Brazil, Argentina, Chile and Mexico. Ecuador, Venezuela, Colombia, and Peru. Big El’s Latin American Fusion is one of the newest eateries to pop up in Northbridge, bringing to Perth some much needed Mexican and South American food. Headed by stockbroker-turned-restauranteur Logam, Big El’s presents a menu of modern dishes from the far south, bringing together flavours and techniques from different parts of Latin America. Belinda from Why Yes I do Eat Constantly and myself went one night for dinner, which turned out to be a pretty substantial feast.
Upon walking in, the first thing that caught my eye was the wacky interior decor. There was no avoiding the freaky paintings on the walls seemingly inspired by the mexican Día de los Muertos, but the most obscure thing of all was the plethora of coloured milk crates fastened to the roof. With no off-the-shelf solution for quenching his unusual architectural thirst, Logam explained that he had the crates custom made for his restaurant.
While we waited for our food to be prepared, Logam brought us each one of the cocktails on the menu. The Genie, Aladdin’s Genie is a mix of Absinth and Alize, served in a piece of glassware that looks like it belongs next to the Erlenmeyer flask in a chemistry lab. Although I am not much a fan of Absinth, I thought it was a nice and well-balanced drink. If you are looking for a traditional Martini, or perhaps a Tom Collins, this may not be the cocktail menu that you are after. In saying that, though, there is a reasonably well-stocked bar at the entrance of the establishment, so I’d assume they can conjure up something a little more ordinary on request.
As we sat and chatted, we were brought a bunch of dishes to try, one after another. The Tequila prawns were delicious and, as I had hoped, were not at all overpowered by the distinctive taste of Tequila. They were succulent and made for a great introduction to the food yet to come.
It was time for a drink refill, so we were brought something with a deep purple colour, standing in a tall glass and topped with some kind of foam – the Expecto Patronum. Some people might go crazy for a drink like this, but a sweet and heavy ice-cream cocktail for me is a dinner time no-no. Maybe as a standalone dessert I could understand, but next time I will be reaching for the beer and wine menu instead, and selecting one of the South American beverages on offer.
Plate after plate was slowly brought to the table, each with a unique combination of flavours and textures. There were some lighter dishes, like the Peruvian ceviche and tiradito – two very similar dishes where fresh sashimi-grade fish is the star. Unlike a ceviche, where the fish is cured in a citrus dressing, a tiradito typically involves just dressing the raw fish and serving immediately.
Then there were some heavier dishes. Elote, or corn on the cob, is popular in Mexico. They are often grilled or boiled and served with condiments such as salt, spices, butter, lime or cheese. Callejero is the Spanish adjective describing something from the streets, so it doesn’t require much of a leap of faith to understand that elotes callejeros refers to corn on a cob, “street food” style. Big El’s elotes were great – sweet, succulent and juicy, and packed with some great spicy flavours. I would not hesitate to order these again. We were also served a bunch of meat dishes, including lamb cutlets, which were cooked absolutely perfectly, and some pork ribs, which is where we put down our knives and forks and got our hands messy.
It wouldn’t be a Latin American feast without what is probably the most well-known of the Latin American foods – the taco. Big El’s make their own soft taco shells and offer a range of fillings, including pulled pork, beef and fish (there is even a vegan variant). They were quite spicy, yet still enjoyable (although there wasn’t full agreement at the table on this point).
There was also some Brazilian thrown into the mix, in the form of coxinhas. These bite-sized morsels (maybe a little bigger than the ordinary sized bite) consist of chicken meat wrapped in a dough and then deep fried. Their slightly irregular shape is supposed to resemble a chicken thigh, with the word coxinha derived from the Portuguese word meaning chicken thigh. I found the stuffing a little doughy for my liking, but the flavours were nice, and I will certainly be on the lookout for these next time I am somewhere that serves South American fare.
There were a lot of dishes brought out for just two people, so we were just about on the verge of exploding. But to the question “Would you like some dessert?”, there is only one valid answer: “Yes!”. The dessert menu is rather small at Big El’s, so it wasn’t too hard to decide which to go for. We were in mutual agreement and decided to have the chimichanga. A chimichanga is a deep fried burrito, normally stuffed with rice, cheese, chicken and other condiments. This was a slightly non-conventional version, though. Instead of the cheese and chicken, this chimichanga was stuffed with chocolate bars (we were made to choose between a few), which melted and oozed out as we cut it in half. If that wasn’t decadent enough, it was served with ice cream, caramelised popcorn and caramelised coconut. It was rich and enjoyable, but I’m glad we chose to share one serving!
Finally, many calories later, it was time to stop eating. I enjoyed most of the food, and I loved listening to Logam’s passion as he explained the background context to some of his dishes. He serves some familiar dishes, and some dishes that are totally unique, like his Vietnamese-inspired Achiote Carnitas Banh Mi Thit (which, when searched in Google, brings up results all pointing to Big El’s – that shows you how inventive it really is). Big El’s by no means has a philosophy of sticking to tradition, but the food is tasty and the atmosphere is fun.