62-64 King St
Newtown, NSW 2042
The top end of King St in Newtown gets a bad rap. For myself personally at any rate, I find myself pretty much ignoring anything due east of the turn-off to RPA hospital. Hence, I’m always surprised when good eats pop up along that stretch of road, and that was exactly how I felt when I came first came across Calle Rey.
Having been searching for good Mexican food since coming up to Sydney, as well as being rather keen on vegan food as of late, I was very surprised that this is the first I’ve ever heard of Calley Rey, which ticks both of those boxes. The restaurant and bar is rather snazzy, with fun décor that hints at the Mexican heritage without exploiting the theme.
The food here isn’t the cheapest when you order a la carte, but the Set Tasting Menu ($28pp) is an absolute steal, and just about covers half the menu. And when the prices are that good, it’s hard not to order a drink, and there are plenty of good non-alcoholic tipples here. The Pina Chica ($8) is summer in a glass, with its combination of pineapple and lime juice in soda water, sweetened with agave syrup.
Nachos don’t need meat to be good if you ask me, and the Smoked Chicken Nachos are a great example of that, even if they do technically have a meat substitute. Everything on the plate was wonderfully flavourful, with both the sweet potato cheddar and tofu cream tasting exactly like their dairy-based counterparts. The jackfruit ‘chicken’ was especially noteworthy, its smokiness adding a welcome robustness that permeated each bite. One thing that wasn’t quite up to scratch however was the fact that everything on the plate was room temperature. Given that they’re nachos, it’s not such a big deal, but it definitely wouldn’t been nicer served hot.
Ok so, I will concede that Aji Amarillo Charred Corn just isn’t the same when it isn’t slathered with chipotle mayo and queso fresca, but grilled corn is good any time of the day, and the vegan parmesan did smell impressively like the real thing.
The Buffalo Cauliflower Wings were unexpectedly fancy-looking, and thankfully the taste lived up to the expectations. Despite being more sweet and sour than buffalo, the sauce on the fried cauliflower was delightfully sticky and addictive, oozing into the crunchy crevices of each floret.
We then had the choice of two tacos from their rather long list, and after a whole lot of humming and hawing, I decided to give the Taco Prawn a go. I was really rather impressed with these; the faux-prawn had the delightfully bouncy texture characteristic of the real thing, and it was topped with a flavourful combination of salsa verde, guacamole, and chipotle (vegan) mayo. The only complaint? Just like the nachos, these came out at room temperature; c’mon guys, warm food isn’t that hard!
On the other hand, the Taco Mushroom Adobo were served warm, but that was pretty much the only good thing about them. Alright, the mushrooms were satisfyingly earthy and meaty, even if they didn’t taste like adobo. However, there was just way too much shredded lettuce and raw onion, and the result was underwhelming at best, but bordering on unpleasant if you got too much of the onion in your bite.
We finished up with a serve of Caramel and Chocolate Churros, which were simple but very effective. The churros themselves were a good balance between fluffy and crunchy, and when served with coconut vanilla ice cream and a generous drizzle of both chocolate and caramel sauce, was an indulgent ending to the meal without feeling heavy.
At less than $30 per head, Calle Rey is a great value feed, and it certainly doesn’t hurt either that it’s also vegan. But there is one thing to watch out for – on weekends, they have a blanket 10% service charge, and the only thing giving that away was written on the back of the bottom of the menu in the tiniest font. Combined with the fact that the staff were quite pushy with their drinks sales, even going as far as to come to the table with pre-made drinks asking if we would like to try them, does make the experience feel a little money-grabby. However, it feels rather churlish to complain when the prices are already so reasonable, especially in the Covid economy. Although it’s not exactly authentic Mexican, I definitely walked away satisfied. And for those who have a large group with many dietary requirements to cater to? This place is the dream.
Rating: 12.5/20 – mexican vegan dreams.
This rating reflects my personal experience at the time of visit.