Cool Cantina: Bandita

Image source: Contributed

From backyard bounty to Bandita by Noosa River. John Caruso meets another talented chef-turned-restaurateur who’s tickling the tastebuds of locals and tourists alike.

Jason Jones grew up in Bermagui, an area they call the Sapphire Coast, south of Sydney and a region that is very similar to Noosa.

“There’s a river, headland, national park,” Jason recalls. “It’s peaceful with a much smaller population, famous for fishing and oyster farms.”

The family lived on acreage which nurtured a culinary curiosity.

“We lived out of town on five acres with a massive garden and orchard,” he says. “I must have been about ten or eleven, foraging about and looking through Woman’s Weekly recipe books and watching Peter Russell Clark on the telly and I started creating these little dishes.

“On the weekends I had a job in town at a grocery store cooking chickens on a rotisserie, so I was very capable and independent, preparing my dinners when I came home from school, making things like frittatas with the eggs from our chickens and veggies from our garden.”

Following his passion down the hospitality pathway, Jason together with a good mate, established of one Melbourne’s most beloved foodie destinations in 2010, Mamasita.

“Matt Lane returned to Melbourne from New York where he’d been working in a Mexican restaurant and we met the owners of the space in Collins Street that would eventually become Mamasita, and they were keen for something exciting to happen in their space,” he says. “I’d just moved back from Europe with the intention of doing a high-end Spanish tapas restaurant in Melbourne, however that didn’t go ahead so Matt suggested Mexican – and it just went gangbusters.”

What was it that made Mamasita one of the most talked about and popular venues in Melbourne?

“When it opened, Mexico may have been considered a third world country – I don’t think that’s the case today however, true Mexican flavours were a foreign experience for Aussies,” he says.

“Mexicans didn’t travel and their country was closed to visitors like us from the other side of the world. Tex-Mex was known because Americans travelled and we as foodies were familiar with this Texan/Mexican cuisine so a lot of Aussies thought that’s what Mexican food was.

“There were a few ‘ma and pa’ Mexican places that were truly authentic, and these places made mole (a traditional sauce and marinade) and things like that, however Melbournians probably felt this was too rich for them. Mamasita sat between these two offerings, and I feel that’s the reason why it took off.”

An overseas adventure followed in 2015 when Jason was appointed Head of Culinary at Super Loco and Lucha Loco for the Loco Group, Singapore.

“My wife Amy and I were blessed with the birth of two boys while we were over there, and when that happens the focus inevitably shifts to lifestyle,” he says

“With a priority on having the boys grow up in a place similar to ours from when we were kids, Noosa came out on top of all the places we considered.

“Plus, you could count the number of Mexican Restaurants in Noosa on one hand.

“There’s not that many, but they each have their own style,” Jason says. “For Bandita, Amy and I wanted a location that had indoor and outdoor space with views of Noosa River; table service, not counter service and we wanted to cook with fire and smoke using lots of local seafood with a menu that showcases the seafood off our barbecue.

“That’s what we identified as the thing that the other Mexican places weren’t doing, so we fine-tuned that idea and opened our doors about two years ago. And naturally we have the tacos, guacamole, corn on the cob and all the classics – plus cocktails of course.”

Their philosophy within the industry, irrespective of where they operate, is always one of unity and togetherness; other restaurants aren’t competitors.

“Especially with Mexican places, my view is that we create a community,” Jason says. “We’re all trying to present people with flavours and experiences; so we see them as companions, not competitors and we wouldn’t want to do a mirror image of what they’re doing – it has to be a little bit different.

“It sounds cliché; however, we want our guests to have a unique experience when they come to Bandita, and it becomes memorable when you tick all the boxes such as comfort, environment, service, products and price point.

“We’d like our clientele to appreciate that we’re trying to use a lot of local produce, keeping it fresh, light, and easy and not trying to complicate things.”

Delivering on that promise of a memorable experience, Jason describes the idyllic scene that awaits diners.

“Sitting outside with a cocktail or a glass of wine and some Mexican snacks, it’s pretty good,” he says. “When that sun sets on the river, especially in winter, the light display is a million-dollar experience.”


About the Author /

After 30 years in radio, John now runs the Conversations IN Noosa podcast and in between being our writer, sanity checker, accounts manager, event MC, and delivery boy; he spends time with his first love, recording a daily Drive program for regional radio from home (often in his pyjamas); and presenting Saturday mornings on Hot 91.1. He has previously worked for FoxFM Melbourne, Triple M Brisbane and SeaFM, as well as managing and presenting on ABC Sunshine Coast.

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