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Eating @ ... Casa Publica

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A tram rattles past, revealing the Wizard reverse parking (though we can’t be sure, given his pushmi-pullyu double-fronted Volkswagen Beetle), as I reach for another heavenly smoked pork rib sticky with chancaca.

We’re lunching at Casa Publica, James ‘Carlton’ Murdoch’s love letter to all things South American – including the mysterious Señor Hugo Chile – and it’s a perfect spring day in the city. Sitting in the sun at the Armagh Street end of the always buzzing New Regent Street, it’s the perfect spot to withdraw from (but still keep an eye on) the city’s hustle and bustle, kick back, and enjoy sensational sipper Casa Luana – a premium, smooth rum infused in-house with a heady mix of cardamom, orange and brown sugar – while grazing on exotic fare.

With a theme based around the legend of the aforementioned Señor Chile, who became a rum runner during prohibition, then switched to cocaine after sweet lady liquor was legalised, the site formerly famous for its Mexican fare is now a Casa/shrine to his decadent lifestyle. The authentic south-of-the-border slick refurb sees shiny gold machine-gun-style lampshades join intimate booths, the prerequisite moody lighting, and vintage rum and cocaine runner’s paraphernalia, including a selection of women’s left foot pumps – highlighting a rather disturbing predilection of Señor Chile’s which would ultimately be his undoing (according to Casa Publica legend).

As expected, there’s an obscene selection of rums (162 and counting) behind the prohibition-cool bar, including a $185-a-shot of ancient 1930s British West Indies Finest Old Rum, which has taken on a heady, cognac-like aroma.

The genius of extending Casas Publica’s bangin’ dinner menu into the lunching hours sees us scooping up mounds of made-at-the-table primo guacamole zinging with chilli, lime syrup and coriander with homemade tortillas and squabbling over the final portions of the delightfully refreshing pineapple salsa (heads up: this is too good to share!).

The tuna ceviche on arepas (maize crackers) also ticks all the boxes with its tropical bent, blending a lip-smacking lime, watermelon, chilli, cucumber and mint combo with its perfectly cured fish, while the ribs are a revelation unto themselves. Piled high in holding blocks and glistening with promise, the succulent smoked pork meat is melt-in-the-mouth tender and, be warned, you will be licking your fingers.

All good things must come to an end – sticky (as with Señor Chile’s unflattering exit) or otherwise, and rum choc shots are the perfect note to bid ‘adiós’ on.

Casa Publica
167/180 Armagh Street
03 366 1389


Cityscape is the essential Christchurch directory of where to eat and drink, what to do and where to shop. From the best events to add to your calendar to tips to ensure you squeeze out the very essence of the city, Cityscape has the city of Christchurch covered inside and out.


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Guest 22 January 2018