Sin Vida is a newish Mexican restaurant that has opened in the M&A building in Fortitude Valley. (I can’t recall what was in the space before.) The name of the restaurant, translated into English, is “Without Life” (Sin = without, Vida = life), which seems like an odd and inauspicious thing to call your business venture, and doesn’t doesn’t bode well for a fun venue. It is, however, based on the Day of the Dead, the Mexican festival gaining recognition and popularity across the world. The festival was originally held to remember and honour lived ones who had passed on. It has since become a very much more celebration of life excuse for people partying, with people perhaps changing the original meaning to going all out in the face of their mortality, encapsulated in the Buffy quote “Seize the day, because tomorrow you could be dead”.
It doesn’t face the street, so you won’t see it as you go past the complex, but you will reach it by walking through the pedestrian area between the building towers, where the upside down orange stag head is suspended.
It is, as mentioned, decorated in a Day of the Dead theme, with an abundance of sugar skulls and bright colours. Frida Kahlo also features. The soft lighting means that it isn’t too much of an assault on the senses though. Wooden tables and chairs add to the rustic cantina feel. Hip hop/house music plays over the stereo. How intrusive it is depends on how close to the bar area you are..
Even though the side of the restaurant opens out to the walkway, it somehow still manages to trap noise, so that it quickly becomes a very raucous environment if there are a few other chatty patrons.
The menu is divided into Primeros (entrées), Tacos, Principales (mains), Guarnicion (sides), and Postres (desserts). We picked at least a couple of items from most of the sections. The menu also has a bit of background on the Day of the Dead, and explanations of some of the ingredients used in the dishes.
The soft corn tortilla skins for the tacos were thin and light. You get blocks of protein with the tacos, but in rather dainty serves (about the length of your palm). The pork belly had a crispy skin, and was nicely cooked so that it was still tender. The seared crusted tuna remained pink in the middle, and also had the right soft texture. The shredded red mole chicken was quite tasty. The poached prawn is actually served cold, and was the prettiest of all the tacos. They were quite pricey at $5 each, given their size though.
The chicarron, or pork crackling, was prettily presented. It was not oily, but very light and crunchy, like a puffed cracker. It was dusted with a moreish salty and sweet seasoning. Something very similar is done at Esquire.
The tostadas in the Tostada Carne de Cordero were indeed crispy. The lamb shoulder was served in little heaps of pulled meat on the tostadas, with a bit of the chayote (a type of squash), pipian (a mole sauce), and goat’s cheese. They were tasty little mouthfuls, and only fell apart a bit as we were eating..
The calamari in the Calamares Frito Mexicano was almost marshmallow soft. The coating was a light, fine crumb layer, with just a hint of salt and pepper. The jalapeño cream with it was pretty lightly flavoured, so didn’t impart too much heat. The lime added a nice zest though.
The ceviche, unfortunately, was one dish that didn’t really work. The cubes of fish didn’t taste like lime, or anything particularly. Not that there was much fish.. The pineapple was too acidic and overpowered it. It was somehow oily as well.
They were out of the vanilla and guava baked rice, so we had the Day of the Dead cake instead. I’m still not sure what the difference is between Mexican chocolate cake and..chocolate cake. Yes, it was soft, moist, and chocolatey, but it was also very sweet. That was likely the agave. A lighter hand with that would have been better. The cafe XO cream was also sweet, so there was just no respite, which made the dish hard to get through after the first few bites. I couldn’t finish it, which is unusual for me and dessert.
We also had the Pecan creme Catalana. This was a better dessert. The candied pumpkin ice cream had a light spice flavour, with a bit of ginger at the end. There was also a bit of crumb sprinkled at the base for some crunch. It melted too quickly, but was delicious before its demise. The creme catalana itself had a bruleed top, and the custard had a nice nutty flavour. Of the list, I would recommend ordering this one.
The waitress looking after most of the floor most of the time was lovely. She was happy to explain items on the menu to us, and came back to get our food orders a number of times (we ordered in stages).
Altogether, it is probably best described as fancy Mexican food in a bar setting. Sin Vida does offer more than the standard fare you would find at say, the Burrito Bar or Guzman Y Gomez, and some of the food is very well done. It was, however, an uneven experience, and the portions for prices paid seem small, especially when it comes to the items in the mains section.
Food: 2.5/4 (making an exception to avoidance of decimal points. There were some good dishes, but also some bad ones.)
Price point: Entrees $6 to $12. Tacos $5 each. Mains $14 to $28. Desserts $10 to $12.
Value: Uncertain. Quite pricey for what you get.
Address: Shop 12, 100 Mclachlan Street, Fortitude Valley
Phone: 07 3265 0298
Website: Sin Vida