewhere on the menu, freshly shucked oysters ($5 each) come with a mezcal mignonette. Anyone who loves this smoky Mexican spirit will enjoy this flavour combination.
The selection of wines span Australia and South America and the cocktail list is uniformly interesting. The bourbon-based Big Kiss Goodnight ($18) is particularly novel, its unusual pale hue — given to it by activated charcoal — is similar to the light grey of an early evening. It combines chamomile-infused Maker's Mark, with lemon and a lick of citrus from the Spanish Licor 43
The PH Margarita ($20) is another winner, with citric notes and a Turkish Delight-tint, while Rest Easy ($20) is subtle and finely balanced, with vodka, Grapefruit and Lillet Blanc.
The menu doesn't list any desserts, but there are specials such as the lemon tart, with a brûlée-like glaze and crumbly base paired with a dollop of cinnamon cream.
The menu's southern accents run into the brunch offering, too. There's the Mexican-inflected huevos rancheros ($18) — tortillas topped with scrambled egg and guac — and the gumbo omelette ($20) with prawns, beans and habanero cornbread.
Full-length windows and a balcony opening onto Bondi Beach make for a blustery room (well, on this occasion at least), but on a more seasonal summer night, the view of the palm trees and ocean would make for a very appealing location. Throw in quick, friendly service and you've got a successful transplant with some fresh ideas.
Images: Richard Mortimer and Fiora Sacco