Although having lived in Brisbane for more than six years now, it’s safe to say that part of Camila Mendieta’s heart will always reside in the Caribbean. The Colombian expat is a hospitality lifer, having picked up the trade while living in Argentina, but her love affair with the Caribbean and its rich culinary history really took hold when she worked in the region at her family’s boutique hotel. It was during this time Camila began to pick up and file away authentic recipes from across the Caribbean, keeping them stored away even after her wanderlust brought her to Australia. After six years and a degree in Business and International Tourism, Camila decided to strike out on her own – putting her culinary know-how to the test with a concept inspired by the vibrant food culture permeating the far corners of the Caribbean Sea. After embarking on a city-wide search for the ideal location, Camila selected a vacant space in her own suburb of Toowong – a corner tenancy near Toowong Village. Camila’s concept for the newly open Maria Caribbean Kitchen was to offer a far-reaching take on Caribbean cuisine, with inspiration and reciped plucked from Camila’s own home nation and storied recipes from countries such as Cuba, Puerto Rico, Jamaica, Dominican Republic, Trinidad and Tobago and more.
Once Camila had committed to the ground-floor space, she called in her family to help realise her vision for Maria Caribbean Kitchen’s aesthetic. Camila’s father – an industrial designer and architect – helped shape the venue from bar to kitchen, which was then overlaid with Camila’s personal flair. The resulting fit-out boasts a colourful immediacy that captures the eye, with a vibrant feature-wall mural, greenery and a host of finer details (all joinery and the venue’s lamps were made by hand by Camila and her family, ceramics were supplied by Sunshine Coast artisan Kim Wallace) creating a relaxed summer-house vibe. The restaurant features indoor and outdoor seating, together capable of seating roughly 120 patrons.
The food and drink
Camila and her kitchen team (spearheaded by dual head chefs and fellow Colombian expats Jenny Quintero and Andrea Garcia) have taken great care to ensure Maria’s dishes are accessible and approachable to Australian tastes while still retaining the spirit and story of their origins. The kitchen operates with a responsible and seasonal approach, working alongside local producers to build the menu on Australian ingredients. The culinary celebration kicks off with entrees – we’re talking plantain chips (plantains are sourced from a grower in North Queensland), crispy pork belly, and grilled corncob served Mexican style with chipotle mayo and spices. The main affair features bowls loaded with your choice of Jamaican-inspired boneless char-grilled jerk chicken, slow-braised flank steak (a Cuban influence), crispy fried wild-caught Barramundi, Krispy Fried Cauliflower and scoops of toasted coconut rice, crunchy plantain chips and Caribbean slaw. Other highlights include chargrilled chuzo (skewers), papotas (fried potato croquettes) filled with chuck steak or braised vegetables, braised oxtail stew and watermelon salad. Cocktails are synonymous with the Caribbean, and Camila has ensured the drinks are on par with the fare. The bar boasts 13 cocktails made using imported Caribbean rum, a mix of imported and local beers (Red Stripe Jamaican lager is available here), and a clutch of wines featuring the likes of a white tempranillo and an Argentinian malbec.
Maria Caribbean Kitchen is officially open to the public as of Wednesday June 26. For opening hours and menu details, click over to the Stumble Guide.