Executive chef Peter Varvaressos has an uncanny instinct for what Sydneysiders want; from $3 taco Tuesday, slider Monday and a gluten free menu to Contrabando’s approachable wine list, attractive bevvy of wait staff and buzzing vibe. He’s nailed it. You know why I know this? Three words: derrières on pews or rather, bums on seats. From lunch through to dinner, Contrabando is almost a full house and this is by no-means an easy feat given the current hospitality climate but also taking into account the size of the restaurant with space for 130 guests.
The menu is built around a few familiar Mexican signposts like ceviche and taqueria however, “the munchies” and “a little something on the side” garner much of my attention. Wedges of hot suckling pig quesadilla, come with a coriander salsa verde, adding a dash of freshness to an otherwise rich and potentially oily dish. Char grilled corn tastes like it does in Mexico, with gratings of queso (cheese) and a sharp chipotle mayo, however it is slices of richly marbled ocean trout that force me to put my fork down. The perfectly cured ceviche, has a hint of a cinnamon-like sweetness that is perfected contrasted by a slither of a mild jalapeno and a drizzle of the same coriander salsa verde as the quesadilla. While the menu has foundations in Mexican fare, Chef Varvaressos surpasses any deeply rooted traditionalist notions, in a good way. Local ingredients, such as Hawkesbury calamari, are teamed up with a fragrant quinoa salad while paleo-friendly sweet potato fries are served with chipotle aioli.