Mikkayla reviews: Repeat Offender (and controversy corner!)
201 Ormond Road, Elwood
I have to be frank – tapas are tricky. Unless you have endless dollars to order multiple serves of everything on the menu, it can be a difficult social situation to navigate in many ways. How many pieces are in each serving? Is each dish big enough to share between the party or do we need to order more? What do we do if there’s a leftover piece? Then there is that awkward polite dance of “You have it.” “No, YOU have it, I had an extra prawn!” “Oh, it’s fine, I’m really not that hungry.”
I don’t know why I assumed that the COVID pandemic would spell the end for tapas and share-style menus. Maybe it was a secret desire – I’ve always preferred to have an entree and main to myself and share a few sides with the table. My biggest food-related fear is leaving the table still hungry… and sometimes a tapas banquet can leave you feeling less than satiated.
However, the popularity of existing tapas joints and the fact that there are many more still coming makes me think that perhaps I’m in the minority with my bias, so I decided to check out one of the newest openings. Repeat Offender in Elwood describes itself as tapas fusion cuisine with a menu that is entirely gluten-free and largely vegan or vegetarian friendly. It’s not just standard Mexican fare – though there is clearly a strong influence. The dishes are elevated by fresh Australian produce to levels beyond your typical Latin-American street foods.
Opened in February, the place still has a few wrinkles that need to be ironed out. The service is… brusque. And not hugely helpful when it comes to navigating the menu for a table of 5. We are informed that the kitchen sends out dishes as they are made… but the sometimes-extensive wait times between courses are difficult to understand – though the bar is satisfyingly prompt with wine and cocktail orders.
The most helpful thing a tapas joint can do for its customers is give an indication as to how many serves comes in each dish – and be accurate with the description. There were a couple of times eyebrows were raised when dishes were set on the table… generally speaking, the price of each dish gives you a fair idea of how decent the portion size will be – but sadly not for Repeat Offender.
Don’t get me wrong – each dish was phenomenal when it came to presentation and flavours. Lettuce boats with a mix of peanuts, capsicum and the delightfully umami flavoured fable – a plant-based alternative to slow cooked braised beef – are light and crunchy until you hit the unexpectedly meaty, shitake-based fable. The meat-substitute also pops up in the cauliflower taco atop the smooth puree, white slaw and micro herbs to finish. The Baja taco has plump pieces of battered Australian barramundi atop a mild avocado puree, offset by the slighty tangy chipotle aioli and cabbage slaw. A big winner.
Corn empanadas are ugly-delicious – a deceptive, greyish pocket stuffed with a mixture of mushroom, corn truffle and cheese – not suitable for the dairy-intolerant but meaty enough to satisfy everyone else, and no obvious mushroom flavour to keep the fungi-fun police at bay. Their prawn dish comes with two large, whole grilled prawns with giant heads that you just have to suck the delicious, herby, savoury juices from and a surprisingly generous number of fat little cutlets. The kangaroo fillet is kept rare to ensure its tenderness and served with a rich, almost-plummy sauce over the top. The server mistakenly tells us it’s the beef, as she sets it down.
The chicken was a bit of a surprise – both good and not-so-good. It’s described on the menu as ‘free range chicken thigh with Peruvian spiced adobo sauce, cardamom sweet potato purée and aji verde salsa’. We’re presented with two small skewers of juicy thigh meat on a bed of sweet potato mash. A bit steep for the $22 asking price, we immediately ordered a second serving to ensure there was enough to go around our table – because it was indeed delicious, but you’d hope so for $11 a skewer.
The other disappointment was also the steepest in price – 250g of scotch fillet on cauliflower puree with chimichurri (these guys seem to be big fans of purees). For $48, it was a little too gristly for us to warrant ordering another serve, and didn’t come with any substantial sides. Exorbitant in price, it’s definitely not for those with a tighter grip on their wallet. Cue the comparisons to other places that charge almost $50 for a steak… that also come with salad, chips and pepper sauce.
The drinks menu, however, is exciting, extensive and excellent value. There are imported beers from Mexico and Guatemala, a huge selection of mezcals and tequila, and an encompassing selection of wines by the bottle or glass. Best of all is their Happy Hour service, available between 3 and 6pm Wednesday – Sunday, which pumps out discounted tap beers, hard seltzer’s, glasses of wine and frozen margaritas, as well as $5 tacos and $10 serves of patatas bravas. They’re also open for coffee orders from 8am.
Repeat Offender is trendy, exciting and possibly what the local Elwood folk have been waiting for. Once they get a few small issues straightened out, I imagine they will get the repeat customers as any venue wants… for now, go in with an open mind and a loose budget, and enjoy the social experience above all else.
Repeat Offender is open seven days a week from 8am to 2pm, and 4pm until late Wednesday to Sunday.