This time spruiking the vital spirit and snack-nificence of Mexico; specifically of Guadalajara, Oaxaca, Mexico City, and jungle-beach hotspot, Tulum.
Executive chef James Gibson has written a fun, fresh, spicy menu that combines seasonal local produce with unusual and hard-to-find ingredients from both Australia and Mexico. It’s fresh fish tacos, it’s chilaquiles, it’s frozen mango Margs, and it’s one heck of a fiesta; here’s what to order when you step on board chef Gibson’s floating fiesta.
How about a drink? What’s the best pairing for this spectacular Yarra view?
A glass of the 2022 Chalmers falanghina from Heathcote; probably my favourite white wine from the list that I’ve tried so far (and I’ve tried most).
What captures the essence of what you’re cooking at the Arbory Afloat?
This year’s menu celebrates the bold and complex flavours Mexico is known for. We’ve worked really hard to recreate the depth of flavour we experienced in Mexico. So while the tacos and wood-fired pizzas will no doubt be a crowd favourite, the dishes I’m most proud of likely won’t be the most popular. These are different, they’re adventurous and a perhaps a little less familiar.
One of which is our take on jocoque: a traditional, cultured buttermilk dip that we’re serving with salsa macha and totopos. It’s very light and fresh and has a good kick to it.
What’s your favourite part of the venue? Where’s the best seat in the house, and how does it feel to dine overlooking the mighty Yarra?
Table 82. It’s a 10-seat banquet table on the southern edge of the venue. Somehow it creates a sense of seclusion while still being in the thick of it. There are great views of the Yarra and easy access to the bar (very important).
As for the rest of the venue, there’s a lot to explore. Both the upper and lower decks have been transformed. There are two new Tulum-inspired bars, and in the coming weeks, we’ll also be revealing a brand new pool area with its own agave bar, poolside beds and double day beds, along with a standalone taco hut that will serve al pastor tacos hot off the spit.
What would you recommend for someone who’s popping in for something smallish?
If you’re looking for a quick turnaround snack, you can’t go wrong with a few of the tacos. Mix and match whichever flavours you fancy.
My personal favourites are the baja (battered fish with white cabbage, pickled onion and tomatillo salsa), campechanos (braised beef brisket with crisp pork sausage, chicharrón, onion and coriander) and al pastor (marinated pork shoulder off the spit with spicy pineapple salsa, chilli, onion and coriander).
And what if we’re at Afloat to go big. How would you go large with a gang?
You’d have to start with a plato de mariscos y langosta. It’s a premium seafood platter, perfect for three or four people. The selection changes daily based on what’s best at any given time, but typically includes natural oysters, prawns, scallops, clams, a lobster cocktail and various house-made condiments.
I’d suggest following it up with a trio of dips and totopos: guacamole, jocoque, and frijoles refritos – a refried black bean and ancho chilli butter dip. Then a chef’s selection or two of tacos, each of which includes six tacos and a selection of condiments, and our pescado de México: a whole baby barramundi smothered in two house-made salsas and charred to perfection.
Add a few welcome cocktails and a boatload of beer and you’re good to go.
How about those of us who don’t eat the animals? What’s good?
There are plenty of options for those who prefer to go meat-free. Two of my favourite small plates are the chilaquiles – totopos with tomatillo, jalapeños, coriander, black beans and cotija – and the verduras – charred padron peppers with mole rojo and toasted almonds.
If you’re after something larger, I’d choose the sin carne, a baked Spanish rice dish topped with a stuffed and charred bullhorn pepper, zucchini and pico de gallo. It’s packed with flavour and one of my favourite dishes on the menu (even as a meat eater).
And to close?
Our flan de chocolate is my personal favourite. It has a strong kick of coffee and tequila in the caramel, so it’s definitely not for the faint-hearted.
If you’re someone who prefers a liquid dessert I would recommend the Chamoyada Mezcalita. It’s a frozen mango Margarita made with chamoy – the sweet, sour, salty and spicy pickled condiment. In Mexico, it’s most often used by street-food vendors and roadside traders on fresh fruit and vegetables or spread across tortillas. In the frozen mango Marg it balances the sweetness and adds an earthy tang.