Review: Cartel, Chippendale

Bars, Drink, Eat, Restaurants, Sydney / 3 February 2021

Meet Chippendale’s new buzzing South American restaurant, Cartel.

“Life Is Better With Tequila”, according to the legend on the wall of Cartel, the newest addition to the buzzy Kensington Street dining precinct. And who are we to argue? Particularly when we’re in the capable hands of renowned mixologist Grant Collins (Blossom Bar, Gin Lane, The Powder Keg) with food by chef Arnolfo Raimondi (Eastside Bar & Grill, Gavroche).

In creating Cartel’s menu, Raimondi has drawn on authentic Aztec flavours and steered away from the thick sauces and melted cheese that is often associated with Mexican cuisine. It’s a light, bar-style menu with South American authenticity present throughout. Think Mexican tacos (juicy pulled pork on a bed of slaw with sweet heat from a Guajillo Chilli Jam is a standout), Colombian Empanadas (made with maize milled in-house), and Peruvian Cevicharia (such as kingfish served in a refreshing, limey aguachile).

It’s the cocktails that will keep you coming back to Cartel though and Collins has assembled a formidable collection of more than fifty tequilas and sixty mezcals – tequila’s smoky, hipster cousin. Cartel’s chief mixologist admits he has been on a journey with the latter and can now wax lyrical about the different varieties from the rough and ready Derrumbes through to the silky smooth Ilegal which drinks almost like a cognac.

As you would expect, there is a focus on Margaritas with six different variations to choose from including a cactus-infused, triple sec number, and a smooth coconut-themed take where the desiccated flesh replaces salt around the rim of the glass. If you can’t decide, there’s a tasting paddle which holds up to four varieties and, if you’re feeling really adventurous, behold the ‘Margarita Tree’ – a stand that holds up to ten cocktails.

So is life better with tequila? Well yes but it’s better still when the tequila comes mixed in original cocktails and accompanied by delicious flavours from South America. Cartel has struck upon a winning formula.

Find Cartel at 2 Kensington Street, Chippendale, open Wednesday to Sunday from 12 pm to 11 pm. Find out more here.