The Unbearable Lightness of Being Hungry | A Sydney Food Blog

El Capo, Surry Hills

June 6th, 2011  |  Published in Uncategorized  |  10 Comments

El Capo, Surry Hills

El Capo in Surry Hills is shot through with surprises, from the stacks of fake cash in one corner to the three-milk cake that looks so visually spectacular that it could easily go undercover in a hatted restaurant (but here it is, in a canteen selling Latin street food – curveball indeed).

El Capo, Surry Hills

Things seemed to have moved in warp-speed for this new place. Will’s friend Guido sent me an email tip-off about El Capo when it officially opened (“Their tag line is ‘Good Food for Bad People'”, he wrote); within a few days, it was swamped with so many diners that it had to close a lunchtime just to focus on prepping for the upcoming evening service. We dropped by on Saturday afternoon – which was a nice, uncrazed time to go, but the overwhelming Friday-night blitz of diners meant a few things were completely sold out as a result (for instance, the empanadas, horchata and tamarind juice).

El Capo, Surry Hills

Luckily though, we could still order the Smokey Beans ($10), which live up to their fiery, flavour-charred title and are nicely rounded out with gold-crisp crumbs, wilted spinach, soft-booked egg and spring onions. Will enjoyed his Arroz Con Pollo ($10), aka Carribean Chicken Rice, and I especially liked the warm mounds of Corn Bread ($5), with their hint of cumin and easy-compatibility with house-made butter. And the complimentary Popped Maize in Spice Mix does its job, taming your appetite while you wait for your food to arrive.

El Capo, Surry Hills

The Three Milk Cake ($10) is three kinds of awesome: and if you want the mystery cleared, the triple-dairy culprits are buttermilk (which is soaked through the sponge), dulce de leche (its caramel smears easily identifiable for quick plate-cleaning spoonwork) and milk sponge. A small tube of panna-cotta and a fresh scattering of pomegranate seeds and cherry halves share some of the dessert spotlight.

El Capo, Surry Hills

The cake is beautifully plated and, we’re told, hints at the tweezer-work and presentation-savviness that can be seen at dinner – which includes a liquid nitrogen chocolate mousse (it masquerades under the excellent name of Cesar Negro). That’s enough to inspire me to do battle with the night-time crowd.

El Capo, Surry Hills

El Capo’s DNA can be traced to Omar Andrade and his work in the guerilla dining scene, 20-year-old head chef Joey Astorga (they crossed paths thanks to these pop-up dinners) and Josh Logue (whose creative direction of the interior includes the stacks of fake money on the floor and the counterfeit currency that come with your bill – it’s just one of the many “Narco Cinema” visual references on show.) Their triple-barrel wit, talent and energy translates into an eatery I would put on my “let’s go here again” list. (It’s next door to Orto Trading Co, a place that would rank high on that chart.) And while last year seemed to be about fine-dining going a tad casual, I really like this recent spike in canteens where napkin overuse is inevitable, eating-with-your-hands is encouraged, the menu redirects you through Latin America and, instead of worrying about whether the meal will be another addition to your credit card debt, you actually walk home with change in your pocket (and, at El Capo, a fake bill or two).

El Capo, 52 Waterloo Street Surry Hills (02) 9699 2518,

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  1. Thanks for the review, I had no idea of this place. Will check it out!

  2. Dan says:

    Fully agree that the food and atmosphere are pretty great. We also had issues when we went (Fri night) with a number of things on the menu being sold out. Actually, even some items that weren’t sold out when we ordered, but we were later informed that they were out. I really wish that the supply & planning was up to meeting the demand, because what we ate was great! Hopefully the growing pains will fade soon and I’ll get to try the whole menu.

  3. I’ve been wanting to eat here! What would you say were the best nights to go? I would hate to miss out due to crowds!

  4. tori says:

    Oh my. It seems every single place you write up (as eloquently and beautifully as ever) is making its way onto my ‘must check out when I get back to Sydney later this year’ list. It’s starting to cause a problem. A good problem. But a problem nonetheless.

  5. leetranlam says:

    Thanks for all the comments.
    @lateraleating, hope you enjoy checking it out!
    @Dan, sure I can understand how frustrating that can be. I guess I’d be forgiving because it was still their first week and they really didn’t expect to be as swamped as they were. Glad you enjoyed the food though, it is a lot of fun.
    @Kitiya, like any popular place, I’d say early in the week and early in the evening – even lunchtime if you can. Saturday lunchtime was very quiet when we were there.
    @Tori, thank you for your very sweet comment! Yes, I think Sydney has been conspiring to be extra awesome while you are away. Great new places just keep on opening … You are going to have a lot of fun playing dining catch-up!

  6. minibites says:

    I agree I love how there’s all these little dining places popping up! And mm that dessert looks good.

  7. i love 3 milk cake yum

  8. What a funky place! Thanks for the review. 🙂

  9. Yay! I’m so glad the three milk cake is getting such rad reviews, I’m lucky enough to live with it’s creator Ilise Houghton who has made it a regular at our winter table. Recently she left el Capo after developing the desert menu to pursue horticulture in conjunction with her Cheffing so look out for her future home grown delights 🙂

  10. aptronym says:

    Thanks for this, it looks great. I’ve been meaning to go for weeks now, your post has just reinforced this!

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Hi, I'm Lee Tran Lam. When not blogging with my mouth full, I'm usually writing, presenting Local Fidelity on FBi radio, making zines, producing podcasts or continually breaking promises about how I really am gonna get through my book pile one day.

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