There is one objection I need to register with Guzman y Gomez, and it’s to do with the way the place looks. No, not on the outside. I was on my way elsewhere in Star Vista when I came across the shop, with its rounded glass wall and the big yellow logo with two avuncular faces – I’m guessing they are señores Guzman y Gomez, though I cannot confirm this – and my curiosity is piqued. Add that to the outdoor tabletops of Mexico’s famous Talavera tiles, and I’m hooked. I go back to Star Vista, just to go in there.
See, one of the reasons I like Mexican food is how striking it looks. The native land of the avocado, chilli, chocolate and tomato (all words borrowed into English from Nahuatl, the language of the Aztecs) has no lack of edible colour; the best advertisement for a taqueria, if you ask me, is just to lay out all the stuff you could be rolling into a burrito. Would you like to eat crimson with jade green and carefully charred brown? Course you would.
Yet at Guzman y Gomez, an Australian import that reached us in 2013, there’s none of that. Both times I visit there is an attractive young woman at the service counter, and more attractive young men and women behind her, formed up around a long counter like an assembly line. Yeah, okay, it’s the way they do things. But let’s face it – with the overhead menu, it feels efficient but joyless. It’s less Australia (or Mexico) and more, well, Singapore.
And this is a pity, because Guzman y Gomez do very well by some of their ingredients, especially the meat. This was not the impression I got from the first visit, though. I am a burrito person, and also a fan of carnitas, a little like pulled pork but better – pork slowly cooked until its own juices have melded completely into the oil it is cooked in, everything soaked into the meat. But on both counts this pillow falls short. Pork has the right texture, but somehow long cooking has done little to deepen its flavour. But at least it’s serviceable; the tortilla that holds it all together is minimally warmed and tastes unpleasantly papery. That the rice is fragrant goes some way to redeem the poor wrap.
The next visit I opt instead for the hard tacos, whose casings are much better, crisp as promised; having fewer ingredients also helps them to shine more easily. Salsa is chilled, the tomatoes fresh, contrasting with plenty of shredded cheese. But most of all the meats are allowed to dominate the dish. I am unfortunately confirmed in my suspicion that Guzman y Gomez is not very good at carnitas. But steak, grilled and sliced, has plenty of chew and stretch, and is drippingly juicy, with a smoky, long delayed heat below its own animal tang.
Chicken is similarly grilled, but for seasonings they are even more restrained than with the beef. Instead the flavour comes from grilling, and it tastes and smells like a fierce grilling. Dyed deep orange, the meat is well charred yet still oozy with reddish juices. This being the mild version, the heat is again more smoke than fire.
This is not the only branch of Guzman y Gomez – there are two more in the city, I think – but while Mexican food is also high on the convenience scale, the Star Vista branch is probably the one that is most like a taqueria. With frozen margaritas and several Mexican beers on the menu, the place easily moves beyond being just an office lunch spot; there’s also an al fresco area right next to several water features.
But that brings to mind one more objection, actually – the soundtrack on my second visit, and I was there for about an hour trying to get work done, was a single song on loop. A pop duet in Spanish and English. With Kylie Minogue. I do like what you’re doing with the food, señores, and I will come back, but honestly…
Guzman y Gomez
1 Vista Exchange Green
The Star Vista, #01-32
Hours: Daily, 10.30am – 9.30pm