Jason Coats has long held a love for Mexican cuisine. It’s an affinity catalysed by a trip to the country several years ago, where Jason immersed himself in Mexican hospitality and savoured the tastes and aromas of the country’s heralded food scene. The idea to open a Mexican-inspired restaurant has rattled around his brain ever since, but turning idea into reality was a matter of finding the right opportunity. Jason and his wife Katie own and operate the Coats Group – a hospitality entity that includes Bulimba’s Il Molo and Eleven Rooftop Bar in Fortitude Valley in its portfolio. As venue operators, they’ve witnessed firsthand the effects of the COVID-19 lockdown on Brisbane’s dining and nightlife scene. When it became apparent that some form of change in operation would be required in order to meet post-lockdown expectations (particularly for bars like Eleven), Jason and Katie decided to be proactive, pooling ideas on how best to pivot. It was here that Jason’s desire to open a Mexican-inspired concept became less of an idea and more of a reality. Soon, the group had the framework for MAYA Mexican – a pop-up restaurant that would take over the Eleven rooftop space, transforming it into a chic dining destination that still retained elements of the bar’s cracking nighttime energy. This gear change would allow the venue to operate as close as possible to its former capacity while adhering to expected stipulations, give the culinary team freedom to experiment with a whole new cuisine and give guests a chance to blow off some steam after a significant rough patch.
The transformation from Eleven to MAYA might sound simple on paper, but the Coats Group isn’t simply changing a sign and printing out a new menu. The shift to MAYA also means significantly shaking up the venue’s overall design. Jason, Katie and their team have been chipping away at some extensive renovations over the past few months, reconceptualising key spaces to better suit a sit-down dining experience. After stepping out of the elevator into the foyer on the eleventh floor, you’ll be greeted by the venue’s breathtaking views, which stretch from the glittering CBD to Newstead and beyond. Once you tear your eyeballs away from the vista, you’ll notice a new all-white aesthetic running along the venue, broken up with desert cacti, breeze blocks, white marble, cool-blue leather and timber. At one end sits the courtyard – a casual space with low-set leather banquettes and tables that will be reserved for walk-ins. MAYA’s central western-facing strip – referred to as the patio – is where you’ll find a second service bar (formerly the Asahi Bar), more tables and a collection of spacious booths given a hint of privacy thanks to some flowing curtains. Down at the main bar, guests can sit a circular tables shaded by olive trees (a recognisable holdover from Eleven) or perch at the marble counter at the venue’s edge, soaking in the sights of the city.
The food and drink
Both the fit-out and share-style menu draw inspiration from Mexico’s coastal regions, spotlighting colour, fresh produce and light flavours. The venue’s head chef Leisa Smith has superbly navigated the shift from Mediterranean to Mexican, delivering a debut menu that starts with bar snacks such as guacamole and roasted cauliflower queso (served with totopos and pico de gallo), mushroom mole quesadillas, chargrilled calamari, kingfish ceviche, flame-grilled prawns coated in tequila, and ribs that are coated in a mezcal glaze before being lovingly slow cooked. More substantial eats include tacos (with fillings such as Dos Equis-battered snapper, slow-cooked pork and grilled zucchini layered on tortillas made and hand-pressed in house), chargrilled flank steak, achiote-rubbed chicken and roast butternut pumpkin. Most dishes are shareable and are compatible with MAYA’s extensive drinks list. Venue manager Matthew Portillo (formerly of Mr Percival’s and Brooklyn Standard) has given the cocktail list a shake up, instilling it with a lively vibrancy that champions locally sourced ingredients. The back bar boasts an expertly curated selection of artisanal tequilas (more than 60 kinds), mezcals (roughly 20 bottles) and sotol (a further seven), with many drops exclusive to MAYA. Patrón is MAYA’s first-pour tequila, which filters into a range of cocktails including MAYA’s margarita range (the piquant chilli-mango margarita and the refreshing watermelon marg are standouts) and house specials such as the MAYA Coastal Cocktail, Pancho Villa and El Jefe. Also of note are the seasonal sangritas, which come complimentary with a tequila purchase. There’s a savoury (spiced tomato and tomatillo) and a sweet (honeydew, pineapple, lime, mint) option, both perfect palate cleansers enjoyed best while sipping on a top-shelf tequila. The cocktail list is bolstered by a substantial spirits collection (it’s not all about agave here), an Australian-forward wine list and draught and bottled beers.
MAYA will officially open to the public on Saturday July 11 and is expected to operate until the end of the year. Head to the Stumble Guide for more details.