A splendid bowl of rum coconut sherbet makes for an introductory proposition to your inner Creole spirit.
Southbank has long been dominated by bleary-eyed clubbers and light-fingered gamblers, spotted with a handful of extrovertedly over-priced glitzy restaurants catering for those who had the requisite bling-bling and deep pockets to frequent Crown Casino’s Mahogany Room. That shadow still lingers, but a wave of more refined sophistication increasingly laps at the Yarra River’s southern banks. In this precinct better known for finer dining, a flurry of print and online media has touted the recent arrival of an all-day eatery with a more casual mindset. Carved into a corner of Melbourne Southbank’s Recital Centre, My Mexican Cousin is bereft of any themed decor alluding to its culinary focus. Instead, it has a steel and glass veneer that runs along Melbourne’s de rigeur brooding dark lines and industrial architecture. Suspended on high-tensile wires, black column pendants make a vertiginous drop from dramatic high ceilings. Electric light glimmers from its laser cut holes, highlighting a somewhat ugly ceiling of an exposed pipe network. Sound issues are pre-emptively addressed by the use of chilli-red carpeting and old-school heavy timber furnishings arranged in a L-shaped mass vaguely reminiscent of the shape of the South American continent including the Mexican/Panama isthmus. Tinted coloured glass fuse along a windowed frontage that spills out onto the footpath with a coffee canteen stop.
MoMo & Coco visited for a weekend brunch. Although My Mexican Cousin declared itself as influenced by the culinary cornucopia that is Creole cuisine — for our readers’ edification, a mulatto mesh of Latin American, Carribean, African, colonial Spanish and French accents — its brunch menu featured little of this influence, listing eight options commonly found on the brunch menus of many a Melbourne cafe. For sweet-tooths on the quest for sweet breakfasts, there were no sweet breakfasts available. Instead therefore, one would be perusing the keenly-priced “shared plates” menu, also available at brunch hour, and till the night. From the brunch menu, our dining party ordered the eponymous My Mexican Cousin ($14.50), a reliable stalwart also found at this cafe’s older sibling, St Ali — a tower of poached eggs atop corn fritters girthed by a moat of spinach. MoMo & Coco would (most impertinently) add that a more evocative Creole statement could have been easily sketched by replacing the corn fritters for a rendition of Louisiana crab cakes. From the “shared plates” menu, we selected the much-noted Po’boy ($7 half/ $14 whole), four prawns engulfed in a delectable spiced cornmeal crumb, squished into a baguette. Notwithstanding an offending, almost-rotting, limp lettuce leaf, it was a snacky nibble that mostly lived up to its hype. Additionally reflective of an increasing love for a type of stomach-patting macho food that struts a counter-parallel to pervasive high-falutin whimsy small-plates, the curiously-named Boudin Chicken Drumsticks ($4 each) followed — if our university-level French is not inaccurate, “boudin” is a pork sausage and “sauce chien” literally translates to “dog sauce.” Not being people adventuring outside the ordinary poultry/beef/fish box, thankfully neither component featured. Strange labelling aside, it was finger-lickingly good. By contrast, the Home-made Spanish Sausage ($10) while solid, was not particularly audacious and so did little to recommend itself to our memory.
Fast forward, one may sweeten brunch/lunch with four options. Bypassing a fig tarte tatin ($10) because ubiquitous tarts like mere ice-cream should never feature in any discerning restaurant, MoMo & Coco consumed the other three desserts. The first of the trilogy sampled was the “Individual Warm Five Spice Pineapple Cake, Guava Mint Salad” ($9.50). MoMo & Coco do not depart from our blog philosophy lightly, so it pains us greatly to narrate the misfortunes of this sweet irresistible. The spiced tones were hushed, its texture erred toward dryness. A scrabble of fan-cut, partly-caramelised pineapple sat on top. It could have been mistaken for canned fruit. An ice-cream dollop seemed superfluous. A clear case of misleading advertisement, it was served not warm but fridge cold, and as depicted in the photo below, its guava mint salad was of elusive presence. It was a woefully careless slab of a “dessert,” its only saving grace being the beautiful moulded stoneware on which it was presented.
Some momentum was regained with the second irresistible, the “Spiced Soft Bitter Chocolate Gateau, Macadamia Caramel” ($12), but once again, it greatly pains MoMo & Coco to say a eulogy for this tombstone-cold slab. It was ideally moist, but this could be attributed to barely-out-of-the-fridge condensation precipitating in the day’s warm weather. The gateau accentuated a Milo flavour rather than chocolate per se, and was trisected by two fissures filled with a velvety dark chocolate that yielded a lovely albeit rather subtle spiced flavour. The claimed macadamia caramel was rather more existential than in existence, a golden apparition that laid on the plate. MoMo & Coco were so tempted to slice up this cake-slab and its predecessor cake-slab, alternatively layer the pineapple cake, spiced chocolate icing, chocolate cake, repeat process, to form a terrine-like layered cake, drizzle with the Creole delicacy of pecan praline (not “macadamia caramel”) and serve as warm as the Caribbean sun. This rendition, as inspired as we are by the traditional Louisiana-Creole Doberge Cake (of which we have particularly fond memories when we were last in that area), would arguably, have been a dessert more worthy of My Mexican Cousin’s arts/drama setting and of the industry luminaries behind the venue.
Notwithstanding two of the most disappointing dessert creations sampled in a lifetime of being sweet-tooths, MoMo & Coco’s experience at My Mexican Cousin was mostly saved by the third irresistible, the “White Rum & Coconut Sherbet with Popcorn Crumble” ($11). An interpretation of a Cajun summer favourite of fruity and boozy ices, here a generous mound of well-flavoured white rum and coconut sherbet beheld a slightly creamier texture than is characteristic of sorbet. Its shroud of a delicately-processed popcorn crumble administered a soul-awakening jolt of simple childhood joy and fun. A fiesta of sweetness, zesty-ness, crackle and pop. Most deliciously refreshing and delightful.
On MoMo & Coco’s visit, service was welcoming and friendly, though the conjunction “but” once again intrudes. Firstly, service was not entirely seamless — it seemed like the front cafe worked at a different (and faster) pace to the wait staff/kitchen staff, and separately too. On a busy weekend morning, a single patrolling wait staff seemed insufficient. A smaller matter, we also rather not hear, nor see, a rather grouchy chef calling “service please” over and over and over and over…
With all our reviews in this journal-blog, MoMo & Coco have used our travel and other experiences as a benchmark. It is important for our readers to note that with the exception of having sipped Caribbean-esque cocktails, studied its historical/political intrigues, and snuggled with tales by J. Ribeiro, G. Marquez, C. Zafon, and I. Allende etc, MoMo & Coco have neither set foot on the South American continent nor herald from that culture. Hence, we have negligible exposure to that region and its cuisine, and therefore are unable to comment on the authenticity of such offerings in Melbourne. Notwithstanding this qualification, My Mexican Cousin is undoubtedly an inspired adventure that infuses more fun and life into Melbourne’s cafe/casual-dining scene. Unfortunately however, it is riddled with internal inconsistencies — blessed by a fiesta of well-priced, mostly wholesome, sometimes mis-labelled, interesting Creole-inspired “share plates,” but thwarted in its overall mission by tokenistic sweet endings executed by chefs whom seemed to have wandered off into a siesta. Indeed, far more care seems to have been invested into the selection of highly-covetable moulded ceramics than the dessert themselves. It’s a pity that but for the promise of its swarthy savouries and its innovative concept, that My Mexican Cousin is a mere introductory proposition into the cuisine of the New World rather than a consistent iteration at its finest. MoMo & Coco would love to see better considered desserts that more faithfully showcase a claimed Creole/Southern culinary focus (eg King cake, Doberge cake, Banana Foster, Bourbon pecan pie, pecan pralines). Hence, for the time that it takes My Mexican Cousin to awake from its siesta, other nearby, albeit more formally-set, Southbank restaurants beckon to MoMo & Coco more strongly, our reliable favourites being Maze, Rockpool/The Waiting Room and Persimmon. We would however, return for that Rum-Coconut-Sherbet… hmmmmm irresistible….
Dessert adventure checklist
- ☑ Dessert destination: My Mexican Cousin Cafe, Corner of Sturt and Southbank Boulevard, Southbank, Vic 3066.
- ☑ Budget: $$.
- ☑ Sweet irresistibles: Restaurant dessert. Neo-classical Creole-inspired.
- ☑ Must-eat: Gingerbread house.
- ☑ The short and sweet story: A splendid bowl of rum coconut sherbet makes for an introductory proposition to your inner Creole spirit.