Review: Maldito Mendez, Ponsonby

By Carroll du Chateau

Address: 4 Brown St, Ponsonby
Phone: 09 378 9107
Rating out of 10: Food: 5, Service: 4, Value: 5, Ambience: 7

The Fish Tacos as served at Maldito Mendez, Ponsonby. Photo / Chris Gorman
The Fish Tacos as served at Maldito Mendez, Ponsonby. Photo / Chris Gorman

We'd heard plenty about Ponsonby Central and its semi-pop-up eating complex, so when an opportunity to review Maldito Mendez appeared we were enthusiastic - the fish tacos especially came highly recommended.

Maltido Mendez serves South American/Latin food that, for my palate, is hotter, yet less spicy than the Mexican food I first discovered in California, then more recently at Mexico restaurant in Britomart. Prices are low until you start to add them up at the end (more on this later) and the atmosphere is fun and excitable.

When we arrived at 7pm the place was already pumping with Ponsonby regulars in search of the cheap and cheerful. But most were only in for a snack and table turnover was fast.

Within minutes we were ushered inside to a four-seater with a good view of both the outside eating area and the kitchen - or should I call it the cooking alcove?

But you have to remember that Maldito Mendez' last home was a truck.

I'd been warned this is not haute cuisine, but having said that, we were not prepared for the sight of the "chef" expertly opening small, supermarket-sized cans of refried beans.

The menu is short so we decided to try all four entrees, which meant a plate each of coconut-coated prawns, watermelon and tomatillo salad and slaw salad, glugged down with a margarita for me, juice for Ollie and wine for the others.

A couple of things stood out for varying reasons: there were three coconut prawns between four when we would have willingly paid for one extra so all could share; my margarita wasn't in the same class as the version served at Mexico - no salt, slightly bitter, I soon moved on to wine. The highlight was the watermelon salad, with its sprinkling of feta: crisp and creamy at the same time. The coconut prawns, on the other hand, were slightly dry and the slaw salad sadly predictable.

At this point the service started to slow, faltered then almost petered out. We waited 35 minutes for Barb's tacos and my beef mulita while Brian, the hungriest of all, was forced to wait a further 10 minutes for his glazed pork belly. When it arrived he fell on it with joy, took a large mouthful, then spluttered to a stop. "I can't eat this," he said, tears rolling down his face as he forced himself to swallow the chilli-laden glaze. I happily swapped it for my beef, which had been cooked and pulled into tasteless strings. The pork turned out to be the hottest dish I've ever eaten - and there was not a mention of chilli on the menu description. Meanwhile Oliver's fish tacos and Barb's vegetarian, which were half the price of the pork, were definitely passable: not as good as the tacos at Mexico, but okay.

Now we faced another interminable wait for our desserts, possibly because I ordered the one dairy free option: summer fruits poached with spices. It's a new item, a waiter told us - and darned good it was too: the fruit was served warm and poached to perfection. Highly recommended. Barb was well-pleased with her flan and Brian with his chocolate mousse. Only Ollie was dejected. His huge doughnut, though filled with cream, was dry and dull. By then we were ready to leave but couldn't catch either of our waiters' eyes. Only later, when we got up did someone explain that they don't bring accounts.

Diners simply walk up to the cashier cafe style, check the bill he hands you, pay and leave.

Maldito Mendez is a peculiarly different establishment. Some dishes are presented on decent table-wear, others arrive on paper plates. Knives and forks are sometimes laid out, sometimes presented in bundles. The food is only passable.

Service is slapdash, possibly because both our waiters had started a couple of nights before. They didn't seem to have a clue about what dishes they were handing us. Surely even a newbie can identify a fish taco? It's a shame they can't get better help. Indeed, the only seriously efficient person we struck that night was the well spoken young Englishman who took our money.

So what did it cost for three courses, two margaritas, three glasses of wine, a fruit juice and a ginger beer? A whopping $250 for four, which is on a par with equally eccentric but seriously better restaurants like Sunday Painters.

I know where I'd rather go.

Our meal: $250 for four entrees, two taco plates, beef mulita, glazed pork belly and four desserts, plus two margaritas ($16 each), three glasses of wine, a fruit juice and a bottle of ginger beer.

Wine list: Relatively good, with an interesting selection of cocktails too.
Verdict: Fun for a quick and casual bite on the way home from work, but less appealing for a relaxing night out.

- NZ Herald

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