Touche, Hombre

These are not my people. This is not my age group. This is not my door policy. I am in the foul grip of an early mid-life crisis, thanks to Touche Hombre's stealth mission to make anyone over the age of 30 feel in need of a seniors card and a night on the couch watching Taggart.

Where to begin? The name: plucked straight from the dead heart of hipsterville. The fitout: a frenetic splice of gangsta culture and a 1980s arcade, where aerosol-daubed walls meet a Ghostbusters neon light feature that would have cost a bomb on eBay. The music: loud, spilling into Lonsdale Street, where the entrance is guarded by a door bro taking names from the hopefuls who've dashed against the rocks of the no-bookings policy (NBP).

They're all part of the floorshow at this heaving new Mexican joint. For what is the NBP if not an apartheid system of haves and have-nots, one duty-bound to feel superior to the other?

It's not the fault of the staff, who look like they could fall into the too-cool-for-school ghetto but prove a chirpy lot with a healthy sideline in can-do-ism. Sure, they crouch at tables to take orders but to the eyes of an increasingly crabby 39-year-old they're disarmingly unstitched, if a little forgetful on the finer details. The meta-view is just as interesting: a Swedish waitress at a Mexican restaurant imitating downtown Los Angeleno culture in the centre of Melbourne. God bless the younger generation for its insouciant take on the global melting pot.

The food? It's not the best Mexican in Melbourne. It doesn't really trouble the Mamasita benchmark. But that is hardly the point. Some restaurants are more than the sum of their parts, and Touche Hombre is one of them, especially when your first beer arrives (sans glass, naturally - but you can ask for one, Grandad) and a phat (ahem) beat gets your pulse going that little bit faster.

Other affectations cunningly designed to separate the mutton from the lamb: food arriving on stainless-steel trays lined with paper, canteen-style (or should that be cantina-style?); miserly thin paper napkins that you need to wad up to deal with the myriad spillages of the typical handheld meal; a trio of commercial hot sauces poised to increase the voltage.

The menu is taco-centric, the flour tortillas brought in from Mexican bakehouse El Cielo. Spiced pork with apple, sage, pork rinds and habanero cream gets my tick. Battered gurnard with pickled cucumber, capers and shallot is good too. And the evening's mystery taco? Huitlacoche (corn truffle) with mushroom. Support players include lamb ribs, all earthy and sweet with cumin and honey. They're ridiculously fatty, ergo ridiculously tasty, and the meat slips off the bone if you hold them at a certain angle. Fried chicken with habanero mayo doesn't let the team down, either, with tasty seasoned batter and juicy meat, although the tostaditos (they're the little crunchy corn-chip discs laden with toppings) fight the mush factor thanks to the headlining crab meat being doused in mayo beyond the point of all recognition.

The ceviche of white fish (black bream, on this occasion) and mussels has cleaner flavours, its borderline aggressive acids soothed by guacamole. Tomatoes certainly weren't at their seasonal best but the corn chips came in handy for shovelling a dish that you don't have to think too hard about.

Touche Hombre strikes me as the kind of place you might spend longer standing in the queue than you do with your bum on a seat, although I can imagine fronting up early for a quick post-work bite and spilling out messily hours later. Just hypothesising, mind you. Us superannuated folk get our wind-up call when an impossibly gorgeous Asian girl sashays past in a mini-dress, her slouchy paramour looking proprietal and proud. Time to relinquish our coveted real estate and head home. The babysitter is waiting.

The vibe

The crowd: Young and ferociously hip.

Everybody's ordering: Tacos, tacos and tacos.

Noise: Big, bold, and you'd better like it that way.

Wine list: Short and to the point; the cocktails are more fun (there are 84 tequilas).

  • Touche Hombre, corner Lonsdale Street and Tattersalls Lane, city
  • 9663 0811
  • Licensed
  • Eftpos, Amex, MC, Visa
  • Entrees $6-$12
  • Mains (five DIY tacos) $25-$27
  • Desserts $7-$18.50 (trio)
  • Open Mon 5pm-11pm; Tues-Thurs noon-11pm; Fri and Sat noon-1am.
  • Weekdays 3pm-5pm - snacks only.

This story Touche, Hombre first appeared on The Sydney Morning Herald.